Karen Linehan - Sanofi

Sanofi sign

Karen Linehan
Company: Sanofi
Title: EVP, Legal Affairs and General Counsel

Karen Linehan has been a lawyer ever since she graduated Georgetown Law in 1986, but that doesn’t mean her career lacks variety.  Consider her history at Sanofi, where she’s worked with the entire spectrum of departments, from R&D to industrial affairs to commercial operations; handled subsidiaries; served as a regional lawyer; and done licensing and M&A deals.

Ask what she likes most about her job, she’ll say she enjoys the daily toil with her team of colleagues who hail from multiple countries. She likes working with fellow executive committee members who’ve not only come to Sanofi from a variety of countries but also have followed very different career paths.

And when it comes to her biggest challenges on the job, they’re global: Sanofi operates all over the world, and everywhere it does, it’s regulated locally. Different borders, different laws.

“I really think the pharmaceutical industry is fascinating for a lawyer,” Linehan told FiercePharma, pointing to the variety of experience it’s offered her. “[I]t makes my life interesting.”

With such diverse interests, perhaps it’s natural that Linehan would have been one of the founders of Sanofi’s Diversity Council, which launched back in 2009, and began with several commitments from the executive committee “to ensure the development of women in particular,” the company said, “including principles linked to their bonuses.”

Not every biopharma can say that executive incentive pay--even in small measure--depends on the work it’s doing to develop women to advance in the company. It may help that, as Linehan pointed out, almost half of Sanofi’s directors are women. That’s not to say it’s been an easy task, however; in fact, the company’s first formal gender-balance apparatus didn’t last. The company initially set up a gender-focused board at the corporate level, to teach managers to make sure women had the same opportunities to build their careers as men did.

“We found that working centrally did not work,” Linehan said.

And that, the group decided, was partly because of the very variety that Linehan loves. “We went to the concept of a network a year ago, because we realized that there are things that are very specific to a country or different cultural circumstances that need to be examined and addressed locally,” she said.

So, it’s more than a matter of commitment at the top, Linehan said: “What you need is good engagement by the leaders of the business units and the functions to really make a difference.”

And making a difference--broadly speaking--is important to Linehan, who, like most of the women leaders featured by FiercePharma this year, said it’s one reason why she’s in her chosen career.

Law wasn’t her “first calling,” Linehan said. As a child she wanted to be a history teacher. Her father, who was a guidance counselor, suggested she think about the law, because she asked a lot of questions and was curious from a young age. “Besides,” she said, “he used to say that we already had a lot of teachers in the family!”

Though she didn’t sign on to the idea immediately, it did influence her choice of college--Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. While there, however, she worked on Capitol Hill, and when she graduated, she decided not to go to law school directly, but to continue on the staff of the Speaker of the House.

After a year there, she was sure she wanted to be a lawyer. She kept her day job, but studied law at night at her undergrad alma mater.

“I became very attracted to the legal profession because ultimately you can help people; you have this notion you can actually do good,” she said.

After law school, Linehan joined a midsize law firm in New York, where Sanofi happened to be a client, and eventually decided to jump to an in-house job as assistant general counsel at Sanofi’s U.S. subsidiary. She moved to Paris in 1996 to work on international law, focused on Asia, and ended up in her current role in 2007.

“Having worked her way up through the company, in a primarily masculine environment, Karen is an active mentor for many women within the company and inspiration for young talent,” Sanofi told Fierce.

As Linehan rose, the workplace changed, she said, because companies grew more flexible about work arrangements. Women have more female role models these days, she said, “and that’s very important to me.”

Sanofi itself has made progress by offering teleworking, job sharing, international opportunities--even by allowing global positions to be located elsewhere besides headquarters, she said. “For example, there are two working mothers in my department who have shared the same job for years and it works very well,” Linehan notes, “however, there is still more to be done!”

“[O]ne of the current challenges is how women can develop and maintain an international career,” Linehan went on to say. “It’s a challenge for any family, any couple with two incomes, or when you have elderly parents.”

Women--and men for that matter--should not have to make a choice between work and their personal lives, Linehan contends, because it’s important to succeed professionally and personally, too. The question is how to have a life that’s rewarding and integrated, she said.

“When we speak about balance, women often feel they have to choose and in doing so, something suffers,” she said. “That’s why we need to continue to be open and make our people, women and men, comfortable and fulfilled in their jobs.”

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Karen Linehan - Sanofi