Michelle Gallaher is the newly appointed CEO of the company ShareRoot.
Her appointment to this top job comes off the back of findings that just 11 ASX200 companies have female chief executives.
Gallaher is looking to make an impact on a global scale in her new role. Incremental innovation is not enough for her, she wants to be transformative.
Her rise to the top has not been without its challenges. Like many women, she names imposter syndrome as an experience she has dealt with throughout her career.
“Feeling the effects of imposter syndrome and recognising it as a healthy but unreliable response, is part of the secret to keeping it in check,” Gallaher told Women’s Agenda recently.
It’s made her all the more passionate about urging women to talk out loud about their ambition.
“By avoiding words like bold or ambitious in relation to women we directly undermine and reduce our status as equals.”
Below, Gallaher tells Women’s Agenda about her role as CEO at ShareRoot and why she thinks it’s important for women to not only be ambitious, but declare it.
Can you tell us a little about what the role as CEO of ShareRoot involves and how you plan to make an impact?
Having worked inside the business for 10 months before accepting the CEO role, I’m in a rather advantageous position because I have a deep understanding of the ShareRoot story and technology development capabilities.
With this inside knowledge, I can work at speed and quickly grasp the additional aspects of my role, whilst maintaining momentum for the business. The staff, service providers and clients know me, as do some of our shareholders.
My challenge right now as CEO is being able to transform the business in a relatively short time to position ShareRoot at the convergence point between the health sector and the digital and data revolution that is changing the way we search for new therapies, manage health information and provide care for patients.
With 25 years of experience in the biotechnology and healthcare sector, I can see this convergence point very clearly. ShareRoot has a suite of digital and data-rich technologies that can apply artificial intelligence and machine learning in an ethical and consenting manner to understand the real lived experience of patients managing disease, disorders and injuries. These insights into real world data and real world evidence is a massive new field for the pharmaceutical, medical device and health care provider sector.
The insights we can deliver with our emerging technologies has the potential to change the way drugs are discovered and developed, how patients experience healthcare in a digital world and ultimately play a role in improving the health of millions of people.
The impact I’m looking to make is on a global scale. I want to be transformative, I don’t want to simply drive incremental innovation.
What benefits can female and/or diverse leadership bring to a company?
I’ve been delighted and dismayed to be a part of this extraordinary club of female CEOs of public companies. A few women in this cohort have reached out and welcomed me. There is something very empowering and reassuring to know that there are others beside you working in similar roles, sharing knowledge and networks.
I recognise the influence that I may have, particularly to other women and girls who are ambitious and bold and take strength from my appointment. It makes me really happy to know that by telling my story and being very visible that I’m helping someone else to realise what may be possible for them and help change old and lazy thinking that reinforces gender bias and ignores the value in diversity.
As an advocate for women and a proud feminist, particularly in STEMM industries, I want to see more women step up into science and technology entrepreneurship. I believe leadership should be based first and foremost on merit. Humans are incredibly poor at identifying and correcting their biases. Humans are typically lazy and risk averse, we tend to go with what we know rather than challenge ourselves to search harder and further for the best solution.
The business case for diversity in delivering better business outcomes is well and truly proven and confirmed, yet we still choose the convenient or ‘known’ option rather than the best option. Every CEO and shareholder, regardless of gender or background, wants the same thing – business success.
Can you speak to your own experience of imposter syndrome? How has it impacted your career and ideas about your own success?
If my dog could speak, she would be the one to tell you that imposter syndrome is real and very powerful in holding women (and men) back from being their best. There would be exceptionally few executives who have not experienced imposter syndrome at some point in their career.
I tend to embrace my feeling of imposter syndrome, which hits every now and again, as a healthy sign that I care about my performance and I care about how I am perceived by my peers. I have strategies to manage my feelings at times when I’m less confident or self-assured.
One strategy is positive self-talk, giving myself the exact advice that I would give another woman that I was mentoring. I also lean upon my personal board of directors, which include my best girl friends, my family, my mentors and my dog Pip.
The key for me is not to let these feelings guide my decisions or overwhelm me. Feeling the effects of imposter syndrome and recognising it as a healthy but unreliable response, is part of the secret to keeping it in check.
How did you go about teaching yourself to acknowledge your own career achievements?
An unexpected benefit of mentoring for me, was in watching how others responded when I told my career story. Telling my story out loud was a defining moment in acknowledging my successes and how much I had learned to that point.
I was able to clearly see the people who had influenced my choices and behaviours and the risks I had taken that paid off, and others that didn’t. The next big lesson was in winning the Victorian Telstra Business Woman of the Year in 2017 and then being inducted into the Victorian Honour Roll for Women. Awards are important as it gives us an opportunity to tell our career story, to take a moment to celebrate, to recognise that success comes in many packages. Celebrating your own success gives permission to others around you to celebrate their success. I am an advocate for Shine theory – when one of us shines, we all shine.
Why is it important for women to actively engage in talking about ambition?
It’s one thing to have success foisted upon you but it’s another thing to actively pursue it and even more so to declare that you are ambitious. I’m an ambitious woman. I aim to succeed and create value for my clients, my shareholders, my staff and myself.
I like setting the bar high and I like challenging myself. I have not got to where I am because I got lucky or because I have an absolutely fabulous team. I have certainly enjoyed some lucky breaks in my career, and I take care to build and maintain a fabulous team to work beside me – but my success and ambition don’t rely predominantly on luck or others.
By avoiding words like bold or ambitious in relation to women we directly undermine and reduce our status as equals. On the flip side, I like to use words like thoughtful, compassionate, generous and authentic when talking about some of the tremendous men in my network. Words play an important and influential role in supporting and normalising equality and diversity. I’d be really delighted if people described me as ambitious, generous, bold and authentic all in one sentence.
What’s your one piece of advice for women looking to take the next step in their career?
If I told you I had a grand career plan, I’d be lying. That’s not to say there is no strategy in play in determining my next steps. Thinking about the next skills you want to master in your career path or the technologies you want to move towards is probably more valuable than thinking about the next job.
Too often we fall into the trap of thinking about how much the next job will pay or what the title is, rather than how much value it will add to our career or how much we will grow and learn in that role. For me, I’m planning the next step around a set of emerging digital health and data technologies that I want to work with. I particularly want to get deeper into artificial intelligence and machine learning in predicting health outcomes and the virtual world of patient experience and clinical intervention.