Express Pharma shares the success story of some of the women leaders in pharma sector
The world has witnessed a significant change and attitudinal shift in society’s views about women’s equality and emancipation. In the early 80s, the work place was not equipped to assist the needs of a women, 90s saw a slight change and there was a noticeable change in the 21st century. Working in the pharma industry too wasn’t easy for women earlier as several factors, including local and federal laws made it difficult for them to work during certain hours. Today, though more women are joining the work force, as far as the pharma industry is concerned, certain challenges and concerns are still prevalent.
According to the consulting firm Mercer, women represents only 11 per cent of the work force as against 15 per cent of the general industry. It has also been observed that while there is not much of a gap between men and women at the entry level, the gender gap widens at the senior level.
According to The Color of White, an OPPI publication also points out that, currently, women workforce in pharma companies is less than 15 per cent. Comparatively, the average percentage of women in other industry sectors range from 15–35 per cent. It seems to be a global issue as well. A UNESCO report cited that women participation in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) field continues to be abysmally low all over the world. An Economic Forum Report reveals that India has only 14.3 per cent researchers who are women, dedicated to the field of science. The reason may be multifaceted but one glaring aspect is that parental expectations and societal norms too have often hampered the growth of women in these areas. Pharma sales is another area which has long been considered a male domain and has very few takers when it comes to women.
The number of women in leadership roles in pharma and biotech are fairly low as well. Despite global reports citing that richer gender diversity leads to better financial results, the percentage of women executive directors in the pharma sector stands at 7.69 per cent. The industry is witnessing a ‘funnel effect’: there is not much gender disparity at the entry level. But as the seniority level rises, the gender gap widens and there is an ever-dwindling pool of women as candidates for top positions. There is an almost dry leadership pipeline at the top. We do find women at the entry and mid-levels, but the rates drop in the mid-management levels.
In the biotech sector, it’s estimated that there are only seven to nine per cent women playing the role of chief executive. Interestingly, this gender imbalance is not unique to pharma or biotech companies as women hold a mere four per cent of CEO positions in the Fortune 500 companies survey.
However, despite many challenges, exemplary women hold the top positions in some of the largest pharma companies in India and globally. To name a few, GlaxoSmithKline’s CEO, Emma Walmsley and Mylan’s CEO, Heather Bresch helm their respective organisations globally, while in India, Dr Swati A Piramal, Vice Chairperson, Piramal Enterprises, Kiran Mazumdar Shaw, Chairman & MD, Biocon and Vinita Gupta, CEO, Lupin Pharmaceuticals are trendsetters, breaking through glass ceilings.
In observance of International Women’s Day, the current issue of Express Pharma features some exemplary women who have excelled and succeeded in various roles in the pharma sector.
Dr Harvinder Popli shares her learnings and experiences from her journey as an educationist and pharma technologist
The initial years of my career I spent with academics as a faculty which helped to clear my concepts with exposure to international best universities in the UK for research as common wealth fellow and Canada during my doctorate research. I was fortunate that after starting my career in education, I could successfully shift to the industry and then back to academics. Such changes are hard to find in education. Working with one of the leading multinational global pharma companies of India with senior leadership team was quite a challenge but I was determined to convert this challenge into opportunity.
Working both in academics and industry has given me a complete perspective, helping me in my present journey. Women are resourceful, and able to succeed, despite many challenges. No one is an optimist all the time and to be successful, a business woman often needs to be a team player – or serve as merely an inspiration – not always insist on being in the lead. I always had an open mind and creative ways to utilise the strength of my team to achieve the goals.
My family played a very important role in my success. I was blessed to have my husband who shared my dreams and helped me overcome the challenges in taking care of children while I was either studying or travelling overseas for my work. Other important things which helped me to succeed was my attitude of not to quit till I succeed, being objective and most valuable skill of networking. The most important thing in networking is sincerity, building and sustaining trust.
To be successful, one needs to be adaptable and open to new ideas. Having access to resources increased my efficiency, knowledge and chances of succeeding.
