Welcome to the Woman of the Week podcast, a weekly discussion that illuminates the unique stories of women leaders who are catalyzing change throughout the life sciences industry. You can check out all our podcast episodes
Veronica Sandoval’s career has spanned the spectrum from scientist to researcher to lawyer and now business executive. But what gets her up in the morning is working in a place where “the science happens, and patients’ lives are directly impacted.”
Sandoval formulated an interest in science and biology at an early age, and during her academic career as a post-doc, she was drawn to the area of neurodegenerative diseases and was determined to find a cure for Parkinson’s disease. Despite the advances she was making in the field — work that continues to influence research today — she found that the disconnect between the lab and the development of real-world solutions were too great and she pivoted to the industry, joining Procter & Gamble Pharmaceuticals.
“It was there that I learned how to translate the actual research that goes on at the bench and figure out that connection to new innovative medications, and get those medications to the hands of patients,” Sandoval said.
At P&G Sandoval added to her growing list of credentials and was introduced to the world of patent law, earning her J.D. and later practicing as a life sciences IP litigator.
But, once again, Sandoval felt too removed from the science and came to the realization that with her vast experience, she could make a significant difference for society and patients and leaned into an area of influence that would positively impact underserved populations.
“Just having that epiphany really shaped my professional pursuit of what I can do in my role and what I want to leave behind as a legacy,” she said.
In her current role at Genentech as principal, patient inclusion and health equity, working in the chief diversity office, she is integral to shaping and moving forward the company’s three pillars of D&I — “fostering belonging, advancing inclusive research and health equity, and transforming society.”
Sandoval said it’s all about the “three Ms” — taking a moment and turning it into momentum to create a movement.
“One of the key priorities that I’m very proud of here at Genentech is that both our U.S. and global efforts are focused on reducing disparities in clinical research participation, and ensuring that patients in our trials are near the patient populations who experience that disease,” she said. “Unfortunately, the genetic data that is available today does not reflect diversity of our global population. In my position, I’m able to directly bring change to our patients by engaging at every stage in the lifecycle of our portfolio from early research through late-stage clinical studies, to how we engage with those communities we serve. And, for me, this comes back full circle of being in service and bringing medications to those patients who really need them.”
One of the key areas of movement for her as a first-generation Mexican American and the daughter of immigrant farm workers, is creating better access to care for underserved communities.
“My childhood really shaped me and motivated me to find a career that I could have the opportunity to increase public health literacy, to educate not only my Latino community but also all underserved communities,” she said. “If I could increase the public health literacy piece and educate patients so at the end they can advocate and communicate for themselves — that is the huge win.”
Here, Sandoval speaks about Genentech’s continuing commitment to its 2025 goals, her personal journey of “filling her cup” and her drive to create sustainable partnerships between industry, government, payers, healthcare systems and patient advocacy groups to find solutions that dismantle disparities of care.
Welcome to WoW – the Woman of the Week podcast by PharmaVoice powered by Industry Dive.
In this episode, Taren Grom, editor and chief emeritus at PharmaVoice, visits with Veronica Sandoval, principal, patient inclusion and health equity, Genentech.
Taren: Veronica, welcome to the WoW podcast program.
Veronica: Taren, thank you for having me. I’m really looking forward to our conversation.
Taren: Me too. Before we dig into Genentech’s third D&I report, which I’m anxious to hear about, can you share a bit about your career history?
Veronica: Yes. Absolutely. And Taren, I don’t want to take a lot of time but I’m always like, I’m not going to take you back to when I was in kindergarten. The one thing that I want to start with is just to tell the audience about my love for the life sciences and just drop you as to where everything started for me. It started at UC Berkeley as an undergraduate where I majored in molecular and cell biology. And it was at UC Berkeley that I had the opportunity and was very blessed in meeting a lot of great mentors that allowed me to navigate the world of being an undergraduate, but also being exposed to research and had the opportunity to conduct summer internship programs at UC Davis where I did summer programs focusing on Alzheimer’s research and the tau protein.
And then after completing my molecular and cell biology studies at Berkeley and my internships and summer internships at UC Davis, that inspired me to pursue a doctorate degree in neuropharmacology at the University of Utah, where I continued that interest in neurodegenerative diseases and was very fortunate, again, in having a great advisor, Dr. Annette Fleckenstein, that really inspired my learning and my curiosity about what happens in the brain and really find an elucidate mechanisms that made me very convinced that I would be able to find a cure for Parkinson’s disease. And at that point, Taren, I was thinking I’m going to pursue a career in academia, I’m going to have my own lab; and I followed that journey and went and did a postdoc at Duke University. Like many scientists that go through additional training, for me personally when I was at Duke, that’s when I found a disconnect between being a lab researcher and actually bringing solutions to patients.
