Christine Coyne, VP of specialty pharmaceuticals at BTG, gave the keynote address at the inaugural Hall of Femme event in June in New York. Photo credit: Dan Derrico

In the early years of Christine Coyne’s marketing career in pharma, a boss she has nicknamed “Raphael” gave away part of her year-end bonus and stock options to the men on staff, telling her he did so because she wasn’t the breadwinner in her family.

“I remember feeling hurt and, of course, angry. I felt as if he took what I earned and gave it to someone who did not earn it,” recalled Coyne, who was in her early 20s at the time.

Today, as the VP of specialty pharma­ceuticals at BTG, Coyne runs a $200 million business. Her anec­dote, shared in the keynote at MM&M‘s inaugural Hall of Femme, did more than resonate with the audience. It spurred other Hall of Femme women to share their own “Raphael” moments.

Photo credit: Dan Derrico

Lori Grant, president at Klick Health, said she worked for a “Raphael” at Wyeth Pharmaceuticals, where Coyne had also worked. “I will say that that person inspired me to break through and to have my voice and to listen and learn,” she said.

MM&M calls them Breakthrough Women for good reason: In many cases that is what they did. The 16 women who make up the 2016 Hall of Femme manage billions of dollars in products and marketing services. They have the ears of their CEOs. But not all, and not enough, women have broken through pharma’s seemingly shatterproof glass ceiling. 

Senior female executives represent only 17% of the management team at the 20 largest drugmakers, according to an opinion piece published in Pharmaceutical Executive last April. In addition, the makeup of the C-suite remains the same as it was 20 years ago. There are still no women serving as CEO at any of those drugmakers. 

“I did have a Raphael moment,” acknowledged Michelle Keefe, president and CEO of Publicis Touchpoint Solutions. “I wish I didn’t, but I did.”

Early in her career, her boss told her that the male leaders with whom she worked wouldn’t have anything to learn from her. “‘They really don’t have anything in common with you, Michelle,’” he reportedly said. “‘They don’t have a 2-year-old and all their wives work from home. Why would you think they would want to learn from you?’”

His response shocked her. “I made sure that I shared that experience with lots of other women as they were coming up the ranks,” Keefe said. “What I would hope I shared with them is: ‘Don’t let that opportunity go by.’ I was so shell-shocked I just didn’t say anything.”