Challenges for women leaders
Managing a career and family while maintaining sanity is not an easy task. Most of us believe that we can have it all, a fulfilling career, relationship and children. But that is not possible without family support. Working women have to simultaneously run their families and work and in this area traditional gender expectations still prevails. Women experience even more demands on time, energy and resources and face gender discrimination in business and on the job. Even though more women hold higher degrees than men, they are still passed over for jobs that go to less-educated and less-qualified males, and they also receive less compensation than men for the same job. At the same time, nowadays women are more aware and there are equal opportunities for men and women to be a leader. Professionally, you face equal challenges.
How the government can help?
The government’s initiatives in this direction can change the scenario. Preferential treatment to women in the first ten years of their career when they also have to take care of their family can make a huge difference to the women reaching the top. The government is taking a few initiatives to encourage, but some of the most effective tools in overcoming challenges that working women face include networking, finding a mentor and funding.
A few multinational companies reserve senior positions for women for gender equality, which can be promoted by the government. The government can support by setting up day care centres for working women so they can work peacefully, flexible timings and options to work from home wherever possible besides incentives so that women are encouraged to join back after maternity leave.
– Prof. Dr. Harvinder Popli, Dean & Principal Centre of Pharmaceutical Sciences, Delhi Pharmaceutical Sciences and Research University, Govt of NCT, New Delhi
Kiran Mazumdar Shaw, Biocon’s leading lady shares her success mantras and details her inspirational growth story
When I started Biocon, I was 25 years old with no business experience and limited financial resources. In the 1970s, entrepreneurship was an unusual career choice for women, and biotech was unheard of as an industry sector. I was daring to start a business in a male-dominated society and that too in a sector that no one was familiar with. Banks and financial institutions were reluctant to fund me and some even suggested that my father should be the guarantor for any loans. Professionals did not want to work for me as they felt that I could not provide them ‘job security’ being a woman. Suppliers told me they were reluctant to give me credit because they did not have confidence in my business abilities.I was not one to give in easily and worked hard with a single-minded focus to create a business that would leverage science for the benefit of society through affordable innovation. As a pioneering biopharma enterprise, Biocon was among the first in India to invest in developing recombinant DNA and bio-processing technologies to deliver innovative and affordable biologic drugs. We focussed relentlessly on chronic disease spaces marked by unmet needs. I am proud that today my company Biocon is considered to be among the world-beating innovators in biopharmaceuticals and one of the most recognised Indian names in the global biotechnology sector. We are now focussed on the mission of developing drugs that can be labelled ‘blockbusters’, not because they can earn a billion dollars but because they are affordable enough to benefit a billion patients!
Challenges for women leaders
Many women are forced to take career breaks post motherhood, which sometimes hamper their progress and hinders them from achieving success. Women also face gender disparity and are often passed over for promotions even when they put in equal or more effort and perform better than men at the workplace, which de-motivates them and leads many to quit their jobs.
We need to have a more enabling ecosystem which comprises the workplace, the home and society at large to check this kind of ‘brain drain’. Good childcare infrastructure at the workplace and a strong family support system can help women transition back to their jobs post maternity in a smooth manner. Corporates also need to ensure gender parity in pay and promotions.
How can the government help?
According to Skill India Report, while industry-wise hiring targets for women in pharma and healthcare sectors currently is about 39 per cent, the total employability of women is only about 28 per cent. Despite efforts of the government, under-representation of women in STEM remains a burning issue. While the Indian government has come up with programmes such as Udaan to enrich the teaching and learning of science and mathematics at the school level, more needs to be done to address unconscious biases and gender stereotypes that lead to lower participation and representation of women in STEM fields. It’s also not going to be enough for the government to bring in policies, business leaders will also have to walk the talk and abandon their biases and preferences in recruitment. A survey of Fortune 500 companies indicates that companies with higher female boardroom representation outperformed on various financial parameters like return on sales (RoS) and return on investment (RoI). To have more women leaders in pharma, it is important to address gender diversity issue at the organisation level. Gender balance in leadership is possible by sensitising behaviour and taking concrete steps to build an organisation where there are forums for women, opportunities for networking and mentoring, talent management, and a flexible working environment. Also, organisations need to invest in innovative programmes that encourage women to take up higher learning and executive education, get opportunity to network, hear from role models and learn to upgrade and acquire skills that will help them grow as professionals.
