Dr Katherine Salazar: HerStory

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Dr Katherine Salazar is Marketing Director of Valeant Pharmaceuticals in America. She has managed brands such as Bedoyecta, Caladryl, Cortaid, Ocean and Insta-Glucose. She also manages the Valeant Pharmaceuticals cause-related marketing programme which donates a percentage of sales of selected products to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence.  Through this partnership, the NCADV has been able to help more than 45,000 victims in the US.

Where and how did your career begin?

I started off in the early 90s full of idealism, enthusiasm and a degree from one of the top 10 business schools in the country (USA). I dreamed of doing international business work, but my first opportunity was in retail. Twenty years and two more degrees later, I have had the opportunity to realise my dream of doing international business work as a marketer in the pharmaceutical industry.

Was it an easy progression?

No! I have had to fight gender bias and discrimination at many levels. These experiences have shaped who I am today as a woman, a mother and as an executive.  They remind me every day that there are always challenges, but that if we are determined, we can overcome them.  What I have done with my career is turn these negative experiences into a positive.  In some instances, the best way to do that is to learn from the experience so that it doesn’t happen to you again.         

Tell us about your early experiences in business …

When I started working right out of college, promotion decisions were made on the golf course, literally! So much so, that the retailer I worked for sent a group of women “with potential” to an LPGA training day camp. I didn’t get very far with this company, unfortunately – not because I couldn’t hit a golf ball with a shovel, but because I stood up to a regional manager who wanted to fire one of my cashiers because of her age! I saved her job, and then decided to leave the company to find a better opportunity for myself.   

A few years later, I worked for a short period of time in the steel industry selling metal tags internationally.  When I interviewed for the position, the hiring manager asked me if I knew that I would have to work twice as hard as any man to do the job right.  I could not believe the question, but I accepted the job when I received the offer – just to prove him wrong.  During my short time at this company, I fought to have birth control pills covered in the medical plan, have all nude and/or provocative pictures of women taken down from work areas at the plant, and I advised the legal department about the inappropriate interview questions I had been asked.  I’m not sure if I made a difference, but I sure hope I did!

Many women still believe that if they stand up for themselves, it will backfire on them. What are your thoughts?

My next career opportunity was a dream come true, working in the imports/exports department at a major pharmaceutical company. My first experience with gender discrimination at this company came during a work trip to our Mexico City office. On the first night, my boss told me right before a team dinner that I was not invited because as a woman, I would make the sales team (all men) feel uncomfortable! Well, I went to the dinner, and the only one who felt uncomfortable was him – he made the same comment in public and I told him I had as much right as he did to attend the dinner since I was leading the project, plus I actually spoke the language!  I did report him to HR when we returned to the US.  Unfortunately, nothing was done but I learned from the courage I had that day to stand up for myself and knew that it would benefit me.  In the long term it did.  My project was successful and was recognised globally by the company.  This gave me the opportunity to get promoted and to transition into the marketing world I love so much.

Much is said about the lifestyle/work balance. How do you manage?

This is my newest challenge – balancing my life as a single mother and a marketer. It is not easy, but somehow my son and I make it work. He loves his teachers and friends, and that just gives me peace of mind; plus I know that he is learning so much more at daycare than he would be at home with me.  This also allows me to be completely present at work while he is in school.  I am very lucky to have flexibility at work so that I can be with my son when he needs me, such as when he’s sick or wants me to sit with him at school while he eats his breakfast.  I try to limit my travel so that I can put him to bed almost every night, while still accomplishing my goals at the office and building those necessary relationships.  I know that since my son is only two years old, I will have many more challenges to overcome as a working mother.  I look forward to finding solutions to these challenges that will benefit my son and me, so that he can grow up knowing how important it is to be a productive member of society and how if we do what we love, we can make a difference in the world.     

So is the battle over?

I hope that the women of my generation and generations past have done a good enough job to pave the way for new generations. I am not saying that gender bias and discrimination are problems of the past, but I think in many ways we have shattered some of the misconceptions about women in executive roles.

What do you see as the way forward?

Young women today need to be as technologically savvy as their male counterparts and always be ready and able to speak up. Don’t wait to be asked – women need to do the asking! Ask for the promotion, ask for the new opportunity and ask for what you want.  If the worse thing someone can say is no, then what do you have to lose?  The opportunities are endless, and if you are passionate about what you want, no one can stop you!    

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