Leading the Way: Women in Leadership Roles
Harriet Roberts
Harriet Roberts
Director – Global Talent Acquisition, Asia Pacific

Diversity and equality within the workplace is a topic that has long been discussed and spoken about globally. In Asia Pacific (our hugely diverse and culturally rich region), we are seeing in Clinical Research more and more women taking on senior leadership roles and empowering teams across multiple countries.

Here at PRA, we are no exception -- we promote strong, dynamic minds regardless of gender. In fact, more than 61% of our managers are women and within our director level teams, over 64% of these key strategic roles are held by women. Here are two of our inspiring and engaging female leaders in Asia Pacific and their path to PRA:


Vicky Qu

What is your role at PRA?

I’m a Senior Talent Acquisition Manager for the China and Hong Kong region, now managing a team of nine, including four Client Facing Recruiters, four Talent Sourcing Recruiters and one Coordinator across multiple programs for SSD. I oversee, manage, and drive the whole recruitment process to ensure a sufficient talent pipeline to support fast business expansion and strong growth in the region.

Did you have other leadership roles prior to this?

Before joining PRA, I handled the role of Sr. Talent Acquisition Manager in China and Hong Kong with one company, and Recruitment Manager for Greater China region with another. I have total eight years’ recruitment experience in the CRO/pharm industry.

Did you have a role model when you were young? Who was it and what did you learn from her?

My role model is Mother Teresa; I’m always touched by her numerous stories. Though it came out several years ago, I still clearly remember a moment while watching Mother Teresa’s eponymous documentary. Mostly what you heard around in this documentary were background noises, and suddenly in a voice-over, you hear Mother Teresa slowly say, “Small things… with great love. It is not how much we do…but how much love we put in the doing.”

And she has other thoughtful sayings like, “I do not agree with the big way of doing things. To us, what matters is an individual.”

To me, these really help me understand a lot and know more how to be a leader in my job, how to express love in my life. As a leader, you are probably not going to tell your employees how much you love them, but it is worth asking if you are giving your employees enough second chances. E.g., when mistakes are made, are you patient to hear the reason, finding ways to allow them to save face and maintain their confidence?

As a mother, though I tell my daughter I love you every day, am I patient enough when she is in trouble? The stories of Mother Teresa teach me a lot and make me more calm and comfortable, to embrace the challenges and always appreciate what I received.

Would you say to encourage other women seeking leadership roles within this industry?

Honestly speaking, it depends, particularly under the current China special situation. If you’re supported by the family, and if you are keen on career growth, then definitely, I’d highly encourage my women friends to seek leadership roles, as it can bring you more confidence, high self-achievement and opportunities for you to share your knowledge and experience with the team. It’s amazing.

What do you hope to accomplish in the future?

I would hope with my leadership, my team can learn, practice, and quickly grow, to help PRA China become a well-known top global CRO.

Jen hartnett

Jennifer Hartnett

What is your role at PRA?

I have worked for PRA since July 2015 as a Sr. Manager of Clinical Operations in the Strategic Solutions Division.

Did you have other leadership roles prior to this?

Like many of my generation, I really “stumbled” into clinical research. It was simply not a well-known area at the time – what a fortunate “stumble” that was! For me, it offered the perfect environment to utilize my professional skills gathered to date in the para-medical fields of both hospital and private industry environments – and it certainly offered a more robust and promising career path.

Working initially as a home-based junior CRA (before we even had email!), I progressed to project management and then line management roles. While I have always enjoyed staying connected to the projects and the altruistic desire to see improved medicines brought to patients, I am very much a people-person and line management offered me the wonderful combination of scientific connectivity coupled with people development and support.

The role has offered me great development and of course, I have enjoyed the many opportunities to travel both nationally and internationally in the course of my work – even though this presented some great challenges when my daughters were growing up. Happily, I have a very supportive and involved husband – supporting my absences when Amelia and Camille were young assisted him to become a poster boy at the time for men being more involved in parenting responsibilities, as he worked in what was then a very male industry (engineering and construction). In turn, as a leader in his field, he has been an inspiration and support to many younger men/fathers coming through the ranks, as they have witnessed his balancing of parenting and work responsibilities – and his support to them to do similarly.

