4 ways pharmaceutical companies can include more women in leadership

Pharmaceutical companies have struggled to create inclusive environments that encourage women in leadership. These four strategies can help.

4 ways pharmaceutical companies can include more women in leadership

The pharmaceutical industry is struggling to be more inclusive of women, especially in leadership positions.

According to research of the top 10 pharmaceutical companies by Assured Pharmacy:

  • 34 of the 133 people who make up executive teams are women.
  • 34 of the 116 people on the board of directors are women.

That equals less than 30 percent female leadership.

Companies suffering this lack of female leadership are putting themselves at a competitive disadvantage. Susan Molineaux, Ph.D., CEO of Calithera Biosciences, says two good things happen when companies prioritize the inclusivity of women in leadership: R&D improves because researchers feel safer about speaking up, and companies do a better job of retaining their talent.

To achieve these ends, companies have to do more than simply move more women into leadership positions. They must create more inclusive environments that encourage women, and men, to do their best work. “There is little point in tackling diversity without inclusion—ensuring that every person is able to participate and realise his or her full potential,” says Waseem Noor, professor of economics at Columbia University.

By adopting the four strategies below, pharmaceutical companies can open pathways for women to assume leadership positions.

Build a culture of inclusivity

Inclusivity is more than a short-term goal that can be accomplished with occasional training programs. It has to become a way of life for an organization.

For pharmaceutical companies to become truly inclusive of women, they have to build a culture of inclusivity throughout the company. If increasing the representation of women in the industry is a “box-checking exercise rather than an overhaul of the industry’s culture, any progress won’t hold,” says Lisa Jarvis, senior correspondent for Chemical & Engineering News.

Changing a company’s culture means dedicating significant time and effort. DeEtta Jones, founder of the equity, diversity and inclusion consultancy DeEtta Jones & Associates, suggests a number of tactics that can help businesses reprogram their culture to be more inclusive. One of those is reviewing both written and unwritten policies for hidden biases that hinder an inclusive culture. Another tactic is to create achievable and memorable inclusivity programs that hold companies accountable for inclusion efforts. That forces companies to graduate from talking the talk to walking the walk.

But what’s most important to building an inclusive culture is getting buy-in from everyone in the organization to support the culture shift. A handful of people alone cannot create the kind of change that brings real inclusion results. “It takes everyone working together to bring an inclusive culture to life,” says Laura Hamill, Ph.D., chief people officer at Limeade.

Group of Business People Meeting; representing the need for more women in leadership roles in the pharmaceutical industry

Allow everyone to be their authentic selves

To truly foster inclusivity, companies have to ensure all employees feel a sense of belonging in the organization. “Belongingness is an innate sense of psychological and emotional security that allows people to be their authentic selves and contribute in their own, unique way,” explains Montrece McNeill Ransom, team lead for public health law training and workforce development at the Centers for Disease Control.

Inclusion problems arise when individuals or groups start to feel isolated, as part of the out group, leading to reduced engagement and issues with retention, notes Howard Ross, principal at inclusive leadership consultancy Cook Ross.

Everyone has to feel a sense of belonging to feel safe in their contributions and more engaged with the company and their careers. Ross suggests a few pathways for creating belonging in an organization to help ensure employees have a voice that is being heard to boost engagement:

  • Cultivate an environment of open-minded thinking that encourages everyone to respectfully listen to others’ points of view.
  • Adopt a variety of forms of communication to reach everyone in the company.
  • Provide tools for negotiation that promote listening and sharing between people with opposing viewpoints.

Inclusion requires people be accepted as they are and for the contributions they can make. For people’s authentic selves to shine in an organization, they have to feel as if they belong. It is up to leaders at pharmaceutical companies to ensure women at all levels in the company feel as though they belong and are valued. And that they are heard.

Elevate the visibility of women

As important as being heard is being seen in the company, especially for women when they are struggling to find their place and voice within the company. That’s why visibility is so important to inclusion. Being more visible gives women the confidence to express themselves because they know they are been seen and recognized for their contributions.

Pharmaceutical companies that endeavor to be more inclusive of women need to place women in visible roles within the organization. One way to do this is to rotate who runs meetings to give women the opportunity for leadership and visibility. Or have a women represent the company at high-profile events. When distributing company news and updates, be sure to include women in those materials.

By making these efforts to include women in more visible roles, pharmaceutical companies demonstrate to everyone their commitment to inclusion. They also give women the confidence to strive for attainable leadership roles.

women at the head of a board meeting; representing the need for more women in leadership roles in the pharmaceutical industry

Hire people with diverse backgrounds and experiences

Inclusion starts with diversity. To evolve into a more inclusive culture, pharmaceutical companies must start hiring people from all communities and backgrounds. A diverse group of people brings with it different perspectives, insights, creative thoughts and innovative ideas. It is the acceptance and encouragement of these differences that makes the company more inclusive.

The conscious and unconscious biases of hiring managers are a big reason for the lack of women in leadership roles. By eliminating these biases and focusing on qualifications and skills alone, pharmaceutical companies will remove systemic obstacles for women at all levels of the organization.

AI-powered hiring technology is the key to diversifying the workforce. These tools use large amounts of data to screen candidates and make predictions about a candidate’s potential for success in a role, and these tools do so on a much higher level and at a much faster pace than a human brain can process. All of this is done without the innate assumptions and biases of the human mind.

These tools looks for success factors like skills and experience, not gender or other demographic information. By eliminating gender-identifying information, these tools naturally create a more diverse pool of candidates for consideration, which builds a pipeline of female candidates for leadership positions.

Pharmaceutical industry leaders need to take responsibility for ensuring that their companies work toward becoming more inclusive of women, especially in leadership positions. But they can’t do it alone. It takes determination and dedication on the part of everyone in an organization to create an environment that treats women as equally vital to men and openly encourages women to excel. Implementing these strategies sets companies on the right path.

Images by: HONGQI ZHANG/©123RF.com, rawpixel/©123RF.com, Mark Bowden/©123RF.com

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