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Cancer & Work: Acting Together: An Interview With Raj Verma, Chief Diversity, Culture, and Experience Officer at Sanofi


In an interview with Pharm Exec Associate Editor Don Tracy, Raj Verma, Chief Diversity, Culture, and Experience Officer, Sanofi, discusses features of the company's support program for patients diagnosed with cancer and other critical illnesses.

Pharm Exec: Regarding Cancer & Work: Acting Together, can you explain how this first came together?

Verma: The the original initiative actually was created by some of our French Sanofi teams. They've actually actually proposed a program to support those employees that were impacted directly or indirectly by cancer. I think that was a really important piece, they tried to really bring the whole community together. What that program did was focus on colleagues helping colleagues. Right from the start of having the initial diagnosis, all the way through the treatment journey, I really think they design it to support both the patients and the caregivers, helping them return back to work. Since the launch of the program in 2017, we've had more than 300 employees that have really benefitted from it. 45% of those were caregivers, 45% were patients and the other 10% were actually managers. What I'm really keen to see is how this now starts to translate the global program a year from now, given the success of what we did get in France. One of the other things that really sort of changed was in Davos in January 2023. We signed a global pledge called working with cancer, which was essentially calling on all companies to really publicly commit to fight cancer and its stigma in the workplace. That notion of stigma is a really important piece because this is all about changing the cultural approach to cancer and other illnesses in the workplace. Within one year of signing that pledge, what we've done is managed to create Cancer & Work: Acting Together. This is very much a 360 approach and it's there to care for colleagues with cancer or other critical illness.

The launch in France was some years before publicist pledge, which we signed. But, what that gave us was a bit of an advantage in terms of some of the learning that we had got since 2017. Once we signed that pledge, we made a commitment to accelerate. What we really want to do is take a whole person approach. What we've we've built with, I'm super proud of what the team have managed to do in a relatively short period of time. when you think about the amount of countries that Sanofi is in and the amount of colleagues that we have around the world. I see it as quite a pioneering approach because what we want to do is the way cancer and other critical illness is viewed in the workplace. This was something created by us for us, and it's it's a big part of our cultural shift in terms of not only how we work, but also how we act as one Sanofi.

Pharm Exec: Some of the features of this program include financial support, flexible work arrangements, and emotional support. Are there any other aspects of this program that you wish to speak about?

Verma: Our goal was always to create an environment where everyone feels supported. What we want them to do is be able to bring the best of their whole selves to work. So, the approach that we've taken has been to really address the needs of colleagues impacted by cancer or the critical illnesses by caring about the whole of the employee from the financial emotional, and social well being perspective. This wasn't just about providing benefits, it was about looking at an individual as a whole. What we really wanted to do was support every Sanofi employee's emotional well being. This is for for employees that are impacted by cancer either directly or indirectly to give them access to a community connecting with other colleagues dealing with their own cancer diagnosis to share their own experiences. This is some of the learnings that we picked up from the experiences in France, because it's not just about what happens in the workplace, it's what happens around you. The other thing other thing that we're really keen to make sure we do well is to help our managers be better equipped to support their teams who may be impacted by cancer, either as patients or as caregivers. These aren't just for what's happening in your own country, it could be anyone in any country within that frame. We believe that the investment we're making in our people does create a very supportive and inclusive environment. The whole whole essence of this is to provide a better work environment, a better business. Ultimately, we want better outcomes as a result of this. Everything that we're doing ladders up to our commitment towards diversity, equity and inclusion and CSR across Sanofi.

Pharm Exec: As time goes on, does Sanofi plan on making any expansions to this program? If so, are there any that you expect to happen soon?