I mentioned in graduate school I really wanted to find a cure for Parkinson’s disease and contribute to that. And at my postdoc, I realized that probably I would never see how my research actually connected to patients. And at that moment, that motivated me to enter into industry through a second postdoc at Procter & Gamble Pharmaceuticals. And it was there that I learned how to translate the actual research that goes at the bench and figure out how that connection was made to new innovative medications and get those medications to the hands of patients. And also, at Procter & Gamble, I was introduced to the world of patent law, and that’s what led me to get my JD and intellectual property law. And later, I actually practiced as a life sciences IP litigator.”
In knowing and going through that bumpy road, now here in my position within Genentech’s chief Diversity Office, I’m able to directly bring change to our patients by engaging at every stage in the lifecycle of our portfolio from early research through late-stage clinical studies, to how we engage with those communities we serve. And really, for me, is coming back to that full circle of finding a passion that is for me to be in the service of really bringing medications to those patients that really need the medications for any disease that they’re being treated for.
Taren: Wow, Veronica, that’s such an inspiring story. And that’s a lot to unpack in that description there. I appreciate we didn’t want to go back to kindergarten, but truly some of this is quite something and where your focus is, and it’s about helping others and it’s about bringing cures to action as you noted. And, again, like the idea against Parkinson’s disease which is in such desperate need for some cures. So, talk to me a little bit about the multiple degrees. You have a PhD, and you have a JD, incredibly ambitious. How do those play in your world together?
Veronica: Both of them are very complementary to each other because you know, Taren, when I decided to go to law school, and I mentioned that curiosity started when I was at Procter & Gamble’s pharmaceuticals, because I wanted to marry the science with the law and to me that was fascinating, that it was a path that I could try and shape and help shape that intellectual property and protect great ideas that inventors had. But as I mentioned, when I was at the law firm, it’s just like I had an epiphany one day, that to me I enjoyed the side of the science and I felt too far removed from that science. Actually, having my hands in the science and just having that epiphany really shaped that professional pursuit of what can I do in my role and how can all of these different types of academic accolades help me with what I, Veronica, want to do and leave behind as a legacy. And that was making a difference in society, making a difference in patients.
I attribute that to my graduate work because my graduate work enabled the path that I am following up and ended up where I am today. As I mentioned, I chose my graduate lab because I wanted to find that cure for Parkinson’s disease. I wanted my research to have a significant impact. And, Taren, even as a side note, I still keep in touch with Dr. Annette Fleckenstein; and she still tells me how my research from my graduate school days is still influencing new research and it’s inspiring new ideas of elucidating pathways. Because, as you know, the brain is so complex that we’re still scratching the surface; and to me, knowing the fact that my graduate work is still making a difference today is just priceless. And to me, it’s a privilege to where I am today; and after all of these different types of training that I received, to say that I know that my work will positively impact others and especially for the area that I’m interested in and that I’m very passionate about which is healthcare.
Taren: Talk about a legacy, Veronica. Wow, that’s incredible. And I hope they continue to follow your pathway and try to find a cure for this devastating disease. Amazing, amazing, amazing. I understand from the research that we had done earlier before our conversation that you are a first generation Mexican American and the daughter of immigrant farm workers. How has this galvanized your efforts to help communities in need and support?
Veronica: Yes. Even if there’s people in the audience that have heard me speak at different national platforms from the Congressional Hispanic Caucus to the National Hispanic Medical Association or in various forums that talk about clinical trials, one of the things that I’m very outspoken about is that I am in this very unique position of privilege where I’m committed to helping communities that are in need. And especially coming from my background, my childhood really shaped me and motivated me to find a career that I could have the opportunity to increase public health literacy, to educate not only my Latino community but also all underserved communities. Because I really believe that understanding and living through my lived experiences and understanding firsthand not having access to healthcare. And in all honesty, Taren, even to the point where sometimes if you do have access, you do not know how to communicate and how to be an advocate.
