InesPuttaert_Kela_1

Breaking the bias

Today, we celebrate the international women’s day. This year’s theme is about breaking the biases, so we talked to one of the amazing women in veterinary medicine industry, Inès Puttaert, business manager in Kela, and a mother of four children, about her career path and the challenges she has faced as a woman.

Q: How did you first become interested in veterinary medicines? 

A: By coincidence really! I studied human medicines for a few years, but I did not feel it to be right for me. I was more interested in economics, but I didn’t dare to change. I then stopped my studies and worked in a trading company of active pharmaceutical ingredients (APIs), continued to marketing of a big human pharma company and again to another API trading company which was later acquired by Kela, a veterinary medicines company. That was 32 years ago.

Q: Tell us a bit more about your career path?

A: Let me first say that I would not have been able to pursue my career in Kela without the support of the owner, Mr Beyers. He engaged me to take on more responsibility and believed in me. He pushed me to go one step further even when I doubted myself.

Kela being a relatively small family-owned company, I was able to seize the opportunities. I started in sales for the Belgian market and continued to marketing, technical support and business development. I built the early day’s business for Kela in Belgium. First mainly on antibiotics for livestock and moving later the focus in different therapeutic areas for companion animals.  During the years, I have learned a lot from different fields in addition to sales, such as the product expertise, their registration and regulatory affairs. Now, in addition to corporate business development, I am responsible for Kela’s own affiliates in the Benelux countries, the UK and Ireland.

Q: We are celebrating the International Women’s Day this year with a theme “Break the bias”. Are there any biases you have broken during your career?

A: Yes, I think so. 25 years ago, the veterinary industry was mainly men’s world. I was the first female member of the animal health board of the Belgian industry association AGIM, later renamed to  Pharma.be. It’s difficult to imagine today, but at that time it felt quite strange! Most of the members were over 40 years of age and men from the big pharma. I was in my 30s, from a small family-owned company and the only one representing the generics. I had a big responsibility to have our voice heard. It was pioneering. I received a lot of recognition and witnessed other women join me later.

But the work is not done. Within my own company, we used to have three women in the board of directors, but currently there is none. Women need to be part of the management. They need to be represented in the top posts of the industry. Women bring a realistic mix of emotional intelligence and vision. I am convinced that there are equally capable women in companies.

Women also need to stand up and be more vocal. We tend to be too modest. Young colleagues can be doing a splendid work but no one knows about it. Young girls need encouragement. This is how I would brake the bias.

Q: Have you encountered any obstacles or challenges for being a woman in your work life?

A: The biggest challenge was probably the reorganising of my work life after the birth of my eldest son. My husband was working abroad, so raising the children was fully my responsibility. I was used to working long hours and suddenly I had to consider the opening hours of a nursery, a sick child at home, dinner schedules and homework.

My husband and I always wanted a big family, but I felt the quality of my work should not be affected by this choice. It took me some time to find the right balance.

The fact that my children were spending long hours at school and school holidays at children’s camps made me feel guilty at times, but I hope it has also helped them grow to be the independent adults they are now.  

Q: What have been your most important achievements at work so far?

A: I would say, growing Kela’s business of antibiotics for pig and poultry industry in Belgium in the 90s and later shifting the focus to companion animals. The transition was prepared at a right moment and my team did a great job in getting the company introduced to the companion animal practices. Today we have in our Belgian affiliate equal scale operations in livestock and in companion animals.

I am also proud to mentor my colleagues and receiving recognition for it. If I see potential, I want to be there to coach. It is important that someone recognises your skills, allows you to bring ideas and gives you liberty to implement. You do not need to be scared of making mistakes as long as you learn from them.

Q7: What would you say to those young girls who want to pursue a career?

A: Believe in yourself, keep your eyes open and learn from your experienced colleagues. Go after the career you want. I always tell my daughters they do not have to make a choice between family and career,  they can do both.

Q6: Finally, what is your favourite animal and why?

A: I very much like dogs, but we have never had one in our family. The poor animal would be too much time alone. We have a cat called Pruts and I am really attached to her. She has been part of our family for almost 10 years. We also have a few sheep grazing in the pasture at the back of our garden, and we hope to welcome some lambs in the coming weeks!in

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