Moving the Needle on Gender Diversity in Swiss Pharma Leadership

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While Switzerland has Europe’s second-highest proportion of women in the workforce, it trails global standards on gender diversity in boardrooms and in management positions. However, this situation is changing and two of Switzerland’s most important pharma affiliates are at the forefront of a new wave of diverse Swiss leadership teams.

 

According to The Advance and HSG Gender Intelligence Report 2020, which analysed the HR data of 302,000 employees from 75 companies and organisations in Switzerland, “While nearly half of the employees in non-management positions across all participating organizations are women (49 percent), the number drops 20 percentage points when looking at all management positions (29 percent).

The report adds, “In top management, the female representation drops even further to 18 percent, a disparity of over 30 percentage points compared to the base pool (49 percent). In other words: Women face staggering hurdles in attaining (top) management positions.”

A 2019 study by Rihm Attorneys at law, ‘How can diversity management benefit Swiss companies?’ notes that this situation “can be explained by the fact that a large percentage of its female workforce prefer to work part time. As in Scandinavia, most Swiss companies do not offer childcare services and mothers are thus discouraged from careers as (for example) managers from the outset.”

The Rihm study continues, “Because women are an indispensable part of corporate boards and encourage highly innovative decision making, more flexible working hours and childcare services are needed. Although this will not necessarily increase female representation at the executive level, it can be an incentive to reconcile work and family life.”

 

In Switzerland’s most important industry – biopharmaceuticals – these debates are ongoing, and two US firms are now helping move the needle on this crucial issue. Katharina Gasser, managing director of Biogen Switzerland & chair of Interpharma’s executive committee, asserts that “I am a strong believer in diversity. Having people from different genders, places, and backgrounds and with different mindsets, work and life experiences leads to excellence in execution and performance.”

 

Having people from different genders, places, and backgrounds and with different mindsets, work and life experiences leads to excellence in execution and performance

Katharina Gasser, Biogen

 

Gasser adds, “Gender is a topic that has been close to my heart for many years as I have always worked in male-dominated environments, especially in leadership teams. Although pharma and biotech is probably more advanced than other sectors, I believe that we should work hard to foster an environment where more women can reach top-level roles and where there is no bias in terms of promotion and hiring.”

On Biogen Switzerland’s highly diverse leadership team, Gasser is keen to note that “I did not set out to create a female-dominated leadership team, but I was open to meeting a broader spectrum of candidates.” She continues, “We picked the candidates best suited for the positions, which happened to mean that 70 percent of our leadership team were women. Recently, Biogen Switzerland was voted the national leader in terms of the representation of women in leadership by DOIT-smart / Gender Diversity Consulting. This does not mean that we are any better than other companies but our diversity in terms of gender. We also have people with very different backgrounds and nationalities which makes working for Biogen a lot of fun and brings me a great amount of energy.”

 

Sabine Bruckner, country manager for Pfizer Switzerland, is similarly passionate about the importance of building diverse executive leadership teams. “Diversity is a key element of the Pfizer culture and crucial for any business,” she opines.

 

I am fully convinced that diverse teams are more successful in balancing between being overly cautious and blindly risk-seeking

Sabine Bruckner, Pfizer

 

“Leading and working within diverse teams over many years now I am fully convinced that diverse teams are more successful in balancing between being overly cautious and blindly risk-seeking and look at things from different angles. Learning from each other in the end they make better decisions.”

Having placed second behind Biogen in the aforementioned DOIT-smart / Gender Diversity Consulting survey, Bruckner points out that “57 percent of our executive board are women, which gives a strong signal as to how important equity is to Pfizer. I am confident that in this environment, we will attract diverse, high performing talent with the skillset and mindset needed to serve our patients in the best way possible.”

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