Verma: What we're trying to do is really address the challenges of a cancer diagnosis in the workplace, because it is one of the most common and immediately understood. It's a sad statistic. I'd say that 50% of us are likely to be diagnosed with cancer at some point in our lives, and we want to make make it safer to share that experience. Other critical illnesses that we'll be looking at will depend on how a particular illness is defined by the local country. Cancer is probably one of the only globally pervasive illnesses that we can define well, but there are many others that we are working with the teams on locally. What we're trying to do is also have them cover under a simulated illness or incapacity that may be due to a potentially life threatening condition or may involve inpatient care. As every country is defining their own list of illnesses based on local regulation or definitions and medical insurances, we expect them all to at the very least include cancer and any illness with a high risk of imminent death or vital organ dysfunction that does require care to avoid death.

Pharm Exec: What more can you tell us about your DE&I strategy and partnership with the 2024 Olympics?

Verma: We really want every employee to be able to unleash the very best of their whole selves to help transform the practice of medicine. We're a purpose led organization and now more than ever, I think from the learnings of COVID and lockdown is that health and well being has to be a priority for every organization. One of the things that we believe is Sanofi's strength is our approach to diversity, equity and inclusion. The culture starts to build where every employee can bring their full self to work, and the strategy that we've created is really focused on attracting and retain the very best talent. Also, making sure the health and productivity across Sanofi is the best it can be. Employers like us. we have to adapt our benefits our programs and policies, because our aim is to address the needs of different generations in the workplace. That's the only way we're going to stay competitive. Having a multi-generational workforce, our benefits policies and programs have to be able to support people and overall well being at every stage of life. For me, supporting our employees across their work and personal lives is vital to our success.

One of the things we always say at Sanofi is that we're always we're always keen to make sure we're joining up the dots. That's really important so people can see the full story. One of the things that we've we've done is create Team Sanofi. So, each team Sanofi athlete and coach is paired with a member of one of our executive team. That allows a human connection. Every executive team member supports one of our team Sanofi members with career advice, networking opportunities, and professional coaching sessions. The athletes are actually engaging in some of our own internal meetings and events with the executive team members. What they're trying to do is inspire team members around two main themes. The first is to really create this play to win attitude. Our transformation is all about playing to win. Secondly, it's about culture and the importance of diversity, equity and inclusion in that every day experience that people have in the workplace.

Another thing that we've built and I'm super impressed with the amount of engagement that we've had is around our volunteers. We've managed to select an international group of Sanofi team members to be volunteers during the Paris Olympics and Paralympic Games. When we launched this, we received over 11,000 applications. We haven't been able to accommodate all of those demands, but we have negotiated a large cohort with Paris 24' to secure a spot for many of our employees as we possibly could. This group was carefully selected because we wanted to make sure we embody the diversity of our company. Men and women are equally represented as our age groups, ethnicities, and disabilities. Each volunteer has embarked on their own training. That's going to help them with an ever deeper immersion into the Sanofi culture. We also provide five days off for volunteers so they can spend that time whilst they're in Paris to do what they need to do.

The other thing I would say that's quite novel for Sanofi is the Sanofi Cup. We launched our own internal Olympia, and that's been the biggest employee engagement event in our history. For me, it's a super exciting opportunity for every single Sanofi to feel the spirit of Paris 24' during the Olympic Games. It's the first kind of event for us. What we're hoping it's doing is really encouraging our employees to foster and drive our company's winning values and culture. There's individual challenges that we've created via a digital app, and there's local events that have been held in each country. The whole purpose of this is mixing support.

What we've tried to take advantage of is is our approach to hospitality and ticketing. Again, we've mainly focused on employee recognition across Sanofi, and one of the most exciting things is a torch relay. Some of our employees will actually be able to bear the Olympic torch. Our commitment to this really does personify our societal impact strategy. For me, it affirms our commitment to the values of inclusion of diversity and openness to the world but also to our environmental goals and ambitions. The Olympic and Paralympic Games aren't just about sport, right? They're about courage, resilience, teamwork and making an impact. We want to make our science available and meaningful for all and really build a legacy in line with our purpose.

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