In conversation with … Katarina Radošević, Global Head of Biologics Research
Women@Sanofi celebrates our highly successful women who work with dedication and passion across our teams worldwide to deliver solutions in healthcare for everyone, everywhere. In this series of conversations, discover who they really are, what drives them and the rich mix of cultures and perspectives they bring to the table. As individuals they lead the way and push the boundaries, and as a whole they embody our engagement and actions to instill gender equality into the fabric of everything we say and do.
Gender balance may be high on the global agenda, but full and equal access to science for women and girls remains a huge challenge worldwide. On International Day of Women and Girls in Science on February 11, Sanofi renews its commitment to achieving gender equality in science. By encouraging girls to drop their fears and defending an equal education, Sanofi’s Katarina Radošević perfectly shares the vision of UN Secretary-General, António Guterres: “We need to encourage and support girls and women achieve their full potential as scientific researchers and innovators”.
Katarina Radošević has more than 15 years of experience in the biotechnology and pharma industry working in France and in the Netherlands. She graduated from the University of Twente in the Netherlands with a Ph.D. in Immunology and Cell Biology and earned a Master of Science in Molecular Biology at the University of Zagreb in Croatia. She started her career at the Erasmus University Medical Center in Rotterdam, where she did an extended post-doc in immunology. Katarina joined Sanofi in 2015 as Head of Advanced Bio-Innovation Technologies and became Global Head of Biologics Research in 2016.
What was your ambition as a child?
I was a pretty wild and rebellious child. I wanted to figure things out by myself, which drove my mother crazy. I loved maths, biology, chemistry, and I knew from early on that learning, university, was going to be part of my life, but at the same time, I wanted to have a family and kids.
How did you find a balance between your love for science and your love for children?
Balancing work and private life is challenging but not impossible. You learn to prioritize and to get things really well organized and you just go for it. It was important for me to what I call ‘drop the fear’. We are afraid that we are not doing things right, that the house is not clean enough, the kids are not well taken care of, you are not the brightest scientist in the world, but this fear of not being good enough is just stopping you from doing things that you want to do. So I learned very early on to drop the fear. I had very good examples in my own private life. But it was my grandmother who left a lasting impression on me.
At 35, just before the Second World War, she became a widow and had to raise her five children on her own. There’s one story about my grandmother that I will remember forever. In her small village in Yugoslavia, a socialist country, the Mayor decided that people could no longer have chicken. My grandmother had chicken, of course, because you need them for eggs and soup. She went to the City Hall and told the Mayor “you can do whatever you want but you have to stay away from my chicken.” So when I am in a situation in which I don’t dare to ask or do something, I think of my grandmother’s “stay away from my chicken.” If she dared, why wouldn’t I? So she helped me build this ‘drop the fear’ attitude.
How did you get to where you are today?
When I finished my university degree in Yugoslavia, now Croatia, I met this very cute Dutch Ph.D. student. I fell in love and moved to the Netherlands where I did my Ph.D. in the department of biophysics. I was one out of two biologists, the others were physicists, mathematicians and chemists. It was a great experience because it taught me that diversity of thought, of science and of people results in the most creative and beautiful science. We moved to Rotterdam where I spent seven years at the Erasmus University as a postdoc and headed one of the facilities. But at a certain point, I felt that nothing I did would ever get to patients. So I moved to biotech; it was a pretty big change. After 12 years there, a headhunter reached out to me and said there is an opportunity in Paris. I was thinking ‘changing again, I don’t speak any French, I have family and my kids in the Netherlands; it was also a bit more complicated because in the meantime I got divorced. My youngest son decided to come with me to Paris; that was the condition. Starting at Sanofi was a really fantastic experience. I soon got more responsibilities not only for the team in France and in Germany but also in the United States. This is what I needed, a challenging position and the feeling that what I do contributes to a healthier world.
What role does gender balance play in your life?
I wasn’t so aware of it when I was younger, but growing up, I started seeing the differences in how gender balance is being skewed. When I was in biotech, one day, there were ten or 15 people around the table discussing important things and I was the only woman in the room. I started realizing this is not okay. From that moment on, I started to be more proactively engaged. My kids - I have two sons and a daughter - grew up in an equal way. I try to be a good role model for my kids, especially for my daughter, to show her there are no limits, you are as good, if not better, than the others, you can do whatever you want. My boys are very open-minded about gender balance. At work, I have 50% women and 50% men in my leadership team. It is diversity of thought that makes for the best decision. As a mentor, I now specifically ask for young women because I feel that I can contribute much more to their development.
What would make a difference in favor of gender balance?
In a social and economic setting, there should be the possibility for a woman to choose whatever she wants. Education is important. We do not educate our kids in an equal way. We are emphasizing certain elements that seem more important for boys than for girls, which is not right. Quotas may be necessary. Norway showed nicely that if you introduce quotas, you can get things done in a balanced way. We also need to increase awareness in the male population about how much value gender balance brings in business, in life, in everything, because it is this diversity of thought that makes for really great success. Women can do a bit better: supporting each other, mentoring, and not being afraid of doing things… Having more role models and daring more.
What world do you want to leave for your children?
We should clean up this planet because we’ve messed it up. I would like to contribute to a cleaner and healthier world. I hope that I can touch some lives, that when I am gone some people will say, you know, because of Katarina, I dare to do a bit more than I used to do.
What is the best advice you ever got?
Drop the fear. Do what you want and don’t be pulled back because of the idea that you cannot do it. Your future is open, it is there for you to build.
What does success look like to you?
Success is moving my borders and challenging myself, trying to get more done than I did before, for me, for my family, for people around me, for the world.