International Women’s Day is a celebration of women and their achievements. However, there’s still more work to be done on a global scale. Through conversations with female leaders, we gain insight into how they’ve overcome obstacles, advanced their careers and paved the way for other women.
To find out what it takes to be a women leader today, we sat down with Mary Lavin, president of Sartorius North America, a leading international partner of life science research and the biopharmaceutical industry, who shares how she rose to leadership in a male-dominated industry, who has inspired her, and offers advice for the next generation of women in STEM.
Why did you decide to pursue a career in the STEM industry?
At Sartorius, I get to be part of helping people to improve their lives and health through better drugs and therapies. It’s a great place to be and this is an exciting and dynamic industry.
Tell us more about your rise to leadership at Sartorius.
I joined Sartorius a long time ago, starting in the Accounting department. At the time, Sartorius had decided to expand internationally, and I was able to use my financial skills to help the business leaders to run the company. Step by step, I worked my way through the organization. I volunteered for a lot of projects, such as the first SAP implementations outside of Europe, and supported the sales organizations with their updates, rollouts, and organizational changes. I partnered my role in Finance with the business to help meet their goals and objectives and that’s how I was able to move up in the organization. As Sartorius expanded, my responsibilities did too.
Was there any particular moment in which you believed that you had successfully broken the so-called “science glass ceiling?”
I was invited to attend a global meeting with the business leaders in Oman. For me, it was a milestone to be considered part of the global executive management team. It was in 2002, and it happened to be my son’s first birthday, so it was a mixed milestone. I felt honored to be there and though I wasn’t home with my son, I was able to celebrate his milestone when I returned. When you get the opportunity to be present at an important meeting with the leaders of the company, it’s important to be there. You find a way to do whatever works for your family. We’re all different and have different needs.
What is the biggest opportunity the STEM industry offers to women?
The biggest opportunity is for professional development. For myself, I’m an accountant who gradually grew into a leadership role as head of the North America region. For me, I would have never thought I’d have this opportunity, but because of the robust environment and an eagerness to learn and to partner with different people I am here. There are many avenues for women to be successful and for them to develop a career in a growing industry, and personally, I believe STEM is the best place to be to achieve that growth.
How is Sartorius helping women succeed?
Over the last 20 years, Sartorius has been committed to recruiting and developing the best talent. We have made a concerted effort to bring more women into the company and encourage them to grow beyond their traditional roles. At Sartorius, we are looking to help women develop, get involved in special and critical customer projects, become speakers, and partner with them.
What advice do you have for young women thinking about a career in STEM?
STEM is ever-changing. It’s a great field to work in because you’re doing incredible work, you’re helping patients around the world, and there is a lot of opportunity within the science and business of biopharma. Just think about Covid-19 and how exciting it is for the industry to have been able to develop, test, and deliver a vaccine to address a global pandemic in less than a year.
As we celebrate International Women’s Day, what women have inspired you?
I’m constantly inspired by the leaders at Sartorius. I admire those who are high-performing, lead with integrity, compassion, are strong communicators and listeners. They also value teamwork and talent development. Among them are:
Bettina Berendsen, Head of Sales and Services, BPS
Fiona Coats, Head of Marketing, LPS
Katrin Sebastian, Head of M&A and Corporate Compliance
Kirsten Jones, Manager of Business Area Separations – North America
Vanessa Nardolillo, Head of Quality Management and Regulatory Affairs, BPS
In addition, there are great women in history that have inspired me. One of them is Eleanor Roosevelt, a political figure and human rights activist, who was a woman with a voice during a time when there were none. There’s also Michelle Obama, also a former First Lady, who focused her attention on social issues such as poverty and education.
President, Sartorius North America, Inc.
Mary Lavin is President of Sartorius North America, Inc., a leading international partner of life science research and the biopharmaceutical industry. She is responsible for all of the business operations at sites in the U.S. and Canada from the company’s North American headquarters in Bohemia, New York. As president of the company since 2002, she reports directly to the Board of Directors and is one of the first women to hold this position. Lavin joined the company in 1988 as a staff accountant and since then, she has risen to various leadership roles within the company such as Vice President of Finance and Administration. She holds an MBA in Business Management.