I have not taken that lightly, and it has shaped, again, that almost a need that I have to fill my cup, where if I could increase that public health literacy piece and educate patients so they at the end can advocate and communicate for themselves; that is the huge win. As I’m progressing through my career, one thing that has become even very evident that is key to improve healthcare is that we need better data that represents all populations. And this is not something new, Taren, right? In the recent couple of months, the FDA actually came out and mandated that clinical studies should be representative of the US population. And one of the key priorities that I’m very proud of here at Genentech is that both our US and global efforts are focused on reducing disparities in clinical research participation and ensure that patients in our trials near the patient populations who experience that disease. And unfortunately, the genetic data that is available today does not reflect diversity of our global population.
It’s shocking that approximately 90% of the genomic material available today to our scientists is of European ancestry. So, in order for us to deepen that understanding of disease, develop more personalized treatments, we must have more complete information and study a broader population including those underserved communities. But not only have that data at hand, Taren, but have commitments from not just our industry but across society, that we need to increase public health literacy for all humans. Everyone in our society has to understand how they can be those advocates and really communicate what they need to the healthcare systems and providers.
Taren: I love your passion behind this, Veronica. And I think there are so many things to talk about in just that little bit of description there. Yes, we definitely need better representation for clinical trials; and I know that your company, Genentech, is working towards this and has some very significant goals. Do you mind if we dig in a little bit? And then I want to go back to “fill my cup” because I thought that was a wonderful statement. Let’s talk about Genentech’s third D&I report. Can you share a little bit about what’s come out from that and how you all are moving towards achieving some of your goals?
Veronica: Yes. And thank you for allowing us, Taren, to come and talk about our commitments. And just for everyone that is listening to this podcast, before I start giving you a report card, let me just give you a high overview as to what are our commitments to begin with, where did these commitments come from. These commitments were said when the Chief Diversity Office was founded back in 2020. Our vice president, Quita Highsmith, and our CEO, Alexander Hardy, when they came and formed the Chief Diversity Office, it wasn’t just the fact that we were forming a Chief Diversity Office, but it was that we needed to have commitments; how are we going to measure our commitment to diversity, inclusion and equity.
So, we decided as a company that our diversity and inclusion strategy had to be integrated into Genentech’s culture and business. And this is beyond just saying that we’re hiring and retaining talent. This had to be a holistic approach. And Taren, everyone probably in the audience knows that diversity, equity, inclusion is a long road and it’s hard to work, but you have to start somewhere. So, we centered our diversity and inclusion around three core pillars. First, fostering belonging, which is creating culture of belonging within our four walls here at Genentech. And we’re talking about doubling black, African-American, Hispanic representation of directors and officers and extend the leadership. We’re also talking about mirroring the Asian representation of directors and officers to individual contributors and managers and supervisors and, of course, addressing gender representation.
The second pillar is about advancing inclusive research and health equity. And this is that piece that is very dear and close to my heart because we want by 2025 that all of our molecule teams are going to include population-specific assessments that include research action plans. And we have also an aspirational goal that we want to establish Genentech as a leader and partner of choice in advancing health equity. And finally, the third pillar of transforming society where we’re investing and partnering with our communities, having an annual commitment of $1 billion of external spend and diverse suppliers, requiring D&I commitments from those diverse suppliers with requests of $500,000 or more. And Taren, we actually just put an asterisk on that because it was so well received, and now we’re saying we’re going to lower not only RFPs of greater than $500,000, we’re going to require these D&I commitments of RFPs of a hundred thousand dollars or more. One thing that we said is let’s be bolder; what else can we do? And that’s something that I’m very proud of. And of course, continuing championing our kindergarten to career program.
So now having that level set, Taren, of what these commitments are, the third annual report, we released that in March of this year; and this report we’re very proud because we are able to showcase I believe a very strong report of how we have deepened those investments in diversity and inclusion in 2022, and how we continue to make these deep systemic improvements, that we’re aiming to create lasting change for people, patients, and communities.
So, I’m going to break it down by these three pillars since people heard me talk of those three pillars. If we start with our fostering belonging pillar, looking at the representation within our employees, one thing that I’m very proud, and not just myself but everyone at Genentech, is that we have reached the highest representation of black African-Americans and Hispanic Latino employees in Genentech’s history.
