As part of our ‘Female Leaders: Inspiring Together’ series, we interviewed Carole Dupont – EMEA Senior Manager Direct Sales at Takara Bio Europe – about the barriers she faced trying to move into a sales role and why being organised is really the key to achieving work-life balance.


Carole, thanks a lot for joining us today and thank you for your time. First of all, please could you tell us a little bit about your current role and the company you work for?

Thank you, Revna for this invitation. For the last year, I have been working for a Japanese life science company called Takara Bio Europe as EMEA Senior Manager Direct Sales, which means that I am responsible for all of the sales in the direct sales across Europe. As a company, we sell a lot of biotechnology and bio life science solutions to research centres and hospitals across the whole of Europe.


What inspired you in your career choice so far?

I’m an organic chemist and I started my career as an application engineer in a lab. I spent two years of my working experience alone, only meeting with my lab manager every one or two weeks, which I didn’t enjoy. At that time, the company had an opening for a sales engineer position, and they were employing 90% men in the company. They refused my application as they didn’t think I would be able to sell a biological solution in France. I crossed the road and I was warmly welcomed by a company called Amersham Pharmacia Biotech at that time, now called Cytiva, and I started my career as a salesperson.


What kind of barriers would you say you’ve encountered during your career growth from key account manager to then becoming a successful sales leader?

“When I was a young woman, I faced the same question at every interview related to my wish to have children. They would ask how I could imagine managing sales responsibilities – including field trips and customer visits face-to-face – whilst having children.”

When I was a young woman, I faced the same question at every interview related to my wish to have children. They would ask how I could imagine managing sales responsibilities – including field trips and customer visits face-to-face – whilst having children. It was always the same as a woman. I am naturally a very organised person and I can manage both. When I started looking at a sales team management position, there were many prominent questions during the interview where they expressed the same concerns.


You just mentioned your strong organisation skills, is that the key to how you manage work-life balance?

Yes, absolutely, it’s a question of organisation, I truly believe that. You have to consider the different members of your family and find the best outcome. My husband works in the National Army Institute with regular hours and he spent a lot of his time helping with our children. He even took sabbaticals to spend more time with our second child when the baby arrived. So, it’s just a question of organisation and family decisions and figuring that out together.


Did you ever suffer from any self-doubt and if you did, how did you overcome that?

Doubt is essential, in my life at least. I have many experiences. I spend a lot of time travelling in different countries. But to make the right decision, you have to keep with your doubt and ask other people inside your organisation or outside of your organisation in order to get a different angle of vision, a different perspective, and take the right decision. So, it’s not easy, but understanding the whole vision of the problem will lead you to take the right decision.


Are there any women who have inspired you or influenced your career?

Oh, yes, I have what I call myself ‘a star’, Anne Lauvergeon. She is a mother of three children, but she worked for famous companies like COGEMA, CA and Areva so she had a strong position. I remember her doing an interview in front of the Bus Syndicate and she said completely normally, ‘This is bulls**t what you said.’ Even in such a great position, she can be true to herself and say those things. She’s a marvelous lady, she is a mother and she is a very accomplished woman. I remember thinking ‘remember this woman, she did it, maybe you can try at least.’


Do you have any advice for women looking to progress in your industry?

“Don’t let people make decisions for your life because you have only one life.”

Be yourself. Imagine yourself in the next 10 years and ask yourself what you want to be. Don’t let people make decisions for your life because you have only one life. Don’t worry about doubts; every doubt should be considered as a warning before you make a decision but that should not prohibit you from making the decision. I know there are many studies comparing male and female decision-making, but I think doubt and consideration are some of our strengths as women. I also think it is great to be curious. Being curious is a big part of my life, and it helps you to be more open-minded.


What challenges do you still see women facing when they reach a more senior level in your industry?  

At the top management, it is mainly men in those positions who can be very confident, and it is hard sometimes to say no or disagree. An experience I had in a previous role, my boss asked me if I would take on the role of EMEA Sales Manager. I knew from working with this manager, that the response ‘no’ was not an option, but at that moment in my life, I didn’t want to take the position. I discussed the consequences of saying yes or no with my husband and we discussed the kind of life we would like to have. We agreed together that I have only one life. I took the decision to say no and I was very comfortable with my response. I was fired three months after, but I will never regret this choice. Saying no or voicing your opinion is something many women lack confidence in. In my life, I believe in making your own decisions and anytime you fail you can learn from that.


Absolutely. What do you think we can all do to encourage more women to want to join the industry and to believe in themselves?

I think we need to be accessible to students at an early stage when they finish university, or when they are almost ready to finish their studies. I did a presentation on my experience at a university in Paris a few years ago and I think it is important to share that with younger generations. Just like we are doing now with these interviews, and thank you, Revna for doing this. It is a good example for people to get an insight and see what is possible. We are not Wonder Women, we are just normal women. We have all faced good and bad experiences. I think we all need to be accessible to everybody and it’s crucial to change the mindset.


Our ‘Female Leaders: Inspiring Together’ series is running throughout March with the aim of inspiring and supporting women to become future leaders in their respective industries. Follow us on LinkedIn to join the conversation and hear the insightful stories of our featured female leaders.