Life Sciences


By Editorial Team

Female mentorship and empathetic management have been key factors in the rise of full-service Clinical Research Organisation, Emmes.

We spoke to four leaders of full-service Clinical Research Organisation (CRO), Emmes, to discuss their views on Women in Science and the impact of mentorship in the 21st century. The CRO, which has recently undergone a number of acquisitions – acquiring CROs Orphan Reach and Neox in Europe and real-world evidence platform, Dr. Schauerte – is notable as it is not only female lead, but a company that has an in-built inclusive and emphatic approach. Employees are encouraged to take the initiative, make contributions and continue learning all within a friendly and positive environment. In fact, Emmes’ management attributes much of its recent successes and client growth to this people-centric philosophy.

Founded in 1977, Emmes has conducted over 2000 clinical studies for clients in over 75 countries. The company has 15 sites globally, employing more than 1,000 people, with a strong female-led leadership board. Ellie Bruni spoke to four women on the leadership board to discuss their thoughts on working in the pharmaceutical industry in the 21st century.

The value of mentorship

Having formed such strong career paths in the pharma industry, these women are great mentors for young people breaking into the industry and leadership roles. The interviewees stressed the importance of having strong role models and the role these people have had in helping shape their own career paths.

Michelle Green, Senior Vice-President and Commerical Project Oversight at Emmes.

Michelle Green, Senior Vice-President, and Commercial Project Oversight at Emmes noted, “My success is the result of several fantastic mentors that I have had during my career, including current Emmes C-Suite staff of Marian Ewell, Paul Van Veldhuisen and Traci Clemons. While each of my mentors has had a different style and perspective, the consistent theme is that each mentor has been a good listener, offered me new perspectives when trying to solve a problem and gave me clear, honest feedback for improvement.”

“Each of these individuals [mentors] demonstrated a belief in my abilities that I did not see in myself, they inspired confidence and provided constructive feedback in a way that made me want to be the best I could be,” agreed Rhonda Henry, President at Emmes BioPharma.

“These individuals did not see the same ‘ceiling’ for me that I believed existed. They encouraged me to take risks and to be open to new opportunities. Because of the profound respect I have for these individuals and the positive impact they have had on my career; I still seek their counsel from time to time.”

Also strongly influenced by role models, Nazira Maruf, Director of Clinical Operations at Orphan Reach – Emmes’ Rare Disease Center, commented, “I am currently mentoring people and I feel this is very important, especially as there is a great deficiency in people in our area of clinical research. Everyone seems to want people that are very experienced, so mentoring is a necessity and should be a big aspect to our daily work”.

The value gained from mentorships during their own career paths has empowered these women to continue to offer insights and guidance to other young people. Aside from the benefits of being an instrumental figure in helping nurture peoples’ careers and passing knowledge down, as noted by the panel, teaching others is one of the best ways to gain new perspectives.

Companies can encourage mentoring by implementing programs such as the Emmes Mentorship program to encourage positive work environments that impact lives outside of just the workplace. This makes for workplaces where employees are excited to contribute to and build strong relationships with other employees.

“Some of my favourite Emmes experiences have been serving as a mentor in the Emmes Mentorship program and in supervising high school and college interns. I found these programs rewarding because I seem to learn just as much as my mentee, especially if their area of expertise/experiences are different from mine,” Green said. “I enjoy matching a person’s interests and skills to opportunities in order to find win-wins for Emmes and the mentee.”

Overcoming adversity

Having the support of role models helped the women to achieve the accomplishments that they have today, but that does not mean they were not met without challenges.

Rhonda Henry, President of Emmes Biopharma.

Henry commented, “Over the years, there have been many times that I have felt being a woman have negatively impacted my career. It took me twice as long to rise to a Vice-President position as compared to my male counterparts even though my list of accomplishments and contributions to the company’s bottom line were substantial and quantifiable [Rhonda joined Emmes in April, 2021]. If it were not for one of my mentors encouraging me, as well as advocating for me, I am not sure I would have ever reached that level.”

Traci Clemons, PhD, Chief Research Officer at Emmes, agreed that there is a double standard saying, “It is ingrained in me that I have to be twice as good as male counterparts as a woman and especially as a woman of colour. I think the term for it is imposter syndrome. I do feel at times it has affected my career in that any little slip-up to show that I’m not always perfect is magnified versus the same thing being pushed aside for others.”

Although the panel noted that there are more women in the workplace in the 21st century, there is still a continued drive for increasing the number of women on boards for companies.

Nazira Maruf, Director of Clinical Operations at Orphan Reach – Emmes’ Rare Disease Center.

“In our industry, there are a higher proportion of women. However, the number of women in top management e.g. CEO is still lagging behind. However, I believe this is changing in recent years. with more of the top management being women. Emme’s is a typical example where there are a high number of women in the lead positions,” noted Maruf.

Clemons agreed, saying, “We need more women on the Boards of companies”.

Henry indicated that there are lots of companies embracing equality, “It is easier today for a woman to progress in her career because the workforce has become more sensitive to the male biases that have existed for years. Additionally, companies like my former employer, PPD, and now my current employer, Emmes, are investing in their female workforce by providing executive coaching and training, like Shambaugh’s Women in Leadership program, to help them establish their professional brand and refine their executive presence. The industry seems to be evolving as evidenced by the number of women in C-suite and leadership positions today.”