Veronica: Thank you, Taren. This is a huge milestone, and all of us understand that we’re not going to stop. We’re going to use this momentum and continue making those milestones as we continue moving forward. One thing about mirroring Asian representation, what we’ve done is in 2022 we launched the Asian Leadership Academy, and this is to accelerate the growth of Asian leaders at Genentech. And the reason, Taren, is if you look at where Genentech is, we’re a South San Francisco company, and one comment that I said is our representation in individual contributors and officers is not reflective of each other, but this Asian Leadership Academy is allowing us to close that gap. So, we’re very proud of that.
The other thing that we launched is…I mentioned we cannot lose momentum, we’re making progress; so, we actually launched an inclusive hiring training modules for all Genentech employees in order to have that inclusiveness of hiring wherever you are. And as you’re growing even within Genentech, what does inclusive hiring mean and what does it look like, and why is it important. Even when we talk about increasing that diversity pipeline, Taren, that everyone is always talking about, how can we inspire the next generation of scientists. And as part of our fostering belonging commitments and goals is that we actually welcomed a diverse group of intern and fellows. And this is the highest that we’ve had at Genentech of identification of fellows as African-American and Hispanic at 20.2% of interns and 16.8% of post-docs Genentech in 2022 identified as black African-American or Hispanic Latino. This represents a 7% and 9% increases respectively since launching our 2025 commitments.
Taren: Again, wow. That’s amazing.
Veronica: Yes, Taren. And we’re on a high, right? We’re like “Let’s see what else we could do.” I’ll close the fostering belonging, but now let’s move into that middle pillar of advancing inclusive research in health equity. One of the things that we are so excited, back when in 2021 we launched the Advancing Inclusive Research Site Alliance with four oncology centers. In 2022, what we’re doing is that we’re doubling that size of Advancing Inclusive Research Site Alliance, and the impact that the Site Alliance is having. We went from founding four centers in oncology to now adding three additional centers. So, we added two more centers in oncology and one more in ophthalmology.
Taren: That’s really interesting, Veronica. Keep going.
Veronica: And the reason that that is important is because when we talk about the importance of this Site Alliance, of course oncology is ahead; I always say they’re ahead of the spectrum because we have more data, we have more oncologists that can help us think about the different angles. But allowing this expansion is really showing our commitment that not only are we expanding to including other centers…and by the way, the four founding centers were City of Hope in LA; Mays Cancer Center in San Antonio; the West Cancer Center in Memphis, Tennessee; and the University of Alabama in Birmingham. The two centers that were added were Montefiore in New York and the University of Illinois in Chicago. Again, adding to this fabric of really diverse and talent from not only investigators but patient navigators, patients themselves, to really help us feel and think about what else can Genentech do to advance inclusive research.
And then taking this to another disease area which is ophthalmology, and having Wagner Kapoor be our founding site in ophthalmology and still learning. But we did not just stop there, what we continue to do is innovate. So in 2022, we innovated and this was by listening to our airside alliance and talking about what else can we do to dismantle disparities of care at the local level. So, we launched what we called our Health Equity Regional Symposia. This program actually was very successful, Taren. We were able to host or sponsor organizations that hosted 27 health equity symposia across 16 US cities. And this was to have community engaged discussions about narrowing health equity gaps.
Then going and moving to our last pillar which is transforming society. I mentioned that we had that $1 billion annual commitment. I’m happy to report that in 2022, we committed $805.9 million of external spend and diverse suppliers. This represents a $70.5 million increase in external spend with diverse suppliers since 2020. We also launched diverse supplier mentoring program and mentored eight diverse suppliers from minority business enterprises, women owned, disability owned, and LGBTQ-plus owned businesses. And we didn’t stop there. We went and said, “What else can we do,” and that was partnering and continuing our commitment with our community partners. And we invested over $40 million in health equity and diversity and related giving.
And talking about kindergarten to careers and having that opportunity to again inspire the future generation of scientists, engineers, data analysts; we introduced a version 2.0 to our signature program, Future Lab. So, we’re calling it Future Lab Plus, which is an additional $10 million investment and a national expansion of our future lab program in South San Francisco. So now we’re going to be able to impact millions of high school students outside of the South San Francisco area in order to provide that quality and accessible education that has a biotechnology focus to it. We still know that there is still work to be done, in order to get us closer to achieving our 2025 commitments. And through 2025 and beyond, we intend to hold ourselves accountable, remain focused on fostering belonging, advancing inclusive research and health equity, and transforming society so we can make good and bad promise to do what patients need next.
