HBA Basel event recap: Gender Parity - A Matter of Inside-Out

By Menorca Chaturvedi
In the healthcare industry, where women constitute the majority of the workforce and dominate the management positions, only a fraction of women are seen in the top leadership positions. How come and what can we do to influence this?

Gender Parity is a Matter of Inside-Out. Increasing the number of senior women leaders starts by realizing what you can do about it. In order to influence the numbers, every one of us need to be active: gender parity is a matter of all. What can you do to influence the numbers on the top?

To delve deeper into the issue and understand what you can do to help realize gender parity, more than 160 healthcare professionals joined an HBA Europe event sponsored from and taking place at F. Hoffmann-La Roche Ltd., in Basel on 4 April 2017. We had the honor and the pleasure to host CEO Dr. Severin Schwan.

The event took a clear direction towards responsibility when opened by Diana Lagalante, communication specialist, pRED, F. Hoffmann-La Roche Ltd., and HBA Europe volunteer engagement director. She provided a clear insight into the main focus areas of the HBA while emphasising how the HBA organization works towards empowering women as leaders in the healthcare industry.

A seamless moderation from Rebecca Vermeulen, head of PD medical affairs customer strategy, F. Hoffmann-La Roche Ltd., and HBA Europe mentor, offered smooth transitions during the event that hosted four speakers, each one of them highlighting their personal take on gender parity providing a more in-depth picture of the complexity of the topic.

Men and women need to work together, side-by-side in order to influence gender parity. This was a clear statement from Alexander Hardy, head of global product strategy at F. Hoffmann-La Roche Ltd.
Studies carried out in USA have shown that 60% of the graduates are women and majority of the household healthcare decisions are also taken by women. As he put it, it is business critical to have more women in healthcare leadership positions to understand the consumers better, and it is also important to encourage people to reach their full potential. He mentioned three things that he does, as a male leader, to achieve the goal
  • Listening and learning about issues and possible solutions from his female colleagues.
  • Challenging male colleagues to take an active role, becoming allies and advocates for the cause.
  • Supporting events like the one today to move from awareness to action
It is interesting to think about the fact that bias towards women can also stem from the minds of women themselves, not just men. Kristen Pressner, global head of human resources for the Roche Diagnostics Division, F. Hoffmann-La Roche Ltd., highlighted the topic of unconscious bias. She pointed out how traditional roles of men and women in the society and our past experiences can lead to unconscious bias in the workplace, deterring women from advancing in their careers. It is vital for both men and women to first identify then acknowledge bias and then be willing to correct it. She recommends a great way to check and test ourselves when in doubt. The idea to ‘flip it to test it’. Flipping the gender in the scenario and testing whether your assumption or your decision made would still be valid is an excellent way to identify unconscious bias.
Quoting General David Morrison: “The standard you walk past is the standard you accept”, Kristen also mentioned the importance of believing in your ideas and not let fear hold you back. If you want to make a change you will need to take action. If you want to reach your full potential you will need to follow Nelson Mandela’s advice: “may your choices express your hopes, not your fears”

Taking this idea further, Laura McKeaveney, global head of patient advocacy at Novartis Group, stressed on the importance of pursuing your dreams against all odds and shared her belief of ‘paying It forward’. The healthcare industry has an enormous impact on society and she pointed out how women influence 80% of the healthcare expenditure. With regards to trends in the industry, she also highlighted the increasing importance of patient insights and how key decision-making bodies are seeking higher levels of patient involvement.
Admittedly, even though companies have been taking initiatives to achieve gender parity, there are still a lot of underlying factors that influence the mindset of the people. Laura presented the concept of the culture iceberg, which showed that the traditions, perceptions, unspoken rules and the way things are handled in an organization convey values and important messages about the work culture to the employees. Tackling these factors to achieve gender parity would certainly require substantial time, reflection, the strength and ability to identify bias and the willingness to implement changes.

Dr. Ipek Serifsoy, president of Deep Coaching Institute, and founder of Women’s Leadership Circles, spoke further about the factors underlying bias and how we can change on the inside to create a better impact on the business and society. She shared her experiences of helping men and women create inclusive environments where everyone is accepted and encouraged.

Ipek proposed a counter-intuitive approach to change: moving from our constricted selves, which might just be the part of our personality we have chosen to show to the world, to our expanded selves, implying more authenticity. It was surprising to find out that 98% of what drives us is unconscious. In order to have inclusive environments, we need to start at a personal level with a deeper level of consciousness and authenticity. We need a deeper self-awareness of who we really are and this requires vulnerability, transparency, courage and receptivity.

The event concluded with an inspiring panel discussion, in which different issues concerning gender parity were brought up. Some of the key points and takeaways were:
  • Openness and authenticity are required to get men really understand the challenges faced by women and take action to achieve gender parity.
  • Men and women need to be aware of the unconscious bias they might have and need to be willing to act upon it before making decisions.
  • Applying the idea of ‘flip it to test it’ can influence a non-judgemental approach to conscious decision-making.
  • Influencing gender parity requires each of us to ‘pay It forward’ and to take the responsibility to help out others, irrespective of their current career stage.
  • It is also important to identify problems in the work culture and to speak up. For instance, a culture of interruption can be more problematic for women while it is more tolerated from men. An impactful step would be to identify such a situation and speak up in favour of the person being interrupted and allow the person to finish their thoughts.
In summary: Taking personal action is the most important element that will help us achieve gender parity. The event offered the audience a number of practical suggestions to start influencing gender parity today.

To help the audience to take personal action, a useful ‘Call to Action one-pager’ and a selection of inspiring quotes, provided an easy segue into an engaged discussions and interactions during the Apéro and networking event after the talk.
HBA Europe is thankful to all the speakers, attendees and the sponsor, F. Hoffmann- La Roche Ltd, Alexander Hardy for making this event not only highly successful but for sure memorable.
We are truly grateful having received coaching and guidance from Sandra Van de Cauter, author of the book “Get Clear; Craft and Deliver Impactful Presentations Worth Hearing”. She made us aware of the impact we could have with the choices we made while keeping us focused on a clear goal for the entire event.
As Rebecca Vermeulen clearly stated quoting J.K. Rowling; “It’s our choices that show us who we truly are, far more than our abilities”.
Gender Parity is a Matter of Inside-Out. Will you join us?


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