“I Don’t Believe In Linear Career Growth” – Kanchana TK, Pharma Leader, Shares Her Secrets

From Hospitality to Insurance to Pharma, Kanchana TK, Director General of the Organisation of Pharmaceutical Producers of India has not hesitated to make bold career moves. An interview with this inspiring woman.

From Hospitality to Insurance to Pharma, Kanchana TK, Director General of the Organisation of Pharmaceutical Producers of India has not hesitated to make bold career moves. An interview with this inspiring woman.

The pharmaceutical industry in India, while a high-growth industry, has not yet seen women leading many large companies or even making it to the C-suite. What explains the low presence of women in senior roles at Pharma, and how can the industry enable more women to rise to the top?

Kanchana TK, currently the Director General of the Organisation of Pharmaceutical Producers of India (OPPI), is a leader in every sense of the word. Being one among the very few women who make it to senior roles in industry, she is a champion of gender equality and has been working to positively impact on the low percentage of women in high positions. Along with having worked in diverse roles for over two decades, she writes prolifically about the social issues she feels strongly about – which is only fitting considering she has a major in English literature.

Kanchana has received many awards including the Bloomberg-UTV Women in Leadership Award and the WILL Choice awards by the WILL Forum.

I recently had the opportunity to interact with her over email and ask her a few questions – about her journey at work and about making India Inc a more diverse place. Here goes…

What are the milestones of your journey to being the successful woman that you are today? Share with us some crucial moments and decisions from your career.

In my two decades of career I’ve made some bold decisions. Purely based on two things -on whether the job can offer me learning and new challenges and if these opportunities were relatively new to market.

I started with hotels and moved to Insurance and more specifically to health Insurance. I introduced corporate health and wellness when all clients wanted was a lower employee benefit payout. I then moved to Pharma in Policy and Public Affairs at a time when the pharma policy ecosystem was rapidly changing.

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I think taking risks and moving industries was bold and foolish at the same time but I don’t believe in linear career growth. To the contrary I think my multiple roles have helped my growth.

Considering that you’ve been working in the pharma industry in a leadership position, what do you feel about the situation of women in the industry today? Is it hopeful and moving forward from the current 10-15% (I think it’s around 5-6% in leadership positions) or does it still need a stronger push towards a more inclusive environment?*

The pharma industry does not have women in business functions or leadership roles unlike technology or finance, so it becomes that much harder to achieve success.

We have women in support functions but few in business functions and the leadership pipeline is not robust. Women too need to make sales and business a career choice.

What are some of the key initiatives needed to enable more women to rise to the top?

I think most global companies and even start-ups have many policies that allow women to function better through facilities offered onsite and offsite like working remotely. These are visible and obvious barriers that get addressed.

I believe it’s the post maternity ramp on that is still not fully functional to motivate women to get back and stay on at work. That’s the key to plug the leaking pipeline. Here there are invisible barriers; stereotyping of new mothers, work life balance and above all self-inflicted mothers’ guilt.

However mentors and role models are a great crutch and inspiration when you struggle to get back on.

There is a perception that ‘women can’t do sales’, and that sales is a man’s job in most industries. As it’s a business function, does this impact women’s opportunities to grow?

Absolutely, enhancing shareholder value is key to any organization and business and profitability are the main drivers. Sales is a function that almost everyone in leadership position must have on their experience slate. It teaches you the true value of your product or service and most importantly what the consumer thinks of it.

You are a champion of gender equality; what are your views on feminism?

Everyone should be a feminist; no cause is fought by only half the population and more so because it has been established that having women in our businesses, education, politics, social work and our homes not only enhances bottom lines but also fosters better trust.

Tell us a little about yourself as a person beyond work – what do you enjoy doing? How do you spend your time?

Few things that compete for my personal time is my commitment –

To my family/physical fitness/reading/creative pursuits.

I need to satisfy my intellectual curiosity every day.

Lastly, what do you see yourself doing in the next couple of years? What goals do you have for yourself?

I’m writing fiction which I wish to publish along with trying my hand at some movie scriptwriting.

I aspire to be part of a venture which drives healthcare through technology especially for mental health. I’m fascinated by how much technology can help patients.

What’s the one thing you want as an achievement at OPPI?

To be able to make a positive impact through policies for the Indian patient. The future of healthcare and innovative medicine offers new hope for millions of patients every day.

Women like Kanchana TK are a true inspiration for other women who have ambitions and dream for more. The list of her achievements leaves one awe-struck, and we couldn’t be happier that she is doing so well in a highly male-dominated profession and also paving the way for other women to come and join the domain.

*Some studies also reveal that the highest percentage of women executive directors in the pharmaceutical industry is only 7.69%. (Source: Pre-Connect Congress) Women in Healthcare Report: 4% of CEOs, 73% of Managers  (Source: Forbes)


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About the Author

Parul Sharma

New Delhi, India I like to read, write, and talk. A feminist through and through, with a soft spot for chocolate. read more...

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