From an early age, I was interested in stepping up to “lead” be it in sport, school events, social activism, or the workplace. I always felt a burning desire for women to be perceived as serious contributors and achievers. I believe that going to girls’ only schools supported this, as we were encouraged to achieve our potential in all aspects of endeavor – sport, the arts, academically, and socially. I have been in management roles in industry for 12 years now, in both Pharma and CRO companies in a variety of leadership roles, including Clinical Research core team management, Start Up, and Quality Management roles.

Did you have a role model when you were young? Who was it and what did you learn from her?

I was extremely close to my grandmother, who lived to 103 and only died seven years ago. She lived with us until I was in my teens and we remained incredibly close until her death. She had an extremely hard early life but was a wonderful, strong, and compassionate woman and she truly taught me how to love unconditionally, how to respect all, irrespective of background and condition – and the importance of education (which she had been denied) and being capably independent. She also invested in me a deep love of animals. I wrote an oral history on her as a thesis in my women’s studies course and this remains an important family document today. She never identified as a feminist – but she certainly was one – and she still provides me inspiration today.

I returned to university to study English Literature (my passion) and Womens’ Studies (Feminist Studies) in the late 80s to early 90s. I became a committed feminist in my early 20s – revolutionary (and resisted) in my family, which was conservative and traditional. My real role models were initially from literature, academia (some fabulous ones in the faculty of Womens’ studies) and the women’s movement and as I developed in my career, I was lucky to work under some truly excellent leaders (and some not so excellent ones, too, like most of us – but that helps us keenly develop a sense of seeking positive environments in future roles!) and I always actively sought positions in which I had positive role models and mentors. I also had one special, slightly older friend, a very strong woman – a feminist, social worker, political activist, mother, and social advocate, who was a wonderful role model to me in my 20s and 30s, both personally and professionally.

Would you say to other women seeking leadership roles within this industry?

Our industry provides truly wonderful opportunities. Clinical Research has traditionally been weighted toward more women than men (although the balance is equalizing), which has at least in the early decades supported the positive rise of women in leadership roles.

There is an abundance internationally of stellar science and para-medical leaders throughout our industry. I would encourage young women to develop skills in discerning what exactly makes good leaders – and seek roles working in the orbit of those leaders – be they male or female.

The old adage is true – people leave managers, not companies: seek to work with those who support, inspire and actively work with their team members to create opportunities and develop their skill sets. Seek leaders who have a true empathy for the fact that we are all people with cherished personal lives and the two can clash at times.

Our working lives can be intense and require long hours at times and periods away from home, especially when we are CRAs. That is becoming less burdensome with the adoption of Analytical/Risk Based monitoring but it is still a balancing act for many, particularly if studying or raising a young family.

I would also encourage young women to stay connected with the industry and the wider network beyond their current employer. Staying updated with industry initiatives and thought leaders is both energizing and important. Stepping up for stretch roles and always working with integrity and professionalism will support your profile in a company and your professional reputation.

Anything else you want to share about your position of leadership, or what you hope to accomplish in the future at PRA?

My role within Strategic Solutions (SS) has been deeply satisfying – it has given me the chance to partner actively with a previous employer I hold in high esteem and I have enjoyed the opportunity to build and lead a robust SS team. It is a privilege to lead this very talented team.

I have a great interest in the Asia Pac Region – in my past roles I have actively worked with studies and teams across AP and worked intensively in Vietnam and The Philippines for two years. I hope in the future to become more involved in roles that will again mean I am more actively engaged with AP.

Clinical research is expanding rapidly throughout Asia, Japan has thrown open its previously quite tightly shut doors and we are experiencing an exciting cross-fertilization of ideas and practices. In Australia, we are extremely lucky to be very multi-cultural and also have many talented clinical research specialists join our local team from many different countries and this truly enhances our working and personal experiences.

With PRA’s extremely positive expansion globally and its strong partner collaborations, the future is indeed bright for our emerging and aspiring leaders.