Women Leaders in Pharma Interview Series

Women Leaders in Pharma Interview Series

Interview With Jennifer McCafferty

About Jennifer 

Jennifer McCafferty is Senior Vice President, Quality Assurance and Regulatory CMC at Merck Research Laboratories (MRL). In this role, Jennifer leads the global Regulatory Affairs (RA) CMC organization, MRL Quality Assurance (QA) while also assuming cross-divisional (R&D and Manufacturing) responsibilities for medical devices combination products, quality management for new pipeline modalities and change control, as a member of Merck’s Research Leadership Team (RLT) and Manufacturing Leadership Team (MLT). 

Prior to this role, Jennifer was Vice President, Large Molecule External Manufacturing Operations, leading the company’s global external contract manufacturing (CMO) network to supply the growing vaccines and biologics portfolio of new pipeline and commercial products. Jennifer’s more than 25-year career includes leadership positions across analytical sciences, factory and CMO operations, quality systems, quality control, CMC regulatory, commercialization, business development and manufacturing strategy, as well as enterprise change program assignments across the pharmaceutical, consumer health, vaccines and biologicals business units of Merck and GlaxoSmithKline.   

Jennifer serves on the Government Affairs Committee for the Board of Visitors and sits on the Chemistry Department Executive Advisory Board at UNC-Chapel Hill, where she earned her Ph.D. in Analytical Chemistry. She also holds a bachelor’s degree in Chemistry from Colgate University. Jennifer has a passion for employee development and mentoring, serves on The Conference Board’s (TCB) Leadership Council for Advancing Women and was recognized as one of Healthcare Businesswomen’s Association (HBA) 2023 Luminaries.  


Is there anything that you wish that you could have done differently in your career?

  • In reflecting on my career, one “wish” that I did not ultimately experience was the opportunity to do a longer-term assignment outside of North America. I have traveled and worked in many countries alongside external pharma partner companies. It has been an amazing experience to learn from and collaborate with diverse global teams and to develop relationships with people around the world, that I would not otherwise have met. They have taught me about different cultures and traditions, as well as their country’s unique healthcare systems and challenges. I would have loved to learn and contribute more by working in a different country for an extended period of time.
  • The reason I didn’t pursue this was because my husband has a career as a university professor with more limited location flexibility. We made the decision to locate our family of four in the United States, so we could all be together and accommodate both of our careers. Though, I am very content with the work-life choices I have made, it is important to acknowledge that there are always trade-offs and decisions to be made. I believe that working in another continent would have presented a remarkable opportunity for professional and personal growth and expanding my understanding of the global landscape.

What role has mentoring played in your career, either as a mentor, mentee or both?

  • Mentoring has played a significant role in my career and personal life, both as a mentor and as a mentee. Early on in my career, I had the privilege of participating in the Merck Women’s Network mentorship program. Through this program, I was matched with a mentor who was a director of a quality laboratory at the same site where I worked. She had a wealth of experience, being several years ahead in her career compared to mine, and I had just started managing a team for the first time.
  • During our mentoring relationship, I became pregnant with my first child, and my mentor provided invaluable guidance on managing the delicate balance between work and personal life. She taught me the importance of making deliberate choices about how I spend my time, including leaving behind the ‘guilt’ of outsourcing some household tasks, and prioritizing the things outside of work that are important to me. Her insights and lessons were invaluable in helping me navigate this new phase of my life and career.
  • Throughout my career, I have also been a mentor to many individuals both within and outside my company. Whether it was mentoring a summer intern early in my career or seeking guidance from more experienced professionals, these relationships have been incredibly rewarding. It has allowed me to provide advice, share lessons learned, and witness the growth and development of others. Additionally, I have gained valuable insight into the expectations and priorities of different generations of talent, helping me better understand how to create a challenging and rewarding work environment for them.
  • As I progress in my career and time management has become more challenging, I have realized that my capacity as a mentor has limits. While I may not be able to take on every long-term mentorship request, I set aside time for ad-hoc “career conversations” to listen, act as a thought partner and provide guidance. These one-off discussions also provide valuable opportunities to make a positive impact on someone’s professional journey!

What do you see as the future of women in the Pharma Industry?

  • While it is important to acknowledge that there may currently be disparities in representation, what I choose to “see” (and like to think that I work to help enable) is a future where the opportunities to grow and impact are equally accessible to both women and men.
  • To realize this vision, as leaders it is important to actively identify opportunities for different individuals to demonstrate their potential and to open their minds to what could lie ahead… the possibilities! This links to how we approach talent development, mentoring, and active sponsorship to help create opportunities. And broader than that, working to build a culture that truly prioritizes inclusion and belonging, so that ALL can show up fully and do their best work.
  • Our ambition in pharma should be to ultimately have our employee and leader representation match the diverse population we aim to serve. Data shows that this does not only benefit the women in the workforce, but the innovation and bottom-line business results of Companies. With all our continued focus and attention, we can continue to move the needle and create a new reality for the women entering the workforce!

How do/did you network successfully within an international company?

  • To me, successful networking in an international company has role-related and relationship elements, both of which are equally important to cultivate, and require a mix of virtual and in person emphasis. I have found the best way to do this is by being deliberate, putting it in your calendar, and really being thoughtful about the relationships in which you should invest. Even before COVID, I was somebody who did a lot of ‘camera-on’ meetings with people across the time zones.
  • Whenever I’m in a new leadership role, I look to take time to ask a lot of questions, particularly questions about who the key stakeholders are and what they view to be the most important deliverables and challenges in the organization. I also set aside time slots to meet with my global team members and key stakeholders on a regular ongoing basis one-on-one, and through time in one another’s team meetings to gain deeper understanding of each other’s organizations, aims and interfaces. By creating time and space for these interactions, you can establish rapport and demonstrate a genuine interest in their perspectives and contributions to your role.
  • For the relationship building aspect, it is important to make efforts to establish open and trusting individual relationships. This enables your international colleagues to provide valuable insights and perspective on global business matters, and also as a channel for meaningful feedback and advice on your leadership effectiveness. Insights gained through these relationships can help in making better business decisions, and also to becoming a better global leader.
  • Lastly, on an annual basis (end of year/start of the next is a great time!) it can be helpful to reassess how you’re spending your time and make any desired adjustments to be sure you are investing where it matters, for both global business outcomes and personal leadership development.

What is the one piece of advice that you would give to women in the Pharma Industry that will help them become better leaders?

  • One piece of advice I would give to women in the Pharma Industry is to lean in and embrace your own unique skills and qualities. You do not need (nor should you) seek be a carbon copy of your favorite boss. Build a strong network of trusted colleagues and then believe in yourself and trust your instincts… take calculated risks, and don’t be afraid to speak up and share your ideas. Be curious, seek out opportunities for growth by taking on challenging assignments and lean on that network of colleagues and mentors to provide one another guidance and encouragement.
  • Finally, make it a priority to support and uplift other women in the industry. You can make a truly positive impact, inspire others, and drive meaningful change to those coming behind you!