Women in analytics: Susan Weidner, IntrinsiQ Specialty Solutions
Practical advice for women interested in a career in analytics
By Kelly LeVoyer, Editorial Director, SAS
Susan Weidner took a somewhat unexpected turn into the statistics field early in life. She had decided against pursuing a career in medicine and the pressure to choose a major was bearing down on her at Eastern Kentucky University.
Appealing to both Weidner’s humanitarian and scientific leanings, an insightful college advisor steered her towards statistics as a way to participate in the research that underpins the medical field. Weidner reflects, “She told me that by taking this path, I could impact a whole lot more people than if I were a physician. And that was a real turning point for me.” She went on to get her Bachelors of Science in Statistics at Eastern Kentucky, a Masters in Statistics from Ohio State University, then completed her Ph.D. coursework in Biostatistics.
I learned early on that it’s important to be clear and direct.
IntrinsiQ Specialty Solutions
That same undergraduate advisor recommended to Weidner that she also incorporate business courses into her degrees to better position herself for leadership roles in the biomed industry. That proved to be especially good advice for a young woman venturing into a male-dominated industry.
In her first job out of college, Weidner tested and proved her technical skills as a biostatistician in the clinical research space and then went on to hold staff, consulting, and leadership positions in health outcomes research, chronic disease management, and medical affairs and marketing at various pharmaceutical and biotech firms. Today, she’s Senior Vice President at IntrinsiQ Specialty Solutions, a major provider of US oncology data and analytics that helps community oncologists make more informed treatment decisions with patients and helps life sciences companies understand the impact of those decisions. As a cancer survivor herself, she sees her work as more than just a job.
Holding technical roles in a variety of clinical research and pharmaceutical fields, Weidner became used to being one of only a few women in her work settings. “Was this challenging at times? Definitely yes,” she says. “I often felt I had to work harder to provide more examples and stronger business cases when I was advocating for changes. I learned early on that it’s important to be clear and direct. Communicate how the changes or the vision would support the organization’s goals. Of course, that’s just good common sense business, but even more important to emphasize when you’re a woman trying to be heard among men.”
While in the pharmaceutical industry, Weidner had a male mentor and a female mentor who helped her get challenging assignments and develop professionally. “I was able to clearly articulate the potential of new ways of doing things, to push back on the status quo, and the feedback I got from both of them helped me learn both a woman’s and a man’s perspectives,” she says.
By the time she rose to the executive level, there were more women among the team, so she’s found the open exchange of feedback and advice invaluable – so much so that she is now part of the executive coaching program at AmerisourceBergen, InstrinsiQ’s parent company.
Advice for millennials
When asked if she notices anything different about the incoming generation of employees, Weidner has some interesting insight: “Two things,” she says. “One, I echo some of what’s already been said about this generation losing a bit of their verbal communication skills because of social media. And I’m concerned that’s going to hurt their chances of advancing since communication is so incredibly important.
“Also, there’s so much more turnover in companies today than there used to be, so there are fewer longer-tenure employees to be mentors,” Weidner continues. “The focus seems to be shifting more towards external mobility than internal. As it relates to statistics and analytics, how you choose the analytics technologies such as SAS to work with, and how you choose to display and communicate that information is very relevant to the company environment, and employees with tenure can provide that insight. There’s an increasing number of technologies that say they’re capable of doing statistical analysis but most don’t have the consistency and validity that SAS has, which are required in pharmaceutical sciences.”
At the end of the day, Weidner says, it’s especially important for women to take charge of their own careers. Sometimes, a company’s environment simply isn’t always right for women to advance – and that’s when it’s time to make a change. “Every challenge is an opportunity, it’s all about what you decide to do with those opportunities,” she says.
Weidner’s advice to women entering the analytics space:
- Find another woman who has taken a similar career path to what you're looking for and ask her to coach you.
- Strive for a mix of both men and women coaches and/or mentors. There are great thought leaders in the analytics space.
- Keep a healthy work/life balance – it can give you surprising insights into your career.
- Focus on communication skills and training to ensure your message is received.
- Work hard to understand the core workings of the business and apply your goals to them.
- Seek out coaches and mentors from both within and outside of your company. There are great thought leaders in the analytics space, like: