Women comprise half of the world population and their contribution in every sector is essential for the overall development. Technology reduces the barriers and offers women solid opportunity to grow. Better representation of women in technology sector is critical to tap the full potential of technology and improve various services offered by organizations and businesses.
CIO Look recognizes valuable women contributing largely to technology sector. One such impeccable leader is Disa Lee Choun.
Below are the highlights of the interview between Disa Lee Choun and CIO Look.
Kindly take us through your journey on becoming a proficient leader.
When I was young, I was shy and lacked self-confidence, but I thank my mother for cementing the seed that women can be leaders and women are equal to men. This was significant for me especially growing up in Central America. My father passed away when I was very young so my mother had to play the role of both parents. She sacrificed for her children and for me she was my hero and role model. My mother believed in me and that’s all I needed to pursue my dreams.
My first job was helping my mother in one of her stores. I learned the business and became the supervisor. Later, I co-founded an IT company, providing hardware and software products and services. Managing and leading the company was quite a learning experience and a big responsibility. From strategizing to coaching employees to making courageous decisions affecting the future of the company, I learned a lot about being an effective leader. I tried to mentor our employees to be the best they could be, reminding them along the way that it’s okay to make mistakes if we learn from them and from others.
After completing my pharmacy degree and Executive MBA, I decided to pursue my passion in healthcare. I want to help patients improve their health through research and find the cure for diseases, also creating awareness on disease and prevention. Later I joined UCB where I’ve been fortunate to continue growing as a manager and a leader. I learned about managing projects in matrixed organization and leveraged new skills to lead without authority. I am also grateful to the leaders I’ve worked with over the years who saw my potential and gave me the opportunity to thrive, while allowing me the space to grow. I gained respect and trust from my colleagues who believed in me and in what I was creating. Being recognized by my peers in the industry as a top 100 Women in Technology 2018 for my work in blockchain, celebrating women in technology, and encouraging diversity was a great career highlight.
I am humbled by what I’ve been able to accomplish with great colleagues and leaders around me. Success is not just hard work, luck, and the right timing. It’s also continuing to have confidence and persevering to achieve our goals. If I fall, I get up and do it again and again. If I don’t fight for myself or I’m afraid to ask or raise my hand and speak up, no one is going to do it for me. I am in a place where I am able to pass on my learnings to others and encourage people not let their fear of failure cloud their minds. Take courageous decisions, pave the way for others to follow, inspire your team, and listen.
What are the vital traits that every business women should possess?
From my experience, determination and a desire to succeed are key traits for business women. Stand by the choices you make, good or bad, and learn from your mistakes and move on. I’ve learned as a woman sometimes I need to work harder and prove myself 110%. I learned this early in my career when I realized my male counterparts often were not put to the same set of tests I was. I found as a woman, I need to be more vocal, direct, to make sure I am being heard.
As per your opinion, what roadblocks or challenges were faced by you in a corporate business? And how did you overcome them?
Working in a world of continuous change is an ongoing challenge. Managing that change in particular, when implementing a new solution or innovation, requires bringing people earlier on in the process and have the buy-in from all levels from employees to managers. Managing through change has taught me to plan ahead, get buy in for new ideas, and be clear about the value the idea will create. This goes beyond looking for a return on investment, its understanding your customer’s needs and how a new solution could help them and tailor the communication to their needs. Building a team of champions to help spread the word and to provide support to users also helps move along the change continuum.
Have you in any ways contributed towards the cause of women empowerment?
As a female, I always encourage women to stand up for themselves, voice their opinions, and support each other. Within UCB we have an employee group called Women in Leadership designed to encourage more women to enter leadership roles in the company and further improve the female/male ratio. It supports women through training and workshops such as public speaking, self-assertiveness, etc. with the aim of including both women and men. I encourage female colleagues to attend the courses being offered and provide the continuous support and try to motivate women to speak out when they disagree with decisions being made and ensure their voices are being heard. Outside of my day job, I also volunteer as an Ambassador for women’s academy to support a cohort of corporate and entrepreneur women through their academic learning journey.
Tell us about your activities related to blockchain that led you to be one of the Top 100 Women in Technology.
I started to explore blockchain in early 2017. It was an “ah-ha” moment for me as I saw its potential to accelerate clinical development process and improve healthcare. From my vantage point I could see that this new disruptive innovation was coming no matter what. The question was and is whether we are ready in our organization and our industry to embrace it.
I started a cross-industry collaboration on Blockchain via PhUSE (Pharmaceutical Users Software Exchange, a non-profit organization run by volunteers and collaborates with FDA, EMA, and PMDA). I did this not only out of my own personal interest, but also because I believe this technology can empower the patients like me. Some of the potential uses are to: 1. own my data; 2. share or not to share my data; 3. make informed decisions about my health; 4. potentially predict and diagnose diseases powered by AI (Artificial Intelligence) and more. The PhUSE Blockchain workgroup includes cross-functional representation from pharmaceutical companies, vendors, consultants, academia, professional organizations, and a government agency. We delivered a white paper in 2018 to create awareness about blockchain and how this technology can apply in the healthcare and pharmaceutical industries. Currently we are working on proofs of concept with various companies on patient ID, data sharing, eConsent, labs and genomics, and architecture. The final deliverable will include an App. Additionally, I’m involved in the Innovative Medicines Initiative (IMI) Blockchain Enabled Healthcare, a public-private partnership with over 10 other pharmaceutical companies focusing on three domain reference applications of supply chain, health data marketplace, and clinical trials.
What kind of support was required and gained, by you, while emerging as a technological forerunner?
UCB is an organization focused on innovation. We are continuously looking for new ways to improve the lives of people living with severe diseases. Throughout my time here, I’ve had support from our leaders to explore new innovations. I wasn’t put in a box, but had the room to explore new ideas and new ways of thinking.
I believe in using technology to benefit human kind and thinking outside of the box to create value and drive change. Exploring blockchain stood out as one of the most disruptive technologies which is why I wanted to explore its potential uses further. I believe in UCB’s passion to bring value to patients living with immunological, neurological conditions, and our continued research into diseases affecting specific patient populations with unmet needs.
How do you cope up with capricious technological trends to boost your personal growth?
Technology is part of human evolution. I don’t think of it as capricious, but rather a tool to help us meet our needs. In this digital era, there are many new technologies and start-up companies. This new universe requires continuously evaluating and identifying the needs of your organization, where new technology could create the most value, and pushing forward. Taking the time to learn and research is key in the ever-evolving world of technology. This is what I have been doing at UCB, ensuring our approach aligns with the company’s strategy and involve the right stakeholders who are willing to listen to new, out of the box ideas. We need to be bold and challenge the status quo to continue to evolve.
What are your future objectives and where do you see yourself in the near future?
The future is looking bright. For me there are no limits especially living in this digital world. My passion is to have an early adoption of blockchain in the pharmaceutical and healthcare industries to accelerate research and to conduct virtual trials. Also using blockchain coupled with AI and IoT to better understand diseases and to have an early diagnosis or prevention is one of the things I’m very interested to explore.