The Phacilitate facilitator: How Becky Johnson-Kent is spotlighting women in Advanced Therapies

By Isabel Cameron

- Last updated on GMT

© Getty Images
© Getty Images

Related tags advanced therapies CAR-T Women in Science Cell therapy

Becky Johnson-Kent is director of commercial partnerships and head of women in advanced therapies at Phacilitate.

We caught up with her at Phacilitate's Advanced Therapies Europe 2023 in Lisbon this week. She told us about all her work at the event, organising the women in advanced therapies pre-day, moderating panels and connecting women across the industry.

BPR: Could you tell me a little bit about the work you do at Phacilitate?

I have two roles, director of commercial partnerships and head of women in Advanced Therapies. I took over, what was then a very small mentorship program, focused on connecting women within the space to help them grow in the industry. In the two years that I’ve worked on the program, it’s grown into a full on pre-day at our event, in collaboration with Advanced Therapies Europe this week.

We’ve got lots of networking events, panels and roundtable discussions. I wanted to create a space for women to be able to network and feel that they can thrive and flourish within what is essentially a fairly niche environment in life sciences. To be very clear, it’s also not just for women – it’s for everyone who supports women in Advanced Therapies.

BJK (1)
Becky Johnson-Kent at Phacilitate Advanced Therapies Europe in Lisbon. 

BPR: What is Phacilitate hoping to achieve through this work?

It’s very much about creating opportunities. It all started as a mentorship scheme, which we still run and it’s grown from 10 individuals with 5 pairings several years ago, to 56 in the intake this year. They’re all hand-matched by myself – so there is no AI! I go through every single applicant and pair them with mentors who I believe best fit their criteria. We ask our mentees – what do you want to achieve from this, what do you want to get out from it and what would your ideal match be? We have peer-to-peer mentoring as well as group mentoring for the first time this year. So we’re really trying to look into everyone’s specific needs rather adopting a general approach. We’re also forging partnerships, we’re now involved with BIA and the CGT Circle – to really grow that community, right from grassroots level graduates up to the C-Suite. We’ve got some incredible women involved in the program who have very prestigious C-suite positions.

Everyone needs support, everyone needs someone to lean on and it’s not necessarily an easy thing to find. It doesn’t even need to be anything official – as a mentor or mentee – it could just be creating those connections. For instance, the pre-day yesterday – we had 75 women and men in the room, and it’s those ad hoc conversations that are valuable. It could be a case that we connect over a coffee and when something comes up, I can come to you for advice or support. So it’s not just about forming official relationships – it’s just about forming relationships. Connections flow and ebb and they can be whatever we make them.

It's really lovely to see so many people meeting on the pre-day and then having those connections during the actual event. I made a flippant comment to someone that it’s like a hen-do for events! It sounds very cliché but people are my passion. That's what I enjoy doing, I enjoy connecting people, which is why I gravitated towards this as something that I not only saw potential in, but saw a need in.

BPR: How important do you think it is for women when they come to these big events to make new relationships? Does it instil a new confidence when navigating these spaces?

Whether it’s in your professional sphere or personal life, everyone needs connection. I don't care if you're an introvert, I don't care if you're an extrovert, we need some level of connection, I think COVID especially proved that - I don't know anyone that was said I loved not seeing anyone at all! I think it's also important to a degree, to force people out of their normal surroundings and circumstances. There were actually a lot of discussions during the panel yesterday that sometimes you need that extra push to get involved with these conversations or roundtables or whatever it might be.

If you're put into a room which is created to be, I hate the phrase a safe space, but the people involved want the same outcomes and conversations, it’s a much more relaxed atmosphere that coming into a conference and not knowing anyone or being terrified. I really hope people look forward to these events and hopefully they’ll be bigger and we can get more people involved. The sky is the limit really.

BPR: It seems that your role is focused on facilitating these connections. How rewarding is that?

This is something that chose to take on because it’s something that I'm not only passionate about but I actually really enjoy doing it. This role does need someone who really wants to do it – as I can imagine for some people, connecting the right people and speaking to lots of individuals, it could be their worst nightmare. But it’s one of the reasons I love it! I find that everyone in this industry is incredibly friendly anyway. Everyone has their own skills and I find working in Advanced Therapies, you get to meet so many incredible people and it’s mind-blowing some of the scientific developments that are happening. If I can give back to what they’re doing by making connections, which is something I would do anyway, I’m more than happy to do it and the more people I get to meet – the better, as far as I’m concerned!

BPR: What improvements would you like in the Advanced Therapies space?

I think there is always the need for collaboration and in both the science, but also just everyone working together. For women in Advanced Therapies, I try and instil a core and ethos of collaboration. I say to everyone that's involved in it, I need your feedback. I need it because this is something we are creating together and without that community mentality, without that collaborative approach, things will not succeed. Within Advanced Therapies, in all the sessions, everything that is spoken about is based in collaboration. I don't know how we achieve that, but I think if we keep that at the front and centre, it’s crucial.

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