Taren: Wow. It is so inspirational that you all are doing. But let’s talk about some of those gaps that still remain. What are some of those challenges that you all are still confronting and overcoming?
Veronica: Taren, I was going to say let’s choose one. Is there a particular one, right? And I’m sure that you’re like, “Veronica, we cannot have you here for hours”, right?
Taren: I would love to talk to you for hours, Veronica, but I know you don’t have hours on your calendar either.
Veronica: And one of the things, Taren, as far as those challenges, I hope that my passion comes through to the listeners that we still have work to do, is how are we as an industry bringing and inspiring others and our partnerships – whether they be in government, payers, healthcare systems, patient advocacy groups, to really all of us come together and work together to find solutions to dismantle the disparities of care that still exist in 2023. And this is something that I think about a lot because one of the things is all of these healthcare disparities that exist, Taren, are driven by social determinants of health. They are driven by the fact that your zip code does determine your outcomes. And those are still challenges that remain. That’s an area that I hope that I can contribute and continue doing work to close that gap even further.
And in all honesty, Taren, that’s why the Health Equity Regional Symposia was launched, and it came to fruition for the reason of what can we do and what is the role that Genentech has in order to bring these stakeholders together and really think about their communities at the local level. Because one thing, Taren, this is not a surprise, if you speak to a doctor in California, the social determinants of health, the disparities of care, access to healthcare systems may look a little bit different than if you speak to someone in Miami, right? Because we understand that we need to look at the local level where that local healthcare systems are affected. The beauty of the Health Equity Symposia is that it allowed a platform where diverse stakeholders came together. And what I told them when we were putting the program is we don’t want an academic exercise. We don’t want for you to just come talk about the disparities, the problems in your community, but we want you to have a call to action. We’re very conscientious that one symposium is not going to find the solutions to all of the issues, but it’s a moment that would allow to bring all key stakeholders together for them to make a commitment and start the conversation and start thinking about solutions to those inequities at their community.
I’ll give you an example. I mentioned that we had 27 symposia that we sponsored in 2022. One of those 27 symposia was at Sutter Health in Sacramento. They focused on maternal health. It was such a moving symposium. It wasn’t a symposium that was typical because they were able to have stakeholders from the California Physicians Association, the California Medical Association, the Department of Health, various medical community healthcare providers, patients themselves. So, when you have the patient at the center of the symposia, when you have patients sharing their experiences, having just data and changing those data and giving a human voice behind that data, that is powerful, Taren, because that’s when you had stakeholders in that room saying, “Why are we still having these issues on maternal health that affect black and Latina women? Why is it that we still are talking about unconscious bias? What can we as a collective do and what can we come out of this symposium with recommendations?”
And that’s exactly what this symposium did at Sutter Health. They put their insights and informed recommendations to develop evidence-based standards and a framework for more effective and conscious bias mitigation strategies that can be implemented across the state of California. And Sutter is planning on publishing these recommendations which is going to be incredible, Taren.
Taren: Absolutely. Do you know when they’ll be publishing those?
Veronica: I’m hoping that it’ll be by end of this year so stay tuned.
Taren: Perfect. And I love this collective approach because, as you said, there’s no way for any one company or one entity to tackle some of these issues that are absolutely rooted in a zip code and these inequities of health that are, as you said, tied to social determinants of health. And it’s only through a collective purpose that we can start to really untangle some of these biggest challenges that are associated with that. At the same time, we know that diversity, health equity, inclusion, they’re coming under fire from a number of fronts and some label some of these initiatives as woke. And I’m not even sure what that word means anymore because it’s bandied about so much. But what do you say to those critics and why is it important for pharma companies to continue to work towards greater diversity?
Veronica: Here’s the one thing that I would encourage and hopefully inspire the audience that’s listening to this podcast, is that we all need to drive meaningful change across the industry, across the different organizations that we sit in. And you’ve heard me speak about our commitments at Genentech. You’ve heard me say that Genentech believes in having diversity in clinical studies because not only does it mean improving care for all patients, but it also improves how we as an industry innovate science. And it’s that innovation piece that is going to benefit everyone. And even more so as an industry, we must really meet patients where they are and rebuild that trust because that is going to be so important, Taren. Rebuilding that trust with patients is key, not only to our industry but to government agencies, payers, healthcare systems, patient advocacy groups themselves because it’s only then that when we rebuild the trust work together, we’re going to be able to address the root causes of health inequities in this country.
