Meet our 2021 Working Mother and Working Dad of the Year

Astellas was recently ranked in Seramount’s (formerly Working Mother Media) 2021 100 Best Companies and Best Companies for Dads lists. We recognize Carrie Schimizzi, Executive Director, Manufacturing & Operations Site Head, Astellas Gene Therapies and Stara Wilkins, Area Sales Director, Medical Specialties, Astellas Pharma US as our respective 2021 Working Mother and Working Dad of the Year, and to represent Astellas at the virtual Seramount WorkBeyond Summit this fall. Below they share how Astellas supports their careers that help make working parenthood more manageable and rewarding.

Astellas Working Mother of the Year: Carrie Schimizzi, Astellas Gene Therapies Executive Director and Manufacturing & Operations Site Head

It’s such an honor to be selected as Astellas’ Working Mother of the Year. When I decided I wanted to step into manufacturing leadership, I had never seen a women with children in those kind of roles, and thought it wouldn’t be possible to do it well and still be the kind of parent I wanted to be. I have been fortunate to have amazing mentors (as well as my biggest cheerleader, my husband) who have all helped me on my path to the “dream job” as the Executive Director of Site Operations that I have today.

I joined Astellas as part of the Manufacturing team at our gene therapy facility at the very beginning of the pandemic. The first challenge for me was to determine how do we bring back our essential workers who are working on lifesaving therapies to be able to work safely in the plant. Like many, I was concerned about the safety of my family, and I didn’t want anyone to put their family at risk from working on site.

At the start of the pandemic, Astellas helped us take the long view about the value of the plant and the safety of our people. They fully supported us in immediately sending everyone home, despite the disruption to production and major projects. This really showed a commitment to the safety of the team. As the pandemic continued to evolve and conditions continued to change over the last 18 months, we needed to be able to quickly adapt to a changing environment constantly. One example of the company’s support that I really valued as a leader, and as a mom concerned with the risk to our families, was being able to rapidly evolve our onsite testing program that we could be sure that we were ensuring a safe work environment.

As a working mother, one of the things I most appreciate about Astellas is the open and inclusive environment that we have at all levels. The people that I work with every day make me feel that I am supported and invested in as an individual and working parent. I feel like I can do my best work and give my best self to Astellas and to our patients.

In fact, just a few weeks ago we were gearing up for an important production run that was critical to the success of our lead program. But, just days before the start, as we were resolving last minute issues and signing critical documents, I ended up in the hospital with emergency surgery. My peers, my boss, and my team without a moment’s hesitation said, “Take the time you need for yourself, we’ve got this.” For me, I never for a moment felt like there was anything wrong with taking the time that I needed. This is the supportive culture that demonstrates daily that it values all its employees and wants them to succeed both at work and at home.

Astellas Working Dad of the Year: Stara Wilkins, Medical Specialties Urology Area Sales Director and African American Employee Impact Group Chair

Being a working dad or mom has its challenges but is so rewarding! One of the best tips I can share is creating a culture of inclusion, understanding and growth, similar to the inclusive culture demonstrated at Astellas. My wife and I practice this at home by including our children in our world.  We have always practiced explaining our careers, what roles we own and more importantly, why we do it. When our children feel included, they’re more understanding when it requires flexibility with family time.

My children know my company is in the business of helping people through innovative treatments for patients and how important that is. Two years ago, I had the opportunity to do a rotation at headquarters that required weekly travel. I explained how great of an opportunity it was and what it would mean for their daily lives. Because they were included from the beginning, they trusted me to show up in other ways during that time, which made them feel valued and appreciated.

Work-life balance to me is so important. So, being at Astellas for 15 years where work-life balance has been priority, I’ve had the ability to bring my full self to work. Having flexibility allows me to show up energized, ready to contribute, ready to make a difference every day. That balance is fostered by the benefits here at Astellas. I can think about when my first daughter was born and taking time off. Following that time, the transition back to work was very easy for me and my wife due to the Bridge Back to Work program. And then when we had our second daughter, the same thing was in place.

As a Chair of the Astellas African American Employee Impact Group it’s an amazing opportunity to come together and build out plans to help the organization further diversity, which I find personally rewarding. One thing we provide our membership is opportunities to have development in spaces where there may not have been opportunities in the past. What this leads to is opportunities for people to get additional skillsets, expand capabilities, but more importantly be prepared for the future.

Finally, my wife and I always make sure we’re aligned in our parenting strategies and styles providing the inclusive environment for a successful family team. We have a big antique framed sign in our dining room that says our last name with each person’s name below. Whenever we have a success to celebrate or a challenge to learn from, we take our children to that room to show them they’re a huge part of this team and remind them of our family commitment.

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