Women hold power in clinical research arena: Greenphire

By Jenni Spinner

- Last updated on GMT

(Vladyslav Bobuskyi/iStock via Getty Images Plus)
(Vladyslav Bobuskyi/iStock via Getty Images Plus)

Related tags Greenphire women Women's health Patient centricity equity diversity

A recent online event hosted by the patient services company invited a number of women to share their experience and insights working in the research field.

During the recent online Greenphire Women’s Empowerment Event, a number of female leaders gathered to share their experiences from both sides of the clinical research field. To learn more about their stories and gain insights into the ways women make a difference in the industry, Outsourcing-Pharma connected with three of the participants.

Erica Cohen, Greenphire’s chief experience officer

OSP: Could you provide a ‘nutshell’ explanation as to why Greenphire decided to organize and host this event?

Erica Cohen, chief experience officer, Greenphire

EC: Greenphire hosted this event to inspire and connect our community across the clinical trial industry, in particular women.

Now more than ever, people need connection. Following two years of the pandemic - and with it the personal and professional stress and strain of intense virtual work and home life, we felt that it was time to shift gears—to celebrate being women, recenter on how we can be successful, support each other, and have fun.

In addition to supporting the online #breakthebias campaign, holding a virtual event provided the opportunity for Greenphire employees, clinical trial professionals, patient advocacy organizations, and others to come together for meaningful conversations and networking.

The event included three diverse and powerful sessions allowing attendees to:

  • Focus inward for a meditation session, creating space to thank their bodies and minds, and improve emotional well-being and overall health
  • Hear from accomplished women on strategies to successfully navigate careers cross-departmentally by building confidence and developing skills through mentorship, education, and experience
  • Turning adversity into purpose, creating an opportunity to help others from something as scary as a diagnosis of breast cancer for one woman (Jamil Rivers)

OSP: Could you share your thoughts on the sessions and what organizers hope/expect attendees will come away with?

EC: Some of the feedback that I have already received is that people truly enjoyed learning and reflecting on their own careers and ambitions while they listened to the stories and witnessed the camaraderie between all the women that presented across the three sessions. I do hope that all the attendees came away refreshed, excited, and empowered, and that they share these recordings and messages with their friends and colleagues. 

We all joined clinical research because of our desire to be part of the process of bringing treatments to those who need them. There is strength in revisiting who we are as a community—compassionate, mission-driven, and multi-faceted women and allies who are doing our best every day at home and at work.

Greenphire is a company that helps facilitate important conversations regarding diversity amongst it’s employees as well as the industry. At Greenphire we think about diversity through different lenses - gender being only one. This event was our attempt to bring a piece of that culture to our greater community

Sue Vestri, chief financial officer at Greenphire

OSP: What does empowering women look like and mean to you, from where you’re sitting as the CFO of a noted life-sciences company?

Sue Vestri, chief financial officer, Greenphire

SV: For me, it all comes down to leading by example. If you can’t see it, you can’t be it. As chief financial officer of Greenphire, it is my goal to be a role model for women and men at Greenphire.

As a mom, I hope to inspire my daughter to follow her own path, go wherever she wants to go,  and be whatever she wants to be. It is important for her to know that she should be respected and treated well by others. In her case, she’s told me that her path is NOT to be a CFO of a technology company! Whatever it is, I know that she will be successful, fusing her athletic and artistic qualities with her chemical engineering interests.

OSP: The financial world frequently is viewed as being a bit of a boys’ club—has your experience been in line or in contrast with that preconception?

SV: In my experience, I have had tremendous support from my male colleagues and counterparts, often acting as my biggest champions and coaches propelling my career ahead. I’ve had a solid background in both accounting and finance and it’s this foundation, coupled with my ability to act as a strategic business partner to my colleagues that has helped me succeed.

My goal has always been to understand the businesses that I’ve worked in - the market as a whole and operational complexities, and this has served me well in terms of having a seat at the table.

OSP: Women frequently benefit from having a mentor (and being one) in their career—have you been on either side of that relationship? Please feel free to share what you’d be willing to about mentoring and its role in empowerment.

SV: I’ve been a mentor and I have mentors. These relationships have been tremendously rewarding and helpful to me, and in several cases, the relationships have spanned decades. I work at maintaining these relationships and always stress to others to try and not burn any bridges along their journey. You never know when those previous relationships will help you along the way. It is also important for me to continue to be a mentor, as others have done for me.

At Greenphire, I’m very hands-on with regard to nurturing relationships - both within my department and beyond. I regularly lead one of Greenphire’s orientation sessions for new employees, letting them know about the organization, the ownership structure, our value proposition – and myself. I’m really passionate about what we’re doing, and for me, it’s so much more than just a job. It’s a great way to get to know everyone coming into the organization.

