After decades of cautious equivocation, there is now a clear business rationale for female leadership in the "c suites" of big Pharma. An industry that has embraced the goal of being "customer-centric" knows that in every health care system around the world, the majority of customers are women. That stereotypical "engaged patient" is more often than not a woman too, one who also serves as an influential provider in emerging professions with the power to dispense, from the pharmacist to the community health practitioner. The data is compelling: three-quarters of the US healthcare labor force is female, while the latest work from the New York-based Center for Talent Innovation provides statistical evidence to show just how much women control the "power of the purse" in treatment decisions.
Nevertheless, the facts say that big Pharma still isn't ready for its close-up. Of the 13 drug companies listed on the 2013 "Fortune 500" list, only one—the generic powerhouse Mylan Labs, ranked at 374—has a female CEO. The irony is that while the leading consumers of health care are women, the management that oversees development of the products and services to serve those needs remains almost exclusively male.
However, for this 2014 silver anniversary, the WOTY award has been expanded to include three leaders across the broad continuum of healthcare. The distinctively unique backgrounds of these women reflect the structural diversity of tomorrow's healthcare—where the successful pharmaceutical company functions as but one element in an interconnected, networked health system, that considers drugs as both an information asset and a platform for services "beyond the pill."
The 2014 WOTY awardees are:
» Patricia Maryland, President of Healthcare Operations and Chief Operating Officer of Ascension Health, the largest non-profit provider of hospital and related health services in the United States, and the first African-American woman to hold that position. Ascension is the nation's largest Catholic health ministry, which operates more than 100 hospitals and has over $17 billion in annual operating revenue.
» Shideh Sedgh Bina, co-founder of Insigniam, a boutique consulting firm that has served all of the world's largest pharmaceutical companies. An immigrant from Iran, she is an expert on innovation strategy and leading large-scale organizational and culture change initiatives.
» Annalisa Jenkins, Executive Vice-President and Head of Global Research and Development for Merck Serono Biopharmaceuticals. A physician and scientist from the United Kingdom, she is the only female head of R&D among the big Pharma companies and was recently named Chair of the Board of Directors of TransCelerate BioPharma, which is coordinating novel industry approaches to the management of clinical trials.
As HBA President Jeanne Zucker commented to Pharm Exec, "these three top-flight women underscore what HBA believes is the crucial leadership skill in healthcare today: fostering system-wide collaboration—in drug development, care delivery and service management." In the following profile sketches, Pharm Exec examines the path of these three leaders to professional success along with the personal experiences and values that keep them rooted to what many insiders, regardless of gender, still see as a business motivated by the strong will to do good works.