There are many more opportunities for a young woman who’s interested in a career in science today. If you want to succeed in this field you have to be innovation led. You should pursue a pioneering spirit that more often than not separates leaders from the followers. Courage of your conviction and perseverance to overcome disappointments and failures are the hallmarks in this journey of endurance. My underlying belief is Persevere till you succeed. Failure is temporary but giving up is permanent! Believe in your goals and aspirations and attain them with a sense of purpose.
– Kiran Mazumdar Shaw, Chairman and Managing Director, Biocon
Dr Ranjana Pathak shares insights for women leaders in the making and urges them to meet challenges head on
My journey has been a roller coaster ride, filled with laughter and some tears. The challenges were numerous, since I started at the very bottom, this forces you to learn, understand the nuances of the job, the expectations of the organisation, and the regulators.
This job soon became a career and now a calling. I have always been driven, spent hours reading trade journals, studying books on key topics such as chromatography, the USP etc. By the way, the USP is a great book to learn from if you are in the lab. When I started my career, I was the only girl in the QC lab, it was daunting because I had zero experience, this was a challenge to overcome. For me it was a new country, working for the first time in my life, so I suppose the survival instinct kicked in. I have always been very focussed. I have the drive to be the best in what I do. These two traits have enabled me to be a perennial student, keeping me in the learning mode. I never liked the status quo and always opted for harder tasks, taught courses because it would force me to learn and be challenged by pharma executives. The need to excel has been with me literally all my life which drives me to take challenges head on.
In summary, it is my purpose, drive, doggedness, persistence and courage that have enabled me to overcome the numerous challenges that faced me and I know I am not alone! I have also been blessed with having a very supportive family, bosses and colleagues.
Challenges for women leaders
Time is the biggest challenge, the pharma industry is competitive and by nature, timeline bound. There is seldom tomorrow, everything seems to be needed yesterday, a very fast paced, exacting and demanding industry, full of challenges, some anticipated and others binding. For women, to play their classical roles in society and families becomes difficult, because of their innate nature.
Women from time immemorial have been jugglers, they must juggle the needs of their families, children, work, friends, communities etc…the list goes on and on.
Given that the number of hours is limited for all, women need to be able to prioritise the ‘must dos’, and let go of those tasks that cannot be done and will not matter in the long run, ‘take help’ from family members, friends, neighbours to be able to juggle everything on their plate.
Creating a conducive growth environment
The government can and should execute laws that are conducive for women to work, the organisations then must follow through to make the work place environment safe. School and universities should promote science and maths so children join science rather than hanker for business degrees alone, don’t get me wrong we need those as well but I think I see a tip towards business. If there is no product, there will be no business to manage. Today’s generation wants instant gratification, the millennials are different from the baby boomer generation, their needs and tolerances are not the same. Careers in disciplines other science seem to be more popular. The pharma industry needs sharp scientists, engineers, biologists, microbiologists, physicists, computer science etc. to ensure that new drugs/devices are developed, existing drugs are made more affordable, the quality is uncompromised. This is a daunting task where the government can help in ensuring the platforms exist. The government can do a lot to make this feasible for women/ girls in urban and rural schools.
Need for regular campus placement
There are more number of science graduates coming out of universities who want to join the pharma sector. However, due to lack of job opportunities they have to change their career goal. To address this, the pharma industry needs to be present in the campus to educate the graduates of tomorrow about the needs of humanity (need for medicines) and the need of society.
To my new comers and those that are stalwarts: Always do the right thing, be courageous, know your subject, believe in yourself, look at yourself in the mirror each morning and say—Wow, I am looking at a great piece of art that is going to make a huge difference today!!! If I can do it…You can do it better!!
– Dr Ranjana Pathak, Global Head, Quality, Cipla
Kanchan TK elaborates on the role of effective mentoring to create women leaders in the pharma industry
I was fortunate to have mentors who encouraged and supported me in my journey to becoming a leader. But it didn’t come easy. Over the years there were situations where I faced gender discrimination, gender stereotypes and mansplaining. Those moments were frustrating but strangely motivating. I believe that women need to be vocal advocates of balanced leadership.
