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Vivian Xie
7 Feb 2024

Special Edition Women in Pharma: International Day of Women and Girls in Science

In this monthly series, we bring insightful content, events, and communities dedicated to sharing best practices for DE&I strategies and showcasing underrepresented voices in the pharmaceutical community. 

Key takeaways from our Women in Pharma Series 

On February 11, 2024, the world will celebrate International Day of Women and Girls in Science. CPHI Online is committed to supporting the global pharmaceutical community in the journey to become more diverse and inclusive. To continue this support, we look at the key takeaways from our Women in Pharma series, and explore how the pharmaceutical industry is implementing the concept of diversity, equity, and inclusion in practice. 

Inclusivity for all means ALL  

Across the board, the importance of including all individuals in the conversation around diversity and equity cannot be understated. During the 2024 Pharmapack Panel Discussion ‘Enabling Diversity in the Workplace’, Diane Melul, Head of Global Industrial Planning at Sanofi, stated “Gender balance must [also] go through men... [For example] men are going on paternity leave now, so employers aren’t thinking only a woman has the potential to go on parental leave.” 

In our interview with Managing Director at Emmes Endpoint solutions Mindy Leffler, she gave kudos to the men helping to support the women in their organisation in achieving gender equity and parity. “In terms of gender parity within Emmes, in my experience in rare disease, there are some amazing dads out there that really dig in, but the heart of the operation a lot of the times becomes the mum to a certain extent. We have a lot of people that work with us where they are the home-based general in a family’s approach to rare disease, and that lends itself to the work we do... I think it is built into the ethos of our company, not in a way that has gender parity as its primary goal but ends up achieving gender parity because of the value system we have set up.” 

Everybody of every gender can benefit from strategies and practices for gender inclusivity and equality in the pharma workplace. It is by working together across all teams, communities, and experiences that DE&I initiatives may be successful. Annie Zavadil, Device Project Leader, Early Phase Projects at Novartis, summarises: “It’s important to keep the dialogue open about the gender equity topic. We discuss this often within our organisation and ensure that we have a diverse panel when hiring new candidates.” Dora Carrasco Sabino, CEO & Co-founder of Blazar, added other groups into this category of inclusion as well: “I see with the new generations that these ideas [of equality] are ingrained in them, both men and women. The question now is how can we include these generations that were raised professionally during a different time? Older men and older women... they are a crucial part of a team. Diverse means everything. It’s about gender and generational balance. We all need each other for mentoring, support, and retrospect.” 

Empowering other women in pharma 

In our interview with Namrata Gill, VP Human Resources of Dr. Reddy’s Laboratories, addressed strategies to help empower and embolden other women in the workplace, starting with hiring practices. “I focus on it in four ways,” she says. “The first way is, of course, hiring enough women. The second is considering what kind of experiences we are giving women. The third is how are we developing women in our workforce and the fourth is about leadership.”  

Engaging women throughout their careers is another strategy already being implemented in the pharmaceutical and related biotechnology sectors. Melul stated during the diversity panel discussion that “We have a CIO, which takes a special lead for our digital embrace of women – teaching women early enough that they can reach these [leadership] positions.” Sabino added her own anecdote. “[The interview process] taught us strategies we will implement in future hiring to implement our posts, advertise them in networks of female professionals, and be visible to these communities.” 

Manuela Herrlein, Managing Partner and Co-founder of Alpine One, addressed the need to support women in their ambitions towards leadership roles. “When women are asked ‘what’s keeping you from taking up a leadership position?’, they say it’s the stress, it’s the longer hours – how do I combine my private life with my work life?... when asked what can companies do to help you, [women] say ‘by supporting, by training.’ Women are 30.1% more motivated if they are supported [in contrast] to men.” 

Gill drew on her experiences working in HR for the pharma industry when engaging women and empowering them to take ownership of their capabilities. “Pharma requires a lot of agility and flexibility. Pharma is a dynamic industry and first and foremost requires a lot of innovation. When women are present, the quality of thought processes, ideas, and innovation significantly improves. The more important thing is to create the right environment for your team. When you hire women, you have to make sure you retain them through the experiences you give them.” 

Helena Demuynck, Leadership Coach at oxygen4leadership, highlighted at the end of 2023 her optimism regarding recognition of female voices by women themselves. “What’s truly encouraging is the growing awareness among women that their voices matter, not just within corporate realms but also in their communities,” she stated. “We are witnessing a transformative shift in how women aspire to present themselves to the world.” 

Recognising the business imperative of inclusivity 

While discussions surrounding DE&I initiatives is all well and good, putting these conversations into practice is an entirely different matter. It is not unwise for pharmaceutical organisations and related companies to recognise the importance DE&I initiatives for a business’ success. Sanobar Syed, Business Strategy and Commercial Expert, said: “I know gender inclusivity is now a buzzword but I truly believe that the reason why it’s a buzzword is that the world is waking up to the fact that you can’t leave 50% of the population behind... the good news is that there are organisations that are starting to do this. They are embracing this as a part of their ESG structure.” 

As with sustainability efforts, initiatives for diversity and inclusion in the workplace may be what differentiates a business from others. Syed commented: “There is still a lot of work to be done. You don’t want tokenism. You don’t want to be performative... women drive the world economy yet companies do a remarkably poor job serving them. Coming back to the supply chain, we need to understand that women are the most powerful consumers and that there is a gender gap between them and the leadership of companies that manufacture, market, and sell to them.” 

Do you have a story to tell about diversity? If you’d be interested in being featured in our Women in Pharma series, please reach out to [email protected]  

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Vivian Xie
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