A brunette woman smiling at the camera wearing a black flowery blazer. The BMS office is blurred out behind her.
Emma Daly, BMS. Image: Connor McKenna/SiliconRepublic.com

The challenges of working in pharma during the pandemic

8 Apr 2022

Emma Daly of BMS talks about why she fell in love with the pharma industry and the biggest challenges she has faced in her role.

Emma Daly is an associate director of downstream manufacturing at pharma giant Bristol Myers Squibb (BMS).

Her primary degree was in food science but in her third year in college she completed a three-month work placement in a pharma company, where she fell in love with the industry.

Daly recently completed a master’s degree in biopharmaceutical engineering, which led her to her current role.

‘Do not be afraid to apply for jobs you perceive are stereotypical male or female jobs’

What’s the best thing about working in pharma?

The best thing about working in the area is the dynamic nature of the business. Every day brings about something new – challenges with the process, the team, or a new way of working due to a new project or process. There is never a dull day!

What’s the most exciting development you’ve witnessed since you started working in pharma?

It has to be the manufacture of immunotherapy medicines in Ireland. Immunotherapy treatments are used for particular cancer types which have been shown to respond to them.

Immuno-oncology represents an innovative approach to cancer research that seeks to harness the body’s own immune system to help fight tumour cells.

What challenges have you faced in your role?

The most recent challenge we faced was the Covid pandemic. As we are considered a critical industry and the manufacturer of medicines, we were presented with numerous challenges; how do we protect our employees, how do we protect our patients and how do we continue our supply of drugs to the market?

We drafted a very detailed risk assessment of all areas of manufacturing with special focus on high-risk areas (areas with high volumes of staff, areas where social distancing was not possible).

All employees who could worked from home. We incorporated the necessary sanitisation programmes, social distancing, demarcation lines and mask wearing. We then split our shift teams; we had certain members of each team at home that were available 24/7 should the on-site team need to isolate.

We had dedicated break times and breakout rooms for each team. All our meetings became virtual meetings. It was a tough time for all the critical staff on site, but we ensured we met all of our milestones in a safe and compliant manner.

During this time to ensure the safety and comfort of our staff, we also provided a few incentives like free canteen food and free taxi services to and from the site. A rapid Covid testing programme was additionally initiated on site.

What has been the hardest thing you’ve had to face in your career?

Moving from a technical role to a more managerial role. When I first moved into the role, I wanted to problem-solve, I thought this was helping my team. I would direct them and tell them what to do.

I soon realised that my team had all the answers and what they needed from me was support rather than direction. My team had a wealth of knowledge and many years of experience.

They had the answers and just needed help solving it for themselves. I trusted my team to succeed and helped them to become a stronger, more collaborative team using coaching methodologies.

Which of your personality traits makes you best suited to your job and this sector?

I have a calm demeanour and I love working with people. I am in tune with my emotional intelligence and I strive to build an environment of trust and safety for my team.

I am conscientious, organised and have a strong sense of duty. Conscientious people are planners and we are organised.

A lot of what we do in the STEM sector is planned years in advance. We follow a defined set of rules but also think outside the box when required.

Is there something in your personal life that helps you you in your job?

Each part of my personal life helps me with my job, it keeps me grounded and gives me some escapism! I have three young active boys who require a lot of attention and constant entertainment.

Once I arrive in the door from work, I have no choice but to shut off from my professional world and enter my family world! I also have a great circle of friends and a fantastic husband who I rely on for support.

At BMS we have introduced flexible ways of working. This is an excellent opportunity and really gels well with my family life. We have the option of working from home, consolidated working weeks, job sharing and leave of absence.

The introduction of this way of working has been encouraged at all levels within the organisation and is another great benefit that I feel other companies should realise as a benefit to them and their employees.

Maintaining a healthy work-life balance helps reduce stress and helps prevent burnout in the workplace. Getting fresh air and exercise is hugely important and is something I prioritise and plan every day.

How do you make connections with others in the STEM community?

I am an active member of Parenteral Drug Association Ireland and have presented at IDA conferences. I attend conferences throughout the year and am part of community of practices in the areas of manufacturing and validation. I also use networking as a tool to keep current with others in the industry.

At BMS, we have various people and business resource groups, which drive the importance of diversity and inclusion within the company. I am a part of B-NOW, the BMS Network of Women, which is linked to the Healthcare Businesswomen’s Association network and promotes, empowers and encourages women to develop within BMS.

Being part of a group like this is important to me for many reasons including a sense of belonging, strength in numbers and professional development opportunities.

Has mentorship or coaching been important in your career?

Yes absolutely. I approached a peer to mentor me a few years ago and have been part of a mentorship programme within BMS for the past three years. It’s something I enjoy doing and I think my enthusiasm for it comes from my own successful experience of being mentored.

The reason it works is because the mentor is usually someone neutral to you, it is someone who has a keen interest in seeing you grow.

I heard a great quote from a training course I recently attended which was, ‘A mentor is someone who talks with you and a sponsor is someone who talks about you.’ My belief is that we should strive to have both!

What advice would you give to someone thinking about a career in pharma?

Go for it – you will not regret it! Try to get a rounded experience in many departments within your company before you finally settle.

Do not be afraid to apply for jobs you perceive are stereotypical male or female jobs – you may be pleasantly surprised. I know I was!

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