Women leaders can be created through active sponsorship and mentoring. We need ambassadors of our good work who will go out into the corporate world and speak for us. Women need to start networking more; here I don’t mean just random lunches and dinners. As a rule, it is important that we meet three new people everyday who can help us further our careers.
Challenges for women leaders
The challenge is to overcome the mindset of a ‘not ready’ ecosystem. Over the last few years, corporations have just about begun to recognise the profitability of having diversity in their workplace. Work place policies are now being designed to nurture female talent: around maternity, remote working, gender sensitivity, dress codes and workplaces themselves are being redesigned. Then there is this issue of years of patriarchal systems even at corporations and how women never made it to the boardrooms or leadership, that’s an even larger issue as it’s around changing gender stereotypes.
The second challenge is the manner in which women relegate themselves to transactional roles as too much importance have been given to multi-tasking. Being courageous enough to ask for the roles that you want is also something women shy away from. Demanding the right pay for the job is yet another roadblock that women need to navigate.
How the government can help?
The government can play a pivotal role in creating the right incentives for having more women in science and by extension, in the pharma industry. Ideally, this would mean more jobs for women in leadership roles and otherwise.
A Skill India Report says that industry-wide, while the hiring targets for women was tentatively 38.67 per cent, the suitability and employability of women for particular roles was only 28.28 per cent. The government must address this gap in skill up gradation, and improved the curricula.
Another place to start is parliamentary representation of women. According to a report by Inter-Parliamentary Union and UN Women report, India stood 148th globally as far as representation of women in the executive and Parliament was concerned. Women constitute a dismal 11.8 per cent (64 MPs) of the 542 member Lok Sabha and 11 per cent (27) of the 245 member Rajya Sabha, in India. I feel under representation of women in the political arena also leads to under development of other related issues like education, health, and safety. Having a more balanced representation in the legislative would go a long way in paving the path for more women in the industry and foster gender diversity and inclusion.
It’s humbling that women even consider me a role model. It’s a responsibility which I do not carry lightly. Given that there are so few women role models in pharma, I would like to be resilient and succeed. Never doubt yourself. As in the words of Sylvia Plath, “I took a deep breath and listened to the old brag of my heart. I am, I am, I am!”
– Kanchana TK, Director General, Organisation of Pharmaceutical Producers of India (OPPI)
Aparna Thomas stresses on creating a level playing field for women in the pharma sector
I moved to Mumbai from Vadodara in 1999 to work for a public relations consultancy, where I led several healthcare projects for our clients. Early exposure to assignments that required behaviour change gave the opportunity to home my talent, passion and professionalism. I realised that working in the healthcare sector is very fulfilling and hence, it helped build my commitment to patients and helping them manage their diseases better. I then moved to Pfizer and for the last 10 years, have been with Sanofi, working to improve diabetes management, support rare diseases, create awareness about the benefits of immunisation, etc. I’m happy to share that the culture at Sanofi is very supportive and encouraging, thus, easing my growth within the organisation and also, allowing me the opportunity to contribute to business and the community.
Challenges for women leaders
For women, the complexity of simultaneously playing many roles is a major stumbling box. Yet, to be really successful, we must get better at asking for the help and support we need, and to prioritise, trust and delegate more.
The government’s role
Given that health is an area where 80 per cent of decisions are made by women, there definitely needs to be a good representation of women at all levels within the healthcare industry. After all, since gender balance is a positive business growth driver, companies will gradually see the benefits, thus, no government incentive will be needed.
Gender neutral culture in organisation
Gender balance is possible by sensitising behaviour and taking concrete steps to build organisations where there are forums for women, opportunities for networking and mentoring, talent management, and a flexible working environment. Women are not looking for favours, just a level playing field, and the single most powerful thing an organisation can do to promote more women leaders is to create a gender neutral culture.
If you’re passionate about excellence, then you will certainly enjoy what you do. Also, always encourage other women to explore their potential. Doing so will help build a culture where you and many other women can grow and over time, build a new era in the pharma industry.
– Aparna Thomas, Senior Director – Communications (South Asia) & Public Affairs (India), Sanofi