Ambily Banerjee started her career as a post-doctoral scientist, following a Ph.D. in Molecular Biology.
She spent almost a decade working in top Universities (Imperial College and UCL) in the UK. She became interested in understanding the practical applications of scientific discoveries and moved to GSK 13 years ago. Within GSK she has held increasingly senior roles, having worked within Regulatory Affairs, Audit and Assurance and on Inclusion and Diversity. In her current role, within Global Regulatory Affairs, she is accountable for governance activities for the HIV (ViiV) portfolio within GSK Regulatory.
Over the last year, she has been co-leading the EMBRACE Employee Resource Group, and has worked with senior leaders including the Chief Executive Team at GSK to highlight some of the challenges faced by black, Asian and minority ethnic colleagues. Ambily was recently recognised in the 2020 EMpower Ethnic Minority Role Model Lists. She is an active advocate for Inclusion, Diversity and Equity. She is passionate about ensuring the next generation have equal access to opportunities and has worked as a STEM ambassador with schools, colleges and Universities. She recently also set up a YouTube Channel to provide mentoring advice to those who don’t have access to individuals who work in the corporate world.
Tell us a bit about yourself, background and your current role
I was born in Kerala, and grew up in Mumbai, India. I moved to the UK at the age of 13. I have a degree in Biochemistry and my Ph.D. focused on cancer genetics. I spent several years as an academic, but spent many years trying to transition to Industry. I took on additional responsibilities, working as a consultant with Industry doing some Business Development work for my department. My Head of Dept then asked me to run a course for Ph.D. students who wanted to work in Industry. At the time since I hadn’t successfully achieved this myself, so I doubted if I could do this – but through running the course I figured out how I needed to market myself to Industry, and then successfully transitioned into GSK 13 years ago. My current day job is as a Global Regulatory Affairs Director with oversight responsibilities within GSK for the HIV business GSK owns (with Pfizer and Shionogi), called ViiV. I have held a range of roles in Regulatory Affairs, Audit, Governance, Project Management, etc. I have recently been leading an Employee Resource Group called EMBRACE at GSK, that is trying to ensure racial equity for all employees. I am passionate about Inclusion and Diversity and believe everyone deserves the opportunity to achieve their full career potential, irrespective of their race, gender, sexuality, age, or other extrinsic factors.
Did you ever sit down and plan your career?
No. My career has been a happy accident. I have always explored what I have enjoyed and made the decision about the next step on the career path, based on what I am enjoying in my current role. So, consequently I’ve had a pretty diverse career. Someone recently said to me “you’re a collector of experiences” – and I think that sums up my career.
Have you faced any challenges along the way?
Plenty. I couldn’t get a role in Industry for many years. I was told that I was too much of an academic to get into Industry. It took me seven years to break in! I have now been part of GSK for the last 13 years.
What has been your biggest achievement to date?
My greatest/biggest achievement was getting my Ph.D. – after spending 2 years trying to find a gene unsuccessfully. I obtained all my results in my final year, and I learnt to keep persevering without giving up. Those first 2 years built my character.
What one thing do you believe has been a major factor in you achieving success?
Resilience has played a major part. And having a growth mindset, that enables me to keep growing and pushing myself, and trying harder if I don’t succeed.
How do you feel about mentoring? Have you mentored anyone or are you someone’s mentee?
I have mentored individuals since I was at school. I used to mentor junior students who had just moved from other countries and help them navigate the school and cultural shock of moving countries (as I had a similar experience in my life). I have continued to mentor those who need someone to help navigate their journey through their career. I have worked with the Brunel University Widening Participation Scheme for the last few years, to help undergraduates from disadvantaged backgrounds have some mentoring help to navigate their route into their first job.
If you could change one thing to accelerate the pace of change for Gender Equality, what would it be?
Gender equality should encompass all women. But so far it has been quite focused on white women. To truly reach gender parity, we need to look at intersectionality. We need to break down bias in society against all women by negating stereotypes.
If you could give one piece of advice to your younger self what would it be?
To believe in yourself more. I have doubted myself many times, or held myself back, and I needed someone else to push me forward.
What is your next challenge and what are you hoping to achieve in the future?
My next challenge is to ensure we live in a truly equitable society, by tackling systemic racism – by speaking out against it, dismantling it where I can (in the places I work), to speak up against it, and to ensure that we all live in a fair society where we can truly achieve our full potential, irrespective of our birth advantages/disadvantages.
What three pieces of advice do you have for those who are early in their career?
I would say focus on three things:
- Get yourself a mentor – someone more experienced who can share their experiences and help you decide your next steps. You can even have multiple mentors.
- Believe in yourself – People will trust you to do a job if you trust yourself. So, conquer your imposter syndrome. Record yourself answering questions like “What are your strengths” – play it back, and see if you believe that person. If not, record it again.
- Build your Connections – Build trusting relationships with people from all backgrounds. Your network can prove invaluable in opening doors in your career. And connections are a two-way street; it could help the other person too. So, genuinely be interested in people, and try to find out what they enjoy about their job, and see if there is some way to help each other.
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