The Problem With Pharma

The pharmaceutical and biotech industries still show a marked lack of gender equality at senior executive level. Three top executives weigh in with Nia Magoulianiti-McGregor.

Women in the pharmaceuticals industry often stay submerged in middle management – just below the corporate high flyers. A cursory look at the executive and board make-up of the major players in the industry clearly shows this.

Ann-Marie Hosang, former MD of Lilly SA, says the time to get the balance right is long overdue. “Business decisions are more balanced when women are in top leadership positions. The pharmaceutical industry’s requirement for geographic mobility often proves to be a key stumbling block.

Ann-Marie Hosang

“Geographic mobility, whether it’s to other countries or the corporate head office, is often necessary for development and gaining experience for greater responsibilities. This may require husbands or partners to temporarily shelve their own careers, which is perceived as a problem.”

Hosang has personal experience. “My first move took a long time because the company was concerned about my husband’s career. Even though we indicated that mobility was not an issue, it was a male-focused decision.

“Only when I persisted was I relocated. After the first relocation, the others came quickly and with no significant issues.” Male leaders, she believes, should examine their personal beliefs, including whether pregnancy limits a woman’s potential.

Also, “With the latest communication technology, it is possible to work remotely. We need to keep challenging ourselves to think differently in order to ensure we’re not losing talented people because of mobility.”

Praba Thandrind, director regulatory affairs: South Africa at Cipla, says while women are represented in SA’s pharma and biotech industries, it’s usually in administrative functions, which offer more flexibility to meet family responsibilities.

“The higher up we go, the more is expected in terms of time and flexibility and work-life balance becomes more difficult to manage. While things are slowly changing, I think the pharma and biotech fields are still unfortunately seen as a predominantly male domain.”

Pharma companies in SA, she says, don’t do enough to ensure women enter all sectors of the industry. “And if they do, not enough is done actively to ensure women move into the boardroom and stay there.

“Women bring a much-needed sense of compassion, empathy, natural ability to negotiate and attention to detail to the table,” she says.

Basadi Letsoalo, executive director of Human Capital and Transformation at Adcock Ingram, says despite government policies like the Women Empowerment and Gender Equality Bill, most leadership positions are male-dominated. She says Adcock recently implemented a gender policy in line with JSE requirements of a listed company capacitating women through various leadership initiatives.

“Our mentorship and coaching programme focuses predominantly on succession planning which specifically focuses on gender and race. But while transformation starts at the top, embarking on an internal awareness campaign will ultimately assist in turning transformation policies into a reality,” says Letsoalo.

“Of vital importance is to make provision for a work-life balance for corporate women in the pharma and biotech industries. Flexible working arrangements need to be encouraged to deal with a woman’s life cycle, including pregnancy and motherhood.”

Letsoalo says mentorship programmes are crucial to inspire young and talented women to reach for executive and leadership echelons in the sector. Thanks to leadership interventions within Adcock, the board structure comprises 54% women, while the executive leadership is currently positioned at just under 50% women.

Image: ©Shutterstock - 549938128

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