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Achieving Diverse Teams for a Diverse World


The pharmaceutical industry is more globalized than ever, intensifying competition as companies vie to engage with healthcare providers (HCPs) and an increasingly diverse patient population to ensure the successful commercialization of their products.

To thrive in such a diverse environment, companies need to be creative and nimble to innovate and maximize performance. This is as true for the companies supporting the pharmaceutical industry as it is of the drug developers themselves.

Companies need teams capable of more than just delivering high quality support to pharmaceutical clients. They need employees with the knowledge and ingenuity to identify new opportunities for clients to succeed and reinvent processes to help them achieve their goals.

To achieve this, employers need to be able to attract and retain passionate and imaginative people for the long haul. A big part of this is their approach to diversity in the workplace. Creating an open, collaborative environment where many minds from diverse backgrounds come together is key to a thriving pharmaceutical sector. In short, a diverse team is needed to meet the needs of a diverse healthcare industry and patient population.

What does diversity mean in the workplace?

In recent years, diversity has become a buzzword — but what does it really mean? While understanding and awareness have certainly increased over the past few years, conversations have centered around better representation of people from a range of social and ethnic backgrounds and different genders and sexual orientations.

Employees today expect diversity on all fronts — of people, technology, workspace and wellness. It’s important to create an environment in which everyone feels comfortable and valued — only then will companies attract, retain, motivate and empower the best people.

Of course, it may be necessary to dial efforts up or down to optimize diversity along the way; agility and responsiveness are key when it comes to meeting the changing needs of employees.

Without the right strategy and policies in place, however, an organization opens itself up to failure which can lead to poor staff recruitment and retention, as well as impacting productivity and performance.

The benefits of diversity in the workplace are far-reaching — not just for employees, but for a company’s overall health.

If we reflect on Maslow’s five-tier hierarchy of needs:

  • Physiological
  • Safety
  • Love and belonging
  • Esteem
  • Self-actualization

While everyone has a desire to move up the hierarchy towards growth, progress is often hindered because an individual is unable to get certain needs met. For example, this could be a safe space at work before they can thrive.

When an organization embraces diversity, it creates a more engaged environment where people feel accepted, valued and able to make their best contribution. This leads to a number of benefits for employees, individual businesses, the pharma industry and ultimately global public health.

Unique benefits for the pharma industry

Healthcare is a people-driven sector, with patients at the heart of all activity. If we are to adopt a more patient-centric approach to drug development and commercialization, the pharma industry needs to take on board the views and different needs of a diverse population. The best way to do this is to foster a diverse workforce within the pharma industry itself.

Diversity delivers incredible insights that can support customers in bringing new solutions to patients more effectively. For example, a diverse workforce may be able to identify new opportunities to engage with patients and HCPs more effectively, and better adapt to changes in society.

In the pharma industry, we engage with patient advocacy groups and need to understand the requirements of many different people. These groups have already embraced Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) and achieved a sense of community. It is time the pharma industry truly embraces this too.

Workforce diversity is crucial in a diverse world because illness doesn’t discriminate. When you are commercializing new treatments, you need to really understand what makes individuals and communities tick.

Attracting and retaining talent through a focus on diversity

When it comes to employee retention, the advantages of an open, inclusive environment are clear. Put simply, if an individual is happy and feels accepted at work, they will be more likely to stay.

The greater focus a company places on diversity, the more it will attract and retain better candidates for new jobs. A happy, inclusive workspace is vital to bringing in new talent and holding on to it. We all want to work in a company where we are listened to and feel part of something.

How to foster diversity

It’s important to be brave and bold. Fostering an inclusive environment takes time and effort from everyone in an organization and it can only be the result of a conscious decision to be more inclusive. There is a need to lead from the top and have buy-in from senior stakeholders. The importance of employing people dedicated to working on DEI cannot be underestimated too. Not only does this demonstrate a commitment to diversity, but allows time for initiatives to be truly embedded within an organization.

As an industry, our success is built on people from a range of different cultures and backgrounds and it is important to ensure everyone has a voice and is listened to. Initiatives are not tick-box exercises and they must resonate with teams. That is why they need to be shaped around employees’ views, and goals need to be meaningful and instilled into all actions. That includes what we click and like on social media, in both a personal and professional capacity.

From supporting the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement and Pride with social media activity to partnering with United Nations on Standards of Conduct for businesses tackling discrimination against LGBTI people, there are a range of ways in which companies can demonstrate their commitment to diversity.

The use of gender pronouns in the workplace, including in email signatures, is a small step, but it helps to create a more open working environment and is an important part of LGBTQ+ inclusion.

Finally, it is vital to communicate the impact of what you do across the organization. The more you communicate, the more you’ll build a sense of safety among employees and embed DEI into the culture of an organization.

The future of diversity in the pharmaceutical sector

A diverse industry needs a diverse workforce and that is why pharmaceutical companies have placed DEI firmly on their agendas. A focus on diversity starts with recruitment but to retain the best people requires an ongoing commitment to being better in this area.

It is incumbent on organizations to learn more and evolve, and there is a need to be responsive as more marginalized communities gain a voice. Small steps towards a more inclusive culture can have a big impact on employee morale and in turn productivity and performance. In the next ten years, our mission as an industry must be to learn, evolve and drive diversity for future generations.

Ryan Quigley is COO at Ashfield. Melanie Duncan is Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Officer at UDG Healthcare.

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