06/14/2021 | Spotlight

Balancing Boardrooms

Female representation within C-suite is growing in pharma an IT companies. But there is a long way to got and many barriers to entry still to overcome as our investigation discovered.

When the German pharma giant Merck announced the promotion of Belen Garijo, they were doing far more than merely naming a new CEO. Her appointment marked the first time a woman had taken the helm of a DAX 30-listed company – and helped to further cement a growing trend of female leadership in Europe`s leading pharmaceutical companies. Like Emma Walmsley at GlaxoSmithKline four years earlier, she achieved something unthinkable a mere few decades ago, a dichotomy given the generally high female representation in healthcare, their purchasing savvy and impressive reputation for influence among the workforce.

The pharma sector is better represented in gender terms than many others, given the number of female chemists, biochemists, biologists and physicists. But the fact that they account for only 25 per cent of leadership roles shows there is still along way to go.

Barbara Morgan, General Manager at CDMO division of LLS Health, told European Pharmaceuticals Magazine that within the corporate world many of the recognized leadership qualities are typically a combination of decisiveness, dynamism, and assertiveness. But she added: “Those with a different approach to leadership – a women often fall in this category – may be exposed to more obstacles as their characteristics go against the status quo.

“For more women to reach the top positions, it’s important that the industry works towards redefining its understanding of leadership by embracing different styles. The highly extroverted and assertive leadership style that we accustomed to the business may show up differently in women. We have to be inclusive and open to allow female leaders to be authentic to themselves and not feel pressured to personify the accepted leadership style.

Belen Garijo’s record is testament to that. She joined Merck in 2011 as Chief Operating Officer of Healthcare, becoming CEO in 2015. And her many achievements are very significant. She globalized healthcare and re-positioned the R&D pipeline, establishing a new strategic direction and reinforcing clinical development and other critical global functions. She also helped to redefine Healthcare’s strategic focus, managed critical divestitures, and maximized the potential of the portfolio by forging a new open alliance model. The prevalence of women in the industry was no surprise to Merck, given the number who achieve degrees in pharma-related studies, such as biology or pharmacy.

But the company recognizes the need for what Chief Diversity Officer Jennifer O’Lear, described as “a concerted approach to improve the representation of women in leadership roles”, something Merck has sought to encourage by setting targets and addressing underlying issues, a policy that saw women holding 35 per cent of leadership roles by the end of last year.

As for the advantages of a leadership style that demonstrated a higher level of empathy, she agreed: “Studies have shown that if we consider women and men broadly as groups, they show different profiles of leadership capabilities.

The crucial role of empathy in leadership

“Given a particular leadership situation, a more collaborative or emotionally driven style, in general demonstrated by women, can lead to better outcomes. But the success of teams and companies overall comes from diversity – meaning the contribution of perspectives and leadership styles of both genders and other diversity aspects. This is why at Merck, we want to achieve gender parity to benefit from these different perspectives and styles. We are convinced that a diverse workforce – a combined with an appreciative and motivating corporate culture – boosts the innovative strength of our Group and contributes significantly to our business.”

As for the way this manifests in the Boardroom, she was equally clear. “This requires effort at many levels and on a variety of issues,” she said. “Companies must address barriers along the entire development pipeline. This starts with addressing topics in the mid-career phase, such as ensuring that families – including the men – can manage their work and private commitments flexibly so that women can stay in the workforce. As women develop their careers, we need to make sure they get developed through the right roles. For instance, women need to get into profit-and-loss responsibility roles, rather than getting stuck in senior “staff” functions and international experience to qualify for executive board roles.

“To support this effort, Merck engages all of its leaders – both women and men – in various development programs, unconscious bias training, diversity workshops, and leadership events. We offer numerous mentoring, sponsoring and talent programs for women and other target groups, such as ethnic minorities. In doing so, we want to make these target groups more visible when filling vacancies.”

One area where women are vastly under-represented is in the world of Artificial Intelligence, a sector seen every industry from self-driving vehicle to the latest medical advances, as the most revolutionary element of the current digital era. And it’s set to grow. Backed by significant R&D investment pledges form the likes of global giants such as Google, Facebook and Microsoft, a market valued at €35.5 billion last year is expected to grow at a CAGR of 42.2 per cent by 2027. Yet, the World Economic Forum recently found that only 26 per cent of those working in data and AI globally are female, with even fewer of them holding senior roles. And there are argue that if the AI industry is going to deliver on its promise to revolutionize our lives, there’s a vital need to ensure more women are involved in its development.

Ozge Tarim, Senior Business Account Manager at the global systems integrator, Global DWS in New York suggests that declining rates of women in STEM courses at universities are causing some of them to feel that they don’t have a good enough technical understanding of AI.

“The biggest challenges that I faced were thinking that a lack of technical qualifications meant that I didn’t deserve to be involved in the discussion,” she says. One of the ways she overcame this was by realizing that technical knowledge was just “one aspect and not enough for success itself. You need a whole spectrum of strengths. Diversity drives innovation”.

Dr. Andrée Bates, founder of the AI-focused biopharma and healthcare sales consultancy, Eularis, also believes that it’s important to clear up such misconceptions before women understand it’s an industry in which they can thrive. She says one common misconception is that you need to have a deep understanding of complex mathematics.

