Of funnel web spiders, the flu and gender equality

When it comes to being an equal opportunity employer in the gender space, nobody can accuse Siqirus of having an agenda. The company – which specialises in manufacturing anti-venom and flu vaccines – has almost an even split with the gender of its employees. Currently, 54 per cent of staff are women, with last year’s winner of the Women in Industry’s Excellence in Manufacturing Award, Lisa Lamb, being one of them.

Lamb has spent the best part of 25 years at Siqirus, and says she has never been exposed to sexism in the workplace. She believes there are many explanations for this.

“Siqirus is a subsidiary of CSL, which is a blue-chip company. With that comes a reputation,” she said. “CSL tries to do a fair amount of networking. An example, is that we have an active programme of scientists around schools and the national youth science forum that is driven by the CSL parent company. Because it has gender diversity, it promotes itself and it gets that reputation in the market place.”
And before cynics jump in and say, ‘yeah, but what type of jobs do the women in the company do? Secretaries? Admin duties?’ Lamb is quick to dispel any ideas that women are not at the top-end of the employment spectrum.

“Women have a lot of high-end jobs here,” said Lamb. “It’s all the way through the business. I would think that word of mouth about the company being an equal opportunity employer is why we get good candidates coming through.

“We have a large number of women in our engineering department. It’s a pleasure to work here. Having been part of the Women in Industry Conference last year, and hearing some of the stories of what women have put up with, I hadn’t realised how lucky I am to work for a company that is so gender diverse.”

Lamb’s is the director of manufacturing, a position she has held for the past 18 months. A qualified pharmacist, Lamb started out as a sales representative before moving up the corporate ladder. She also has a degree in business marketing. Why did she decide to work for a manufacturer that was specialised in what it did? Her career didn’t start out that way, she explained.

“When I graduated with my pharmacy degree I worked in retail pharmacy,” she said. “It was while I was doing my marketing degree that I decided that I really did want to get into the pharmaceutical industry. That is when I applied to get a job at Siqirus’s parent company CSL.”

It helped that Lamb had an acquaintence who was working as a general practitioner sales rep for the company and the friend really enjoyed the work. This sparked Lamb’s interest so she applied for a similar job in Victoria and got it.

“I spent about six or seven years in the commercial group as a sales rep and then brand management,” said Lamb. “I was involved in the vaccine group and biologicals. Then I moved into a planning role where I spent the next 10 years, which was part of the supply chain group. Then I moved from planning into the supply chain director role. I had responsibility for both planning and procurement. Then I moved from supply chain to manufacturing.”

How does Lamb enjoy the new role? She said it is different and very technical in comparison to what she was involved with in supply chain. She really enjoys the challenge of the job, which has meant a lot more learning for her over the past 18 months.

“There is stuff I have had to get my head around that I haven’t had to since I got my degree,” she said. “There is a lot of problem solving because you are manufacturing in really small batches. Things constantly challenge you and go wrong. To get to the bottom of it, you have to work out what has happened and work out how to improve it or fix it.”
There are many aspects of the job she finds fascinating, not the least the aforementioned having to manufacture specialist products in small batches. And when Lamb talks small, she is talking tiny.

“One of our anti-venoms – the funnel web spider – generally has batches of 100 units,” she said. “On the flip side our biggest batch size is one of 2,500 units – still relatively small. Being cost-effective under such conditions is always a challenge because when you are doing such small batches, it is difficult to get efficiencies of scale. What we look at is trying to reduce our wastage and make it the most efficient process we can. We also look at our planning and make sure we have efficient systems in place.”

It is a fulfilling and interesting role that Lamb has taken on a career path she didn’t initially envision. Maybe it’s because she landed in a company where gender wasn’t an issue, or perhaps she’s taken every opportunity that has come her way, or even that she loves what she is doing. While Lamb is adamant that gender has never been an issue at Siqirus, she does realise that it can be an issue in traditional male industries. This is why mentors are important, she says, but not just in primary industries, but any occupation.

“I think mentoring, regardless of what industry you are in, is important,” she said. “Mentoring brings a really great opportunity for the mentor and the mentee to learn from each other. That’s an opportunity to talk about the different experiences and challenges and having a sounding board to work through problems and things like that. I see mentoring is a great opportunity for both parties.”
As for entering the STEM field of work, Lamb has nothing but enthusiasm for the next generation coming through.
“I think women should just give it a go,” she said. “Take every opportunity that presents itself. If you’re a kid at high school, play to your strengths, and if science is your strength, then go for it. Don’t let other things get in your way.”