Taren: Absolutely. Well said. Thank you very much. So, can you identify like what is your top goal for 2023?
Veronica: I’m going to make it very, very concise, Taren. You saw that hopefully you heard from everything that I’ve shared there’s so much that we’re doing at Genentech, but one specific goal that I’m personally committing to for 2023 is sustainability and how can we make this work sustainable. Find ways to do that but also building…you heard me use the word momentum.
Veronica: We’re going to build sustainability, but I want to build that sustainability with calling at the Chief Diversity Office are 3Ms – moment, movement, and momentum. And all that means is how can we take a moment and turn it into momentum that is going to create a movement for the issue that we’re trying to change. And that is, in my belief, the way that we’re going to start making the work that we do sustainable, and partnerships are going to be so critical to ensure that our 3Ms really inspire, and not only inspire but make those actions attainable and keep us accountable for the work that we’re going to be doing.
Taren: Wonderful. I love those 3Ms, that’s fantastic. Veronica, you are sitting in this seat of influence and impact. Do you consider yourself to be a role model?
Veronica: Absolutely, Taren. From every angle that I’ve seen, one of the things that you mentioned at the beginning, being a first-generation Mexican-American daughter of immigrant farm-working parents, the fact that I am in the place of privilege where I find myself and other Latina girls and Latino children see me, that’s being a role model, Taren.
Taren: Yes, it is.
Veronica: And having them see themselves and I could give you anecdotes from even my own extended family where I was the first to go to college, the first to go and have a graduate degree, and then a law school degree; they could see themselves now, they’re going to college, and they’re like, “Veronica, what else can we do? What is out there” and that is something that I don’t take lightly, Taren, because I’m in a position where I can also not only be a role model for those Latino children, for the other underserved communities in our country, but also show society that it doesn’t matter where you come from, that should not dictate what you yourself can do and what your dreams can be. It sounds like a cliché but if you really work hard especially in our country of the United States of America, we have the resources to elevate all of our citizens to achieve the potential that they need in order to live the lives that they dream of living.
Taren: Well, Veronica, this is such a legacy you’re leaving. You’ve talked legacy a couple of times, and this is just another facet of the ripple effect that you’re creating across the industry. Congratulations to you and love to see where you’re going to go from here. It’s amazing. Talk to me about how you would describe your leadership strengths.
Veronica: This is how I’ll position it; one of my fundamental views of myself is that I see myself in the service of people and that is whether that service is to my teams, to my customers that I work with, those are my external partners. With that mindset of being in the service for others, I work towards improving careers and all that goes into improving those patient outcomes, but it requires this mindful approach of what motivates people to do their best work or make changes in their lives. So that is something that I try very hard in sharing with my team because if we could change the mindset of all of us being in service of people, the work that you do and what you could accomplish is so impactful because you’re doing this for others and taking the work that you do to be meaningful when you’re delivering it.
Taren: It makes a difference. And it certainly comes through in everything you talk about. And to that point, then, when you go to put together your teams and I would imagine having competency at the job is just the table stakes, what are those things that you look for when you are selecting team members to help you create these moments and this momentum because there has to be something special you look for.
Veronica: It’s a great question, Taren, because when you’re looking at building your teams and the different assets and strengths that everyone is going to be bringing. But one of the things that is very important to me, Taren, is making sure that everyone in my team has the soft people skills. Because I could teach them everything that they need to know from a new area, new programs, but I cannot teach them the people skills; you have them, or you don’t have them. And that to me is so meaningful because it is so important for me that my team is able to build meaningful and trusted relationships with our key stakeholders whether they’re internal or external. Because by doing and having those trusted relationships, we can really engage and have real conversations and those real conversations that my team is having really will get to the core of the problems and then we’re not tiptoeing around the issues. It’s like the fact that you know how to build, maintain, and keep growing a trusted relationship, that is something that I try and coach my teams as to why that is also even more important than knowing all the ins and outs, having all of the references cited, that has to be core to having a very high-performing team in order to get the work that needs to happen in delivering programs that really reflect what patients need in the communities.
Taren: You’re obviously very committed to the greater good, and I would imagine that if we were to tap into some of your teams, they would say you’re one of the most influential people they’ve worked for. In your career, is there somebody who’s had a particular influence on you?
