In Conversation with…Kathleen Tregoning, Head of External Affairs, Executive Vice President
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.
Kathleen Tregoning leads the External Affairs department at Sanofi and manages a team of 1,500 people around the world with diverse expertise in Communications, Government & Public Affairs, Market Access and Corporate Social Responsibility. A proactive and forward-leaning organization, External Affairs shapes the external healthcare ecosystem through policy initiatives, patient advocacy, communications, health economics, market access and payer negotiations to pave the way for patients to access the treatments and therapies they need.
Kathleen is an American and currently lives in Paris. She has more than 20 years of professional experience in policy, advocacy, stakeholder outreach and external engagement.
What was five-year-old Kathleen like?
When I was a little girl, I didn’t think so much about what I wanted to be as about what I wanted to do. I loved learning and figuring things out. So five-year-old me probably wanted to be a professional problem-solver, a figure-outer of things. And I loved history and reading. My sisters tease that I was always in the corner with my nose in a book.
Over the last year since I moved to Paris, just about every book I’ve read has been about French culture and history. It’s complicated, but I feel like the pieces are coming together and it’s fascinating.
What was the biggest shock moving from America to France?
The biggest shock for me living here has been learning, how the French say, “le fond et la forme”, which means there’s the content of what you do and then there’s how you get there. As an American, I’m pretty direct and pragmatic so it’s taken me a while to figure out that the straight route is not always the best way and that you can spend time on the journey before you get to a destination; that took me a little while to figure out.
How did Kathleen go from being a bookworm to Head of External Affairs at Sanofi?
When I grew up I went to college on the other side of the country because I wanted to do something different. I studied International Relations at a time when the Berlin Wall was falling and there was so much going on in the world. I got interested in government and policy so I went back and got my graduate degree in Public Policy. I didn’t have a master plan, I just kept following the things that intrigued me.
I ended up going to Washington DC and working in the US Congress and from there found my way through healthcare into government affairs in the biopharmaceutical industry. I later expanded my scope to also include communications, and that broader Corporate Affairs perspective is how I found my way to Sanofi. It’s been a fun journey, but I certainly could not have told you 25 years ago that was how it would go.
What inspired you to champion the gender balance issue at Sanofi?
As I went further in my career I realised that there were fewer women role models around. I think it’s important to be a role model, to understand that if we want to take ground in gender balance we’ve got to be really intentional about it and so I’m committed to it. I’ve had a lot of opportunities in my career and I want to make sure I’m also a positive force for change for others.
And also a positive force for your children growing up?
My daughter’s always been conscious of what make senses for girls versus boys. I remember taking her and my son to see the Lincoln Memorial when we lived in Washington and telling them about President Lincoln and what a great leader he was. She looked at me and said, “OK Mom, but why wasn’t he a girl?” She often asks the question, “where are the girls and what did the girls do?” And so I think it’s important to show different role models.
What about gender balance in your own life?
My husband is amazing and he’s taken on so much of the life at home, he’s the guy at school picking up the children and handling all the things that make a home run effectively so when I come home I get to be fun mom, I’m not trying to cook dinner and do the laundry. In some ways we have a typical setup except our gender roles are reversed. I’m incredibly lucky that he’s on board and that our children have no idea what the stereotypical gender roles are, they’ve never lived in that environment so they’re seeing a mom and a dad both bringing their best to that relationship and contributing in their different ways.
My children know that mommy works for a company that makes medicines for people who are sick and helps make them better, and they like that, they are attached to that, but when I come home they want to play soccer in the hallway and tell me what they did at school. So it’s always a good transition, it keeps me grounded.
It’s true that women are often asked, “How do you balance it all?” and men don’t generally get asked that question. I balance it all the same way that men do. I have a fantastic spouse who helps me follow my career. And I think gender balance is important for all genders. Men want to be just as involved with their children and family life, but we can’t expect people to have careers without a strong support system at home. For me gender balance is not a women’s issue, it’s about how do we achieve balance to let people have a rich and rewarding professional life and a rich and rewarding personal life in whatever form that takes.
How has the move to Paris changed you?
I never dreamed that I’d be able to move my family overseas as part of my career. That’s been really fun for us. What’s nice about being in Paris is you step out of your daily life. I recently auditioned for and joined a choir here in Paris, which is something I hadn’t done in a long time. I was a little nervous about it, particularly – and this might surprise you – because I’m really an introvert masquerading in an extrovert’s world. It’s been part of what’s important about my career, pushing through my introversion, because I didn’t want to let being an introvert confine me.
One of my favourite books is Quiet by Susan Cain. It’s about introverts. Someone recommended it to me who I never would have guessed was an introvert. I read it and recognised there’s a whole community of us out there living in an extrovert’s world. It helped me understand why certain things take so much effort and also made me realise that you don’t necessarily know people if you just look at the surface. If you think, for example, that a person has no problem speaking in an interview like this one, it can be helpful to know that for many of us, talking about ourselves doesn’t necessarily come naturally.
But my father’s advice growing up was always “never back down from a challenge”. And he and my mom both instilled in me a sense of forging new horizons and so I’ve always lived by that.
Any goals left?
People ask a lot about my life goals and I really only have one. And it’s been very clearly etched in my mind for quite a long time. Someday, when someone asks my children, “Well, what was your mom like when you were growing up?” the first words out of their mouths are, “Mom, she was fun.” That means a lot to me – to be fun requires that I’m happy and fulfilled in my professional life and able to bring a sense of joy and purpose from there into my family life. So that’s the goal around which I organise my life.