“This is not true,” she insists. “You just need to know what you can do with the technology.” While a semblance of technical knowledge is needed, other characteristics, such as an ability to think creatively and critically, are also crucial. Another myth is that you need a large pool of data scientists to execute a successful AI implementation. “In the past five years, we’ve seen an exponential increase of smaller AI-as-a-service companies with no need for large teams to get you started,” she explains. Women should take advantages of the increasing democratization of AI tools to start understanding its potential.

One woman who is closely involved is Kerry Sheehan, who specializes in Artificial Intelligence as part of her work with the London-based Chartered Institute of Public Relations. “One of the best pieces of guidance my AI coach gave me was, ‘as more and more artificial intelligence enters into the world, more and mire emotional intelligence must enter into leadership`,” she said. The rationale: while AI may be able to solve complex business problems, emotional intelligence will soon become a highly sought-after skill.

The emergence of emotional AI

Even though some AI providers have made great strides in incorporating EI, tone of recognition and context switching into their technology, human still easily outperform machines on this score. Key here is the fact that computers have stepped out of the shadows, graduating from typical office-based functions, such as data processing to roles such as digital assistants and robot drivers which see them interacting directly with real people.

Thus, the rapid emergence of Emotional AI, which attempts to classify and respond to things such as facial expressions, eye movements and voice levels, something already in use in industries ranging from gaming to advertising to call centers to insurances. Gartner, the technology consultancy, forecasts that 10 per cent of all personal devices will includes some form of emotion recognition technology by 2022. Amazon, the company behind the Alexa digital assistant, has filed patents for emotion-detecting technology that would recognize a user’s mood. Affectiva has developed a in-vehicle emotion recognition system, using cameras and microphones, to sense whether a driver is drowsy, distracted or angry and can respond by tugging the seatbelt or lowering the temperature.

And Fujitsu, the Japanese IT conglomerate, is incorporating “line of sight” sensors in shop floors mannequins and sending push notifications to help sales staff find the best way of dealing with certain customers. Cairo-born Rana el Kaliouby, an MIT graduate and CEO of Boston-based AI start-up Affectiva, has spent 20 years working in Human Robot Interaction. She goes as far as to describe this as “an empathy crisis”. She explains: “Technology today has a lot of cognitive intelligence, or IQ but no emotional intelligence or EQ. We need to redesign technology in a more human-centric way.”

Interestingly, similar issues appear prevalent in the cybersecurity world. A global report by the London and San Francisco-based human layer security company, Tessian, discovered there was still a lot of work to be done to encourage female graduates on to the career ladder. A survey of graduates aged 18-25 found that men were more likely to consider a job in cybersecurity by a margin of 42 to 26 per cent. But significant 84 per cent of younger women said that they found the industry “important” and 73 per cent said it was “interesting”. When female cybersecurity professionals were asked what would encourage more women to join them, it was equal pay that topped the list with 47 per cent of respondents saying this would help bridge the gender gap.

The pandemic and changing priorities

This was closely followed by “more female diverse models”, “a gender-balanced workforce” and “a greater emphasis on STEM subjects in schools”. As significant percentage of these Generation Z respondents were, however, on the fence when it came to considering a career in cybersecurity. Nearly half were not sure and when asked why, many were worried that they don’t have the skills needed to thrice, while others were not sure how to navigate a career change.

Sabrina Castiglione, Tessian’s Chief Financial Officer and Acting Head of Talent said: “The women in our report have spoken; cybersecurity is an industry to build a thriving career, even in a global pandemic, and the younger generation recognizes that it’s important. So now, we need to show more women and girls how they can explore the opportunities available to them.”

“Greater awareness in schools is critical but businesses, too, can help build a more diverse talent pool for the future through initiatives such as hiring more diverse candidates at junior levels and developing them into senior roles, and creating platforms for role models to share theirs stories. We won’t solve gender gap overnight. But acting now and playing the long game will have befits – for businesses and society.”

Jennifer O’Lear recognizes that the pandemic has accelerated a change in leadership styles across all industries. “All leaders need to manage more flexibly and be aware of the social and private situations their teams a facing,” she said. “They need to be prepared to manage higher team diversity so that they can leverage the potential of that. These challenges are at the core of how leaders need to evolve. An this evolution will lead to more diversity, not only of gender but also of other aspects, because leaders increasingly recognize the value it brings.”

The economics of equality

It’s significant that the United Nations has named gender equality as one of the Sustainable Development Goals of it’s “2030 Agenda”. Studies have shown that such parity proved real economic benefits. One from the Peterson Institute for International Economics concluded that an increase of women in corporate leadership teams to 30 per cent would correlate to a 15 per cent increase in profitability. Another from Credit Suisse revealed that companies with women in leadership positions report a 19 per cent higher return on equity and nine per cent higher dividends. And McKinsey & Company data showed that $4.3 trillion could be added to the US economy alone if gender parity is reached by 2025.


Richard Burton

Editor / World Show Media


Keywords in this article:


Find more contributions:

Detailed search in the magazine


Always up to date

With our newsletter you will receive current information on ACHEMA on a regular basis. You are guaranteed not to miss any important dates.

Subscribe now