Veronica: Yes. I’ve had many people, Taren. And I attribute some of the shaping of even the way that I approach the work that I do, obviously I cannot tell you enough the impact that my advisor in graduate school, Dr. Annette Fleckenstein, had for her to really take that time and care to really help me grow not only as a scientist, but as a person that really took the research that we were doing and really think about every question that we asked. And even more importantly, Taren, she taught me how to tell a story behind the science in the projects that we were working on. That has been very powerful, and I still carry that with me. I still hear Dr. Fleckenstein’s voice when I’m putting a presentation together, “Why do you have more than three bullets? What is the main story? What are the key takeaways that you want the audience to leave with?”
And then also one of my managers here at Genentech, Dr. Sapna McManus, really solidified the importance of the work that we do. And she really has helped my path and, in my growth, here at the Chief Diversity Office where she has been able to really help me ground myself into why the work that I do is important and why it matters, and why our patients cannot wait, and how can I continue using this position to move forward with the programs that we know are the right thing to do for them?
Taren: Fantastic. Thank you, Veronica, for sharing those personal mentors of yours with us. You have shared so much about your story and your personal journey with us, but tell me what’s the one thing that most people don’t know about you?
Veronica: One thing I’m going to tell you, and I hope that people are going to be like, “Oh my gosh, Veronica, that’s too much information.” One thing that I think what surprised people is that even though I have a crazy schedule, one of the things that I enjoy doing a lot is that if I’m home and I’m not traveling, I make sure that I cook dinner every day that I’m at home. One, I enjoy cooking; but it’s not only about enjoying the cooking, Taren, and cooking a good meal for my family, but it’s because I use that cooking time to watch and catch up on the Mexican telenovelas or soap opera.
Taren: I love it.
Veronica: That is my moment of I’m pressing meals that I know my family is going to enjoy, but then I myself find an escape and I indulge in Mexican telenovelas. Even though they’re dramatic, I know what’s going to happen, I still love them.
Taren: I love that. And what is your favorite telenovela?
Veronica: I have many, but right now, the one that I love is a telenovela that was actually inspired by a Turkish novella. I’ve actually become a fan of Turkish soap operas and this particular soap opera was based on the story of a Turkish soap opera that I watched last year. So even though I know what the storyline is, to me, I find it so interesting because this Mexican television was able to capture the story from Turkey and still find intersections where cultures are very similar because we’re all people. We still have the same issues of falling in love, of culture clashes, of money issues, boy needs girl, right? So, I love that, Taren, and it makes me happy.
Taren: I love that, Veronica. That’s great. And what is your favorite meal to make for your family when you’re watching the telenovelas?
Veronica: I love making burritos, believe it or not. My boys love burritos and making the guacamole, making them the salsa – I think that’s my two favorite parts of building that burrito is the guacamole and the salsa.
Taren: I’m coming for dinner, Veronica. It sounds delicious. I’m sad to say but our time is drawing to a close and I’m going to ask you, and it’s going to be tough, to identify that one WoW moment that either change the trajectory of your career or has left a lasting impression on you. This is the question we end all of our WoW podcast with, so give it to me.
Veronica: Yes. In thinking about this WoW moment, Taren, I’m going to again disclose a little bit about me to the audience. My moment came in my first semester in college when I received my first C. I was devastated because I’ve never received a C in high school and I was like, “I am going to fail. I’m a failure. I cannot do anything with my life.” However, there was a professor, a very successful female professor at UC Berkeley that came to our class, and she shared her career journey. And what changed, Taren, was not only that she changed her career journey, but she mentioned that she failed her chemistry class. It was a small class, and I will never forget when my jaw dropped. She noticed and asked if I had failed a class. I was too embarrassed to say anything about my C, but what’s important is that she saw that I related to her experience and that it touched me. It was at that moment that I realized that perceived failure can be overcome and that I could still achieve great things like this woman who overcame worse academic performance than I had just suffered and still she became a professor at UC Berkeley.
Taren: I love that story, Veronica. Thank you so much. I am truly inspired by your passion and your mission and your vision for where we need to go, not only as an industry but as a society. And thank you so much for sharing all the great work that Genentech is doing as a company, but all the great work that you’re doing personally to change the lives of patients. So, thank you so much for being part of our WoW podcast program.
Veronica: On the contrary, Taren, thank you so much for having me. It’s been an honor to speak to you and thank you again for the opportunity.
Thanks for listening to this episode of WoW – the Woman of the Week podcast. For more WoW episodes, visit pharmavoice.com.