A conversation with Deb Seltzer, HBA STAR

Since 1997 Deb Seltzer has been an engaged member of the HBA. Her visionary leadership is evidenced by her contributions to the creation of the ACE award, co-founding the first chapter in Atlanta, and serving on committees that transformed the HBA’s business structure. 

During a 20-plus year career in executive search, Deb has worked extensively in the pharmaceutical, biotech, medical device and services sectors of the life sciences industry, serving clients ranging from startups to Fortune 100 organizations.

The Strategic Transformation Achievement Recognition (STAR) is awarded to a volunteer who contributed to the strategic transformation of the HBA. This honor is a reflection of what that volunteer has done for the HBA, howevern our Q and A with Deb she preferred to talk about what the HBA has done for her.

Q: Can you then share with us how volunteering for the HBA has helped your career and helped you develop your core leadership skills?

A: The HBA is a very special, dynamic organization that is constantly challenging itself to improve. Through involvement at pivotal times in the evolution of the organization, I've become a more agile, flexible leader, and developed greater interpersonal finesse. HBA has offered me amazing opportunities to try new things that I wouldn’t have the chance to do in my daily life.

Q: Did you apply those new things to your work role?

A: The executive search business is built on relationships, as is HBA. I leveraged my interpersonal skills in my HBA roles and vice versa, a truly virtuous circle. With the HBA, I met influential leaders in healthcare, expanding my personal network and my confidence. I developed relationships within the greater healthcare community, helping me stay on top of industry trends.

The HBA provides a platform for engaging with industry executives in a broader context than would be possible otherwise. HBA convenes a special set of people from across the healthcare industry because it is a hybrid organization – both a trade association and professional association. This offers a unique opportunity to play a role at both the individual and organization levels.

Q. Being in the executive search profession, have you seen a difference in companies’ interest in gender parity?

A. I initially joined HBA in 1997 for the membership directory because we had a client who required us to present a slate of candidates that included the most qualified women.

I work at senior executive levels, andcan't remember a search where it was not made explicit that our client wanted as diverse a slate as possible.

I know we get frustrated because we’re not achieving gender parity as quickly as we’d like; the good news is I don't see as much built-in rigidity against the notion of parity.

There are certain collections of experiences, abilities and capabilities that tend to be present in those who end up in the C-suite. We must ensure that women are being proactively developed, in a painstaking way, to have those experiences.

Q.  What does it take to get to the top?

A: We used to have to prove that a woman could do the job. Now our  focus must shift -  a critical part of our success  the network we develop, externally and within own organizations. The ability to tap into a personal network, to know who is the best person to help us reach an objective, is a critical success factor – and that network must beboth wide and deep.

Women need to put themselves out there so we’re seen in a more fully faceted way. Understand that a critical part of your value to your organization is externally focused, is the network you can bring with you. These things you get from volunteering and taking the time to connect with others over lunch or coffee; they don’t happen while sitting at your desk working through lunch.  We need to be as dedicated to our relationships as we are to our task lists.

Q. What other changes do you see in the industry from a top talent perspective?

A: Good individual contributions get you in the door at first, but then that becomes less important than whether you can collaborate with and influence others.  Can you lead teams that are your direct reports andcan you lead and influence teams that aren’t?

One final thought. Women-- just believe without question you belong in that room.  You absolutely belong at that table, in that room, at the podium.  If you doubt it, others will – so challenge yourself to believe.