Dr Evelyn Wolfram’s work spans academia, the corporate world, startups, and non-profit advocacy work. She has been a lecturer at the Zurich University of Applied Sciences for almost 14 years and is also senior director of scientific research at Ricola, which makes herbal products such as tea and lozenges.
In addition to her corporate and academic experience, Wolfram has one foot in the startup world as co-founder of Planar4, a Swiss tech startup that develops customised assays and procedures for customers using planar effect-directed analysis and bioautographic methods.
She is also strategic advisor for Empowered by Evidence, a New York-headquartered non-profit that provides accreditation for natural health products, assessing the specific clinical evidence for finished products and ensuring that the products consumers buy are the same ones used in the clinical evidence.
We caught up with her at Vitafoods Europe in Geneva this month to find out more about her career.
You occupy many different roles that bridge academia, corporate industry, the startup world, and even non-profit advocacy work through Empowered by Evidence. Are there enough hours in the day to fit all this in?
“It's a challenge! I have a husband and also two kids, 14 and 16 years old, and I am working from Switzerland globally with Australia and the US. But I think the working ways of today with digital means [ensure] that you don’t need this nine-to-five way of life. It's more that you have opportunities that you use during the day.
“That helps me a lot to tackle the different tasks and roles. And it’s great because all these different initiatives go together actually. The academic side helps me a lot in developing great science-backed products in the industry and, at the same time, the Empowered by Evidence initiative brings together both worlds, academia and industry. There is a lot of synergy, that's why I can do all this in my day.”
What have you gained from wearing so many different hats in your professional life?
"I think I have come now to the stage where I am really a thought leader already and I don't have to apply, [opportunities] just come my way now. But when I started out moving from one sector to the other, I discovered that there are siloes and the bridge-builders and translators were in demand. That's what I am right now, and I can only recommend to other women to not stay in silos and to move on and try out different fields. I think our industry really needs that, especially when you are in innovation.”
How do you feel about the state of gender parity in the nutraceutical world in general and in your own professional experience?
"I was very lucky in my life because I was promoted quite a bit by elder advisors and mentors. I must say, I was supported more by men than by women, which was quite a confusing experience for me because I was always happy having a female boss but [...] probably female leaders are under pressure to be ‘hard’ because they think the mindset is that they are too ‘soft’.
“I think we really need to [have] more networking among women in a positive way. [...] This is something that's not specific to the nutraceutical world or the pharma world. It is just that we, as women, need to learn how to network better, how to support each other, and to be open. That's the most important thing.”
Do you see value in women-only mentor groups or support networks?
"I think they can go in parallel; it's not one or the other. I think female communities really help because you can speak in a language where you are maybe understood more easily, you can be a bit freer or you have no male peers [who] are observing you, so there can be merit in that. But I think it should not be closed. That's important: let's do things in parallel and use the synergies. We don’t want another silo.
“I am in a women’s WhatsApp group in Switzerland called Kick-ass Ladies so perhaps things like that – loose, informal initiatives where women come together and support each other – can help. Or the Women’s Networking Lunch at Vitafoods Europe, I think that's a great initiative.”
If you could change one thing about your career to date, what would it be?
"That's a difficult question because you can only talk about the path you chose and of course [...] you never know what the other life would have been!
“I'm a biotechnologist; I love what I do, I love nature, so it was a very good subject for me. However, I feel that if I had studied [to become] a pharmacist I would have had really broader knowledge in the different fields of medicine, pharmacy, and traditional medicine. I didn't know at the time that this would be the thing that really fascinates me for life.
“But, as can be seen in my career, even a biotechnologist [...] can be an expert in nutraceuticals and natural medicine so it's not closed at all. On the contrary, it also helps to bring another perspective and inter-disciplinarity.”