When Jill Allen joined our video call her name came up as “Meme Bot”. She laughed that her nine-year-old must have been on the computer when she wasn’t looking. Her 21-year career at CSL Ltd – a global biotech company – has supported her through multiple career changes and growing a family, including the cheeky 9-year-old! We talked about her focus on learning, taking deliberate career steps and managing a family with an executive career.
A Focus on Learning
Reflecting on her career, Jill mused,
“That’s an overarching theme for the past 20 years – there’s not a day that goes by that I don’t learn something new. It’s fascinating.”
Jill studied Chemical Engineering and Science (majoring in Virology and Microbiology) at Melbourne University, followed by a Masters in Engineering. A university lecturer took her to an industry event run by CSL and Jill recalled meeting CSL scientists at a local Pub.
“I remember being really enthused about working for a company that helped people. The traditional paths in Chemical Engineering are mining or petrochemical engineering and I felt much more drawn to a career in pharmaceuticals.”
She joined CSL as a project engineer to work on a development project at their Broadmeadows facility, and it was incredibly interesting from the first day. Jill was constantly learning. Three years in, the project Jill was working on got transferred to Switzerland, so off she and her husband went!
“It was an incredible opportunity to see another country and different approaches to work and life”.
When her project wound up, Jill transitioned from Engineering into Regulatory Affairs. It was a completely different function, but Jill’s love of learning meant she took on the challenge.
“Regulatory Affairs put together and update all the information for medicines to maintain registration with the Health Authorities for supply to patients. It includes clinical trials and relevant details of how the products are manufactured, tested, distributed, and stored.”
A few years later, ready to move back to Australia, Jill took a position at CSL’s Parkville site working in Regulatory Affairs on antivenoms and vaccines. Her work focused on getting an influenza vaccine through full clinical trials and registered for supply in the US.
“Getting our influenza vaccine registered in the US threw me all sorts of interesting challenges. Then the 2009 swine flu hit and that was an incredible time pulling together huge cross-functional teams to deal with the new strain. It was an amazing experience to go through. We got the vaccine out to patients in record time which was really important for public health.”
Ready to learn something new again, Jill moved into Quality[PAA1] , taking on more people management responsibilities. Quality ensures the products we make meet the highest safety standards for our patients, working collaboratively with various business areas throughout the manufacturing process and ensuring our sites operate in compliance with good manufacturing practices. Always keen to keep learning, she also completed an MBA during this period, while her son was a toddler! She continued stepping up through roles in Quality until she reached the Senior Executive Team.
“From there, I’d done Engineering, Regulatory Affairs, Quality, and thought, ‘what’s next’? The next strategic step was to move to Manufacturing, because ultimately, CSL is a pharmaceutical manufacturer.”
Now, as the Director of Bulk Manufacturing at the Broadmeadows site, Jill sits on the site leadership team, manages 180 people and is responsible for strategy as well as ensuring the facilities run on time, with precision.
Taking Deliberate Career Steps
In choosing to continually challenge herself and take on new roles, Jill has been deliberate about her career choices.
Her career planning tips are:
- Think about the future. “Think about where you want to be in 5-7 years’ time and ask whether what you’re doing now is setting yourself up for that.”
- Keep your options open. “When considering subsequent roles, think about something that broadens your options rather than narrows them. Avoiding the trap of being an incredible subject matter expert — that limits your options.”
- Take risks and challenge yourself. “I look for interesting challenges. When I think about what I do and don’t know, I consider soft skills as well as technical.”
“My curiosity has kept me at CSL for over 20 years. You learn something new every single day. There are constant opportunities to grow and develop in all sorts of ways; soft skills, technical science, looking at how the business works strategically and globally, working with patients and more. I’m yet to be bored. Twenty years sounds like a long time, but it’s been many different changes and ways of working.”
Across her career moves, Jill has regularly relied on her relationships with senior women to open doors and create new opportunities.
“It’s something I’ve benefitted from enormously in my career and I wonder if I would have gotten here without it. Some of the conversations with these women pushed me to be braver. Sometimes I think we as women can be conservative in our choices and want to make sure we’re hugely qualified before we take a step into doing something. A lot of the conversations were about having the confidence to look at all the things I had done, then take a step forward and be brave about it.”
Jill has been brave, living by a 60-40 rule where she will take a leap into a new role if she has experience in 60% of the role’s requirements. Relationships with mentors helped her feel supported in taking challenging opportunities instead of just remaining comfortable. Now, she gives back and helps other women with their careers.
“I’m a huge believer in giving back in mentoring. Especially in my 20’s and 30’s, I took a lot as a mentee. Other women gave me guidance and confidence, and they opened my eyes to things I hadn’t thought of before. Now it’s starting to flip the other way and I thoroughly enjoy having a number of people I mentor.”
Managing Family and Work
CSL pride themselves on their flexibility and support for working parents. Jill’s career is testament to that.
“We are whole people. We have families and lives outside of work, and getting that balance is a challenge. It was part of my deliberate pathway. CSL have been consistent for many years with having flexible work hours which makes managing family life easier.”
There are a range of supportive policies, and Jill enrolled her children in the onsite childcare centre when she was in the Parkville office. CSL offer flexible start and finish times, part-time options, leave purchasing, and focus on men taking flexibility as well as women. There is no stigma in working part-time, and Jill never felt disadvantaged by her family commitments.
Her tips for finding some balance between work and family are:
- Understand what stage you’re at. “Be honest with yourself about what you need to do. You don’t want to miss those early years with children — work has to fit into that.”
- Know how work can meet your needs. For Jill, taking a global role with lots of travel doesn’t currently suit her home life. However, the advantage of global roles is being able to spread your working hours across the day, to take after-school time off with children.
- Make conscious choices. “There’s a wonderful quote from Dame Quentin Bryce, the first female Governor General of Australia, who has five children and always dressed fabulously. She said, ‘Yes, you can have it all, just not at the same time’.”
- Have work boundaries. “Be careful to manage your hours. I’ve had wake-up moments before when I’m collaborating with people around the world and hours get out of control.”
Jill says one of the best things about CSL is the culture.
“The people are amazing to work with. It’s inclusive, supportive, positive, collaborative, and people really do just roll up their sleeves to get the medicine out to help patients.”