In the following interview highlighting her role as a female pharma leader, Bonstein shares what initially attracted her to drug discovery and development and which projects at Insmed she finds most rewarding. She also provides perspective on leadership skills and what the industry can do to promote greater participation of young women in the pharma industry — especially in senior finance roles.
What first drew you to drug discovery and development? When did you first know you wanted to be in the industry?
Bonstein: During my freshman and sophomore years of college, Johnson & Johnson was recruiting on campus and I went to the informational sessions even though I wasn’t graduating. I remember an executive saying that he really valued working for a company that was helping to improve people’s lives. As a finance major, I knew I would never work in a lab developing new medicines, but I realized I could still be part of the effort by working for a life sciences company. Later, when I was ready to graduate, I had the opportunity to work at a bank or at a pharmaceutical company. For me, the choice was easy, and I’ve never wavered. Today, I love being part of an organization with such passion and drive for patients.
What projects, past or present, have made you love what you do?
Bonstein: I’ve been privileged to work with a lot of great people, and someone in our industry once told me that every day you’re at your job, you should feel you’ve taken some action to help a patient. I love knowing that even if my role is a few steps removed from directly engaging with patients, my actions do matter – not only to the patient but also to their entire network of family, friends and their own colleagues. In a previous Six Sigma role, I once had the opportunity to lead a customer-facing team on optimizing the patient journey. Even though I wasn’t in a patient-facing role myself, this was a fun and rewarding chance to help improve the experience a patient goes through in the healthcare system through my leadership and, ultimately, deliver a better outcome.
What projects at Insmed are you most looking forward to?
Bonstein: I’m really excited about where Insmed is in its journey. We have the unique opportunity to develop therapies for patient populations that aren’t being adequately served today. When I think about what’s ahead for Insmed, it feels like a once-in-a-career chance. While there are still many milestones we need to achieve along the way, if we are successful, it would be pretty amazing to help these patients as well as those who love them.
What are some barriers women face in today’s drug development industry? How can the industry work to overcome those barriers?
Bonstein: In finance, even today, there are not a lot of women, and when I attend an investor conference, people generally do not assume that I’m the CFO. It’s an unfortunate reality, but I just don’t let it bother me. My attitude is that no matter who you are, whatever gender, race, age or background, you need to just go in and make the impact you’re capable of making. I credit my parents and my upbringing with that mentality. Yes, it can be overwhelming to walk into a meeting or a Zoom call and be the only woman, but you just have to be a good person, do your job, and let your work speak for itself. And I think the most important thing women in those roles can do is help other women support other women. Encourage young women to surround themselves with people who respect them and their work.
Describe your biggest leadership challenge. How did you conquer or resolve it, or what was the outcome?
Bonstein: My biggest challenge was leading a team where I was not the subject matter expert; I didn’t have the technical prowess and was out of my comfort zone. It was an important learning experience because it taught me that you can lead even when you’re not the one coming up with the solution or solving the problem. You can’t have an ego — you actually need people around you who are better at certain things than you are. Today, I expect all my direct reports to be more knowledgeable than I am in their respective areas of expertise. Your people are your greatest asset, and you should surround yourself with people who know what they’re doing and treat them with the respect they deserve — that’s how we can take great science and turn it into life-transforming treatments.
Talk about your leadership skills. What is the most important lesson you have learned that has guided your career?
Bonstein: I’ve learned that you have to prioritize. Understand that there will be times when things are critically important, but if you treat everything as an emergency, then you’ll burn people out, and they won’t be as willing to jump in when something really does need attention. Help your team know when to lean in. And, just as important, check in on your people. Listen to them, and then really take into account what they’re telling you. You can’t be afraid to ask people to explain and teach you things. And always keep in mind what is best for the company and ultimately for the patients we serve.
In your opinion, what more can be done to promote greater participation of young women in the pharma industry today?
Bonstein: While some areas of the industry tend to be more balanced or female-skewed, finance is not one of them. We need to break those barriers of participation by leading by example. It can be intimidating when you don’t see other people like you, so we need to be more visible — going to colleges and business schools and sharing different opportunities in the industry. Surprisingly, I think some of the unintended effects of COVID may help women enter fields they wouldn’t have before. The added flexibility that many companies have embraced will hopefully make it more palatable for both women and men to manage work life and family life and not feel like it’s a tradeoff.
Filed Under: Women in Pharma