Skip to main content

Women Who Lead
Elizabeth A. DeFoney Olek, DO ’91, MPH

Infectious Disease Physician and Executive Medical Director
Loxo Oncology Inc, a wholly owned subsidiary of Eli Lilly and Company
San Francisco, California

Headshot photograph of Elizabeth A. DeFoney Olek, DO ’91, MPH“While women are represented in the biopharmaceutical/biotechnical industry in ever-increasing numbers, the general consensus is that less than 20 percent of leadership positions in the industry are filled by women. Ultimately, it is a disservice to the healthcare system that we don’t have greater diversity; a lack of female leadership means the biopharmaceutical/ biotechnical industry is missing out on important perspectives, skills and work ethics that can drive innovation. This seems to have been lost in the discussion. There is a long way to go before we see the disparity in gender equality within our leadership begin to close. Yet, I am hopeful that the ratio can and will change with heightened awareness. ... My vocation lets me research new anticancer treatments that focus on specific genetically altered targets. I am the clinical medical expert on a team that is fighting cancer. Our team sinks or swims together—every day. ... My experience is that capable women in leadership roles can build great teams and set high standards for performance. This offers an excellent example and empowerment for women who are motivated and ambitious to succeed. Setting the team up for success is key; successful teams cultivate inclusive work environments, they allow participants to speak up, feel safe, use and retain talent. They encourage women to reach upward rather than opt out. ... More women are participating in science, technology, engineering, math and medicine, which is an encouraging trend. However, the gap has not closed yet, specifically in seeing real change in receiving equal compensation for equivalent work and the career hold that happens during women’s child-focused years. So, the gender difference is still there, with inroads being made.”