The She-Suite Magazine Highlight
Lisa LeCointe-Cephas, SVP and Chief Ethics and Compliance Officer at Merck, has always embraced the concept of inspiration, understanding how essential it is to personal success. “While I admire many women in the public sphere, to truly be inspired by someone .. you need to see them at their highs and their lows and know that they always show up as the best versions of themselves despite the challenges. So, cliché as it may be, my mother is my greatest inspiration. … She taught me the value of hard work, determination, and resilience.”
LeCointe-Cephas is deeply connected with her immigrant parents and the sacrifices her family made that led her to become who she is today. “All my actions are deeply rooted in a strong sense of self. That sense developed from a mind-body connection with my past, and a commitment to values that were established during my childhood. … I watched my parents work multiple jobs just to make ends meet as I was growing up. I followed that model by working in college all while running track, studying hard, and trying to establish friendships and build networks. This experience prepared me for the constant juggling that is required of working parents.”
Watching her parents experience adversity head-on taught Lisa the value of being open — of trying new things, listening to others, and asking questions — in all aspects of her life. Her openness led Lisa to seek out a career that aligned with her purpose and value proposition, not the other way around. But she finds great, lasting value in her role as a mentor: “The ability to lift as I rise and shape the careers of others is the greatest gift of the position I am in.”
Her advice to today’s woman professional: Be goal-oriented, yet kind to yourself. “Keep your eyes on the prize and practice grace and self-kindness. … Forgive yourself for moments where you feel like you are more attentive to one space versus another. It all evens out in the long run.”
- What does work and having a career mean to you? Is this where you derive your sense of purpose or is it something else to you? What drives you outside of your professional career?
I have never desired to “just work” or “have a job.” I have always wanted a career in the proper sense; I have that at Merck. However, I don’t derive purpose solely from my career. Rather, we should all strive to connect to our purpose and value proposition and then seek out a career that aligns. I did the work to connect to my purpose first by identifying what contributions I wanted to make and scoping out my own personal impact opportunity. I then shaped my career to allow me to live in full alignment with that purpose.
I started my career at a great law firm in New York and had a fantastic experience applying my analytical and strategic skills. Yet, I still felt like my talents were misapplied to something that did not always resonate with me. So, I made a conscious decision to leave my firm and join the life science industry. Regardless of whether you are a scientist, in sales, legal, or compliance, I knew that a career in the life sciences industry would allow me to make a deep societal impact. It is also more important than ever that diverse voices are added to the discourse around clinical trials, access, and health equity. This is where I truly belong.
Outside of my career, family comes first. I am a mother, wife, sister, and friend, and I take those roles very seriously. I am also a mentor to many. I find that the ability to lift as I rise and shape the careers of others is the greatest gift of the position I am in.
- How would you describe the current ethics standards for women in the workplace and what are you doing to redefine those standards for the better/in a unique way?
A few years ago, there were a lot of discussions around whether women are held to different standards of ethics due to a subconscious belief that women should be inherently more ethical. Women often are held to this higher standard. The lens through which I examine all workplace behavior is that people are people.
- What are the principles that you live by and how do they help you to attain your goals?
All my actions are deeply rooted in a strong sense of self. That sense developed from a mind-body connection with my past, and a commitment to values that were established during my childhood.
In answering the question of where I’m going and how I will get there, I have always found it helpful to use my history to provide direction and inform my path. Quite simply, I view myself as an extension of the past; the hope and dream of my ancestors reaching into the present to make the future better for their grandchildren. I come from a legacy that was born of change, adversity, and great sacrifice. My parents were not born in the United States and, like many, they came to America in pursuit of a better future and an education for their children. Through them, I learned that the American dream is not something that is given to you, it is something that you must fight for. The values, beliefs, and foundational principles that my parents modeled for me throughout my life are my bedrock. Upholding these personal standards is a big part of who I am and always allows me to make the right choice at any fork in the road.
First, above all else, they taught me to work hard. I watched my parents work multiple jobs just to make ends meet as I was growing up. I followed that model by working in college all while running track, studying hard, and trying to establish friendships and build networks. This experience prepared me for the constant juggling that is required of working parents.
I strive to be open to new ideas, I am not afraid to learn, and I always listen intently. People would hear my parents’ accents and see their brown skin and make a lot of negative assumptions about their capabilities. They were wrong. Watching my parents struggle to be seen and heard taught me the value of being open. So, I committed my career to being open to new things, new perspectives, seeking the input of others, asking questions, and actively listening.