Based on the panel’s response, the workplace has come a long way in the 21st century, opening up more doors for women. Within the pharmaceutical industry, the panel discussed women’s growing opportunities.

“Clinical trials and public health research are women-dominated fields, so I’ve always been surrounded by other smart women and have had a female boss for more than half of my career. In fact, I’ve been part of several teams that are all-women groups and I’ve had to look for men to join to ensure inclusion and diversity,” said Green.

Traci Clemons, PhD, Chief Research Officer at Emmes.

Clemons added, “I have been lucky as I only have experience in the CRO industry and Emmes in particular. When I was hired, I worked for a woman and a woman has been the CEO of Emmes for many of my years here. I have been able to see change on the client end. In talking with my clients, who are women in government and biopharma, they noted early challenges that have changed over the years. There are more women in the biosciences nowadays compared to 10-15 years ago.”




Women benefiting the industry

Companies with women at the core of their organisations and leadership do not only benefit from the positives of supporting the moral duty of equality, but they also grow stronger working environments and gain skills that women have that add value to the company. The panel discussed what particular skills women offer.

Maruf discussed how women contribute to the pharma community specifically stating, “Women tend to have good organisational skills, are good communicators, can multi-task well, so they are well-suited to the life science careers”.

“I think that the skills that women bring to the workplace include emotional intelligence and compassion. This is not to say that men do not have this, but for many women, these skills come naturally,” said Clemons.

Green also noted on instinctive skills that many women have, saying, “I’ve found that women are often good at listening to their teammates’ point of view, supporting each other through difficult situations at work and home, and finding creative solutions to problems. I also appreciate that women tend to see nuance in complex situations and not just black/white simple answers. This point of view often leads to more meaningful discussion and better-informed decisions. These are all important for our collaborative, deadline-driven environment”.
Many of the skills discussed by the panellists show how the skills that women tend to possess make for very effective leaders such as compassion, meaningful discussion and communication.

“Women seem to excel at juggling many balls at once. Successful women have a lot of practice fulfilling multiple roles of responsibility concurrently in their personal, as well as professional life. Women tend to be more thoughtful and nurturing toward their co-workers or employees, which is sometimes seen as a negative or weak; however, this is a great trait to see in a people manager. A great manager sees the entire individual and not just the tasks they perform,” said Henry.

Believe in your skills

Although it is apparent that women bring immense talent and alternative perspectives to the workplace, it is crucial that they advocate for themselves and not doubt past and future accomplishments. Women should be advocates for other women’s accomplishments and create an environment that allows them to be proud of their accomplishments.

When the panel was asked how women can strengthen their positions in the workplace, they unanimously agreed that the key was to believe in yourself.

“Be more confident and know your worth,” responded Maruf in response to the question.

Henry agreed, stating, “Believe in yourself and always know that you deserve a seat at the table”.

“I think we as women are too often too quick to apologise and to let others speak first or talk over us to dominate a conversation. I always appreciate it when others in a group will speak up to prevent a single person from dominating a discussion,” added Green.

Clemons noted the importance that women should, “Speak up and be advocates for their female peers”.

Balancing work and home life

A common theme spoken about by the panellists that was brought into further focus during the pandemic was finding ways to balance your work and home life. Co-workers, companies and support systems should be empathic in the difficulties experienced attempting to find a balance.

Henry offered advice on the topic stating, “Having a work-life balance is important, but can also be hard to maintain. At a minimum, have a social outlet. Do something with friends or co-workers regularly outside of work”.

Clemons discussed the issue from an industry perspective saying, “We are seeing a lot of women leave the CRO business due to not being able to balance professional and personal lives, especially during a pandemic. We as women need to be more supportive and vocal to ensure that our companies are providing better options, programs, etc, for women to better balance work and home”.

Most work professionals understand how hard it can be to feel like you are productive at work and home, especially with so many people working remotely. As a current issue that can lower employees’ morale, companies and individuals should open up the floor to talk about it.


Although there is room in the workplace to increase equality, these panellists have demonstrated that by having strong mentorship and support, working at companies that value diversity such as Emmes and advocating for yourself, there are an increasing number of seats opening up at even the biggest tables.
“I bear some responsibility for the delay in career advancement as well because I listened to the negative narrative in my head telling me that I was not good enough to be ‘at the table’ – literally. In one instance, I was attending a meeting with other executives and the C-Suite in the executive boardroom. You had to get to the meeting room early to grab a seat at the table otherwise you were in a chair in the back of the room. I arrived early, but still took a seat in the back of the room thinking that someone more important than me deserved a seat at the table. My supervisor, and mentor, pulled me aside and told me, “If you don’t believe you deserve a seat at the table, no one else will either. This has always stuck with me. Since then, I have shared this same advice with others,” said Henry.
Simply offering just a few guiding words of advice can shape someone’s career and even spread to other people. By having people at the table that advocate for women, strong collaborative environments like the one at Emmes, are created.
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