Title: Head of Roche Tissue Diagnostics
When Ann Costello left a career in science for one in industry, there were few women in senior positions. And now—having worked her way up with the help of a couple of mentors along the way—she’s paying it forward.
“I’ve had some great supporters, coaches and mentors along my career, but none of them were women,” said Costello, the head of Roche Tissue Diagnostics, a division of Roche borne out of its acquisition of Ventana Medical Systems. Mentoring was not formalized the way it is today, she said, which is why she “absolutely” goes out of her way to mentor young women.
“That is a really important thing for senior women today, that we can give back and we really work with young women on some of these issues,” she said.
A scientist by training, Costello began her career in a clinical biochemistry laboratory at a hospital in Dublin. She thought that this was where she’d stay for the duration of her career—in a lab, as a customer of diagnostics companies.
“But actually, it was the natural progression to move out of being a customer into the industry,” she said. As a consumer of the product, she was continually thinking things like, “I wish they’d done this differently,” or, “if only this came in a different size.”
So when the opportunity came for her to look beyond the lab, Costello seized it. She joined Roche in 1988, with the intent to help shape the products that find their way into the lab, ultimately translating into better diagnosis and better patient care.
“I thought I could be more impactful, working on the industry side,” she said.
Costello’s first job at Roche was in R&D, before she moved on to a position in marketing, where she spent a number of years. She credits a mentor, one of the Roche Diagnostics' area heads, for giving her the push that stretched her in new directions and making her look beyond where she was.
Over the years, Costello has worn various hats—she has worked on several product launches and has been “thrown in the deep end” of several types of special and strategic projects, she said.
She finds her current role diverse, dealing with every part of the diagnostics organization. And because she has worked in so many of these areas, she enjoys connecting with the different teams and learning about the challenges they face and how they are going about solving them.
“What I love probably the most about tissue diagnostics is really the mission,” Costello said. Ventana was started by a pathologist whose intent was to change the practice of medicine and to improve the lives of all patients affected by cancer. And it is these patients that get Costello out of bed in the morning and motivate her to work as hard as she does.
While Costello mentors several women on an individual basis, Roche Tissue Diagnostics also runs a women’s forum, which focuses on topics like education for women in leadership.
Roche Diagnostics also implements a diversity sponsorship program that identifies diverse talent and facilitates their career path, she said. While this isn’t specifically geared to young women, it of course includes them, as well as other talent coming from emerging markets. And, Costello said, women in emerging markets have an even bigger challenge getting ahead than do women in other areas.
As for her advice to young women?
“Be clear about what you want to do. Women very often don’t speak up. They don’t articulate what they would like to do, and not certainly in the way many of their male colleagues do,” she said. “So make sure your voice is heard and don’t wait to be asked. People often won’t ask you. You have to drive your career yourself.”