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Women In Wellness: Geralyn Ritter of Organon on the Five Lifestyle Tweaks That Will Help Support People’s Journey Towards Better Wellbeing

An Interview With Candice Georgiadis

Be open to different approaches and new experiences, no matter where you are with your life or career. When I was recovering from my accident, I was struggling with a tremendous amount of chronic pain and depression and feeling defeated. So, in the depths of my recovery — in a very dark place, physically and mentally — I opened myself to the idea that there are different ways of controlling pain. I never would have considered it before, but today I practice regular breathing exercises and make time to meditate, and that has created a new path for me.

As a part of my series about the women in wellness, I had the pleasure of interviewing Geralyn Ritter. Geralyn is the Head of External Affairs & ESG at Organon, where she is responsible for U.S. and global regulatory policy, government affairs, corporate responsibility and global communications. Organon is a new women’s health company dedicated to improving the lives of women.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Our readers would love to “get to know you” better. Can you share your “backstory” with us?

A really important element of my backstory happened about six years ago. I was in the midst of a successful and very satisfying career that straddled law and healthcare policy and corporate responsibility at Merck, a health company that I really admired and respected. I was on an ordinary business trip, coming home from Washington, D.C., when the Amtrak train that I was riding derailed outside Philadelphia, tragically killing eight people — many sitting right around me in the first car.

I was thrown from the train and critically injured and not expected to survive. My family told me the hardest part was the many hours through the night when I was listed as a Jane Doe in the hospital, and they couldn’t find me.

But they did find me, and I did survive. I was essentially crushed and on full disability for well over two years, but very slowly and gradually got my life back. All of the painful challenges of that experience — physical, mental, spiritual — but also all of the joy that came from the support and the love I felt from so many people, helped me reground myself and ask myself the hard question of what I wanted to do with the rest of my life.

I learned hard lessons in resilience in recovery from my accident. But prior to my accident, throughout my career, I had seen what I call heroic resilience. The resilience of women to overcome the most monumental health challenges is something I have always noticed in my life. So, when I learned that Merck was spinning off Organon, and Organon would be a new company dedicated to advancing women’s health, I leapt at the chance to join and help create a company with women at the center of everything we do.

This job change also provided for me a higher professional purpose — to be a fierce advocate for gender equity and gender parity in healthcare. The idea of improving women’s health is intrinsically tied to social justice and given the company’s vision, the commitment of its leadership, and frankly, this moment in history, makes me feel I am exactly where I need to be to address women’s disparities.

Can you share a story about the biggest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

Earlier in my career, I was often too focused on what could go wrong and the mistakes I could make — and not nearly enough time envisioning the success and the impact I could have on the world. If I could go back and do that all over again, I would tell myself to worry less and dream bigger.

This changed for me in 2011, when I had a chance to join with the Merck CEO Ken Frazier and Secretary General Ban Ki-moon at the United Nations, as we announced a major commitment to address maternal mortality globally. It was a milestone moment of my dream assignment: I had led the development of a program called Merck for Mothers in response to the failing progress in the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals around maternal mortality. It was a half-billion-dollar commitment over 10 years to help address and reduce maternal mortality that really helped change the conversation and leverage the best of the private sector expertise and resources to address seemingly intractable social and health problems. And for me personally, I’ll always think about that moment as a reward for dreaming big.

Ok perfect. Now let’s jump to our main focus. When it comes to health and wellness, how is the work you are doing helping to make a bigger impact in the world?

Addressing the unmet needs in women’s health is one of the formidable challenges we face as a society. When we keep women healthy, we keep entire communities healthy because women are most often the chief medical officers and caregivers of their families.

Just look at the work that needs to be done. Globally, more than 1 billion women have a need for family planning, but for 270 million of them, that need is unmet. Unintended pregnancies remain a significant public health issue, with nearly half of all pregnancies around the world unplanned. Health disparities are a major issue — in the United States for example, African-American women experience postpartum hemorrhage (PPH), a potentially devastating complication of childbirth, at rates 3- or 4-times more frequently than white mothers. I’m really proud to be part of a company that is running toward and not away from these issues in terms of finding and bringing forward innovations that can improve the lives of women everywhere.

Can you share your top lifestyle tweaks that you believe will help support people’s journeys toward better well-being. Please give an example or story for each.

It starts with listening. When I was recovering from my accident, it meant so much for people to just listen to me and hear what I was going through. As a result, I try to give space in my conversations to really listen. Listening is also the basis of Organon’s commitment to women, because women are talking, and we want to give them the opportunity to be heard.

Be open to different approaches and new experiences, no matter where you are with your life or career. When I was recovering from my accident, I was struggling with a tremendous amount of chronic pain and depression and feeling defeated. So, in the depths of my recovery — in a very dark place, physically and mentally — I opened myself to the idea that there are different ways of controlling pain. I never would have considered it before, but today I practice regular breathing exercises and make time to meditate, and that has created a new path for me.

Relationships foster resilience. You’ve got a sphere of your life that’s work with maybe a demanding career, and you may have family care obligations. And that can eat up all your time. When I was recovering from my accident, my job was taken away from me, and I had lots of support from family which was critical of course. But I had underestimated the importance of friends and investing in friendship, which pays dividends that return again and again.

Someone once told me that that the idea of work-life balance suggests that there is a perfection to achieve in life, and instead of balance, we should instead strive for rhythm. Perfection is a myth — if there is any perfection in life, it’s accepting imperfection. That kind of deep acceptance was essential to me in the aftermath of the accident. I will never be as healthy as I was. I will never be pain free. But accepting that — and realizing what I have gained in terms of strength and perspective helps me see each day as a new day, where anything can happen.

Finally, above all else, remember to laugh through life, almost no matter what you’re going through. I’ve always found that laughing is a critical part of our resilience as people and as women. I have a big, loud laugh and my three boys sometimes cringe when they hear me in a restaurant — but that has never stopped me because laughing is about the brightness in life, something we should all look for.

If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of wellness, the most amount of people, what would that be?

Fortunately for me, I don’t need to answer hypothetically. I really feel that I am helping to start a movement with my new company Organon. It is a new kind of company that is committed to giving women a greater voice in making their needs known and greater involvement in their care, and making larger investments to address the health problems that uniquely or disproportionately affect women. I would go back to that concept that keeping woman healthy and productive is a real key to a healthier, more prosperous world across all dimensions of society.

As part of our commitment to listening to women, we are asking everyone to go to hereforherhealth.com and contribute their voice about where women’s health needs have gone unmet.

What are a couple of things you wish someone told you before you started, and why?

Don’t look down. What I mean by that is, if you think of yourself as a tightrope walker, you never want to doubt yourself. Earlier in my career, doubt and fear could be very real, very controlling. And I think some of my failures have been because I doubted myself and thought about what could go wrong, rather than staying focused on what was going right. It’s related to imposter syndrome and not feeling that you deserve to be in the position you are. Believing in yourself is really important.

Find Geralyn Ritter on LinkedIn as well as hereforherhealth.com/

Thank you for these great insights and for the time you spent with this interview. We wish you only continued success!

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Candice Georgiadis

Candice Georgiadis

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Candice Georgiadis is an active mother of three as well as a designer, founder, social media expert, and philanthropist.