Each and every person contributes to the success of the organization as a whole, and it is important for them to know that their contributions matter.

OSP: Specifically, please tell us a bit about Jamil, and what kinds of insights/experiences she’ll be sharing from her work and personal life.

SV: Jamil is an inspiration. We each have 24 hours in a day, and she does more with her time than seems possible. Not only is she a CFO, but she’s a mom, wife, and founder of the Chrysalis Initiative. Her personal cancer journey has inspired her to reach into the community to help and reach as many people as she can that are underserved. I connected with her during this event and look forward to remaining in touch as a peer and friend.

Jamil Rivers, CEO of the Chrysalis Initiative and chief financial officer of EducationWorks

OSP: Could you share a bit about your interesting career journey and how you got to where you are today as CFO of Education Works?

Jamil Rivers, CEO, Chrysalis Initiative

JR: I loved math growing up, and found it meditative. I’ve had a long history in various roles in finance –– in nonprofit organizations but also in heavily regulated organizations such as in defense.

Today, I am the CFO of EducationWorks, a fast-paced nonprofit focused on academic support, career readiness, and enrichment programming in the Greater Philadelphia area. I lead all financial functions including accounting, budgeting, tax, grants management, and much more.

Everything I do is rooted in equity, so being able to provide strategic guidance for an organization doing important work to assist others and make our communities stronger and safer is amazing to me.

OSP: Then, please tell us about your experience with cancer and how it elevated your awareness of disparities in breast cancer care/outcomes?

JR: As a busy working mom of three sons, I had my hands full. My husband was going through a recovery from his own cancer when I had a cough that just wouldn’t stop. After several doctor visits and tests, I received the shocking diagnosis of metastatic breast cancer, stage IV having spread throughout my body.

I made it my plan to learn as much as I could about breast cancer. I built checklists to ensure that I was doing everything possible to overcome the disease and recover. I started to do as much reading as possible and was shocked to learn that the death rate from breast cancer is 40 percent higher for Black women than for White women. Also, such a tiny portion of research dollars is allocated to metastatic disease.

OSP: Please tell us about the Chrysalis Initiative, its mission, and some of the notable programs/resources your organization has created for patients, healthcare providers, and others.

JR: The Chrysalis Initiative​ was born from my experiences in offering guidance to women on how to best manage the breast cancer journey. Remember those checklists I created for myself when I was going through my own treatment? That turned into sharing checklists with other patients and it just grew from there and turned into a highly developed curriculum we have for coaching and navigation for patients. I made the Chrysalis Initiative official in March 2019 on my one-year cancerversary.

Today, the organization exists to counteract breast cancer disparities and breast health inequities using patient activation, provider education, and equity assessments at cancer centers. The result is barrier intervention to reduce the impact of bias in breast cancer care and outcomes.

Our coaches are women of color who themselves have gone through the breast cancer experience.  With assignment one to one to this experienced counseling,  patients don’t go through treatments alone. Plus, our new mobile app gives them a continuous connection to their support network.

OSP: What does empowering women look like and mean to you, from where you’re sitting as a CFO?  

JR: I think for the women of color with breast cancer whom we coach and for women in general, it’s the same –– overcoming automatic bias that’s both conscious and unconscious.  It means pointing out that bias when it’s helpful and necessary, and it means making sure that women have the support, preparation, and encouragement to self-advocate.

For Black women, there can be that extra aspect of implicit and explicit discrimination and doubt that we must be vigilant for and overcome.  Patience, confidence, and understanding help women break through misconceptions and barriers.

OSP: The financial world frequently is viewed as being a bit of a boys’ club—has your experience been in line or in contrast with that preconception?

JR: It’s always been predominantly men, like many fields, but that’s changing.  I haven’t personally felt handicapped by that old-school mentality.  It’s like so many things, once you show your competence and a little bit of thickness to your skin –– and a willingness to prove yourself –– you usually break down resistance. Many guys find it refreshing to have more gender balance in their field.

OSP: Women frequently benefit from having a mentor (and being one) in their career—have you been on either side of that relationship?

JR: The core of what The Chrysalis Initiative does is a kind of mentoring.  The one-to-one coaching relationship we set up between our counselor/navigators and women of color with breast cancer is one of advising and guiding on both the technical and personal/practical side of the cancer experience. 

I hope I’ve helped to establish a model in which we lead by experience, knowledge, and wisdom.  Most people have benefited from that kind of mentoring at some point, and it’s important to give back.

The Greenphire Women's Empowerment is available on demand. Go here for more information or to access the broadcas​t.

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