This year, International Women’s Day has a focus on women in tech — and in particular, the women driving innovation.

AI company Aktana decided to hone in on that with a recent podcast episode featuring a woman leader in the pharma industry. Eva Martins serves as Sanofi’s global head of customer engagement and leads the company’s customer-centric global transformations.

More women are making their way to leadership positions and grappling with many of the big changes spurred by the pandemic, like cultural and digital transformations. The episode focused on picking Martins’ brain on some of the challenges she has faced and unearthing what she has discovered along the way to be indicators of success.

Additionally, Martins concluded the episode by imparting some wisdom for women leaders in the pharma industry. Here are the top five main takeaways from her interview.

1. Embrace co-creation

When asked what she would deem the single biggest influencer of success when it comes to transformation – Martins honed in on the idea of “co-creation” rather than taking a top-down approach in pharma marketing and customer engagement. 

In particular, Martins referenced a story in which she took a co-creation approach with sales reps for a project, noting that the strategy was effective in delivering the desired results.

“[The rep said] that for the first time, we were driving a project which was done with him, for him and by him,” Martins explained. “For me, that’s the most beautiful definition of co-creation. It would never work if it would be a top-down approach — if we would tell them what to do, where to go and what to say next — which is [often] what I hear in pharma.”

2. Be wary of ‘shiny object syndrome’

Martin also took issue with what she calls the “shiny object syndrome,” referring to it as one of the biggest challenges the industry faces. 

Whether telehealth, the metaverse or any other number of buzzwords that receive a lot of hype, Martins urged pharma leaders to be wary of moving from one shiny object to the next, without taking the time to deeply invest in what works.

“Especially now with new technologies and opportunities, there’s this shiny object syndrome — where there’s a new thing, a new opportunity that everybody wants to jump on,” she explained. “Everybody wants to drive it until there’s another shiny object. [That] makes those deep transformational initiatives — which need to have an impact in terms of dynamics and modus operandi in the organization — not sustainable. Because we create [what] I call a generation of kangaroos, where we always jump to the next shiny object, but we don’t create sustainability in the company.”

3. Create an environment for failure

Most leaders don’t plan for failure rather than success, but Martins said it’s important when it comes to cultural transformation at companies.

Martins’ approach is to “inspire [employees] with the freedom to just be themselves” by creating an environment where they’re allowed to be authentic. However, she added that they’re allowed to be tired, “to be able to voice their fears and voice their struggles.”

Martins also pointed to some of her experiences as a woman in the workplace as motivating her in taking this approach.

“I lived in many environments where I could not be myself,” Martins said. “That’s why I left some companies, because it’s not sustainable in the long-term… because it can have a huge impact on our personal lives. Create an environment where [workers] can just be themselves, where they feel they’re heard and they’re not judged for that. That’s the first thing.”

Secondly, she noted leaders should try to “debunk this need to be perfect,” where the focus is only on the outcome they want to achieve.

“It doesn’t work anymore,” Martins said. “The world is changing so fast that the unknown is totally present. The more we are able to build self-confidence, to say, ‘Hey, I don’t know, but let’s test it. Whatever happens will be OK because we’ve learned through the process.’”

The goal is to celebrate the learnings and failures that come along with them. Even though it’s often difficult to do so, Martins said “I want to lead in a way that allows [people] to be fulfilled.”

4. Operate as a ‘digital leader’

Successful leaders in 2023 must also dive into being great “digital leaders,” Martins said. 

The more leaders can train themselves to read data, take insights from data and make decisions based on them, the stronger they will be in navigating digital transformations.

“In the past, you would simply know the investment level, how many reps you would have in the field and then you navigate from there,” Martins said. “Today it’s much more complex. You need to know if the data that you receive is integrated, if you’ve received the feedback loop from the healthcare provider and how you can reply in real time.”

Martins added: “It’s not only understanding how to lead people but also how to lead people within this complex environment of new technology.”

5. Advice for women leaders in the industry

Martins’ parting advice to women leaders in the industry is not to just simply “allow yourself to be successful,” but “allow yourself to be yourself without having to be a man.”

At the start of her career, Martins found herself going down the path of attempting to approach work and leadership like a man – fueled by the perception that women have to work double as hard as men in order to reach the same levels of success.

But Martins soon realized that much of that was rooted in “B.S.” – a book she later wrote on the matter is called Stop Believing The B.S.! — and instead decided to tap into her own authentic skills, approach and mindset as a woman to lead.

“When I started, I was the only woman in the commercial level,” Martins explained. “The only way I could survive and defend myself was almost like raising my voice like a man, being decisive like a man. I disconnected from my own strengths, skills and capabilities because I was becoming something else that I was not. I became much more successful in my career when I decided, ‘No, I’m going to show up to my day-to-day with my skills, with myself, and show up authentically.’”