The values derived from my past indicate that I always strive to be agile, courageous, and persistent in the face of adversity. My parents left the only home they knew. They left behind family and friends and sold everything they had to come to America and build a new life. They took a huge risk and were met with many obstacles. When no one would sell them a home as black immigrants, my father physically built our home with his bare hands. I come from persistent people; Once I set my eyes on a goal, I never give up until it is in my grasp.
Knowing who I am—and where I come from—allows me to determine where I need to go and how I need to get there.
- Tell us about a time when you had to overcome a major obstacle – or make a difficult professional decision? How did you navigate them, what did you learn about yourself?
Sometimes, our own fixed mindset can be our greatest obstacle. I had a fantastic experience working at my law firm. I was well-supported, the work was interesting, and I was surrounded by intelligent and committed colleagues. However, the truth is that at that time, I was a passive participant in my own career. I was a bit of a box checker: Go to the best schools, get a prestigious job, and so forth. I was very much carried by that momentum. While it was positive momentum, I realized that I was a product of a fixed mindset. I held the false belief that there was a template for what success looks like and that I could not deviate from that. That all changed for me when I took some time to really reflect on what I wanted. Nevertheless, the fear of change can be a tremendous obstacle toward growth. I had to learn how to take a little bit of risk and step into the unknown despite that fear.
- What women have inspired you throughout your life? Why?
While I admire many women in the public sphere, to truly be inspired by someone, you need to know them. You need to see them at their highs and their lows and know that they always show up as the best versions of themselves despite the challenges. So, cliché as it may be, my mother is my greatest inspiration. There is no one bolder, stronger, or wiser. She is not a corporate executive or a lawyer. She never worked in an office. But, she taught me the value of hard work, determination, and resilience.
- In all of your work, you seem to focus on revealing the truth and ensuring authenticity most of all. Are authenticity and ethics things that mean a lot to you not just in the workplace but in your personal life as well? How do you stay authentic and ethical in your own life?
I believe it is important to know who you are and what you stand for. Transparency and unapologetic authenticity are always the best approach. If you waste time or energy pretending to be something that you aren’t, you won’t succeed. So, for me, what you see is what you get.
- How has your job transitioned since the pandemic? Has anything notably changed or been redefined by you to adhere to pandemic safety guidelines?
Everyone’s lives and jobs have changed since the onset of the pandemic. For one, we all had to pivot quickly and adapt to a completely virtual format. While we are now able to go back to the office, we are all embracing the new normal.
At the beginning of the pandemic, I was still running Global Investigations for my company. We had to adapt to conducting remote investigations and leverage technology to still have the human interface that is required to assess credibility and conduct root cause analyses. It was certainly challenging, but, as we have gotten used to the new format, we have been able to find certain advantages to the remote platforms and processes.
- At The She-Suite, we talk a lot about finding your purpose path to align your career with your sense of purpose and calling. How do you currently align your calling and sense of purpose with your career path?
- As a BIPOC female leader, how do you influence others in your network/community and carve a clearer and more egalitarian future path for them to walk down?
I lift as I rise and pay it forward. I have been mentored and I deeply believe in mentoring others. Helping others to develop and being able to share lessons learned so they don’t have to repeat my mistakes is a huge part of creating equity for women and people of color. It is important that we have access to networks, mentors, and sponsors.
Additionally, as a Black Female leader and in-house counsel, I work to foster an environment of diversity where women and underrepresented racial and ethnic groups have equitable access to greater in all areas of practice. We set clear diversity goals for our Legal network firms, conduct regular assessments to ensure progress, and put financial incentives in place to expedite change.
This is all deeply personal for me. As a black female attorney, I have felt the disparity of opportunities first-hand. I know what it means to have the support of mentors and clients like my company as women and people of color equally work to overcome adversity and break through the barriers.
- What advice can you give to other woman professionals looking to achieve their goals and create a work-life blend?
Keep your eyes on the prize and practice grace and self-kindness. There are going to be times when you are more present in your work life and then times when the demands of home life will rule. Forgive yourself for moments where you feel like you are more attentive to one space versus another. It all evens out in the long run.
- What is next for you and your legacy? Do you have any exciting projects you want to share with our community?
Legacy is a big word. I am very much focused on living in the present and making the biggest impact that I can for my colleagues, community, friends, and family in the here and now. In all honesty, my true legacy will be my children.
- At She-Suite, we talk a lot about the importance of resetting is there anything you do to help you reset, recharge, and stay at the top of your game?
Nothing beats a good workout to help you reset. I do my best thinking on a long run! It is also really important to take time for oneself—even if it is just a staycation for one day.