Shattering the Glass Ceiling
March 8, 2017
Growing up, Julie Emond dreamt of becoming a doctor. She wanted to help people and make a difference. But like many of us, over time that dream morphed into something a little different. Although her desire to help people never changed, Julie’s career path didn’t lead her to a hospital or a family practice. It led her to becoming a medical biologist, and eventually to a career in our Diagnostics division in Laval, Quebec. As she often says when asked about this career path, Julie is still pursuing her dream of helping patients, just in a different way.
In her 17-year career with us, Julie has worked her way to becoming the Executive Director of Marketing and a member of our Diagnostics senior leadership team. And while her accomplishments are reflective of her hard work, her passion for science and her commitment to patients, Julie still feels that – as a whole – many Canadian women still face significant barriers when looking to advance their careers.
“Many of these can be personal, but many are organizational,” she says. “As a society, we have grown accustomed to asking women if they can balance their familial commitments with their career requirements.”
Like Julie, we believe that, for an effective leader, balance is less about a dance between personal and work, and more about skill set. Effective leaders must have the ability to think analytically, strategically and creatively, and also to demonstrate self-awareness, empathy and humility. Most importantly, leaders need to be courageous and passionate about what they do.
Equality is not a reality
There’s no perfect way to predict who will make a great leader but we know one thing for sure. Gender should never be a factor in determining whether someone is qualified for leadership. And while we as a company hold firm to this conviction, the reality is that for many organizations, gender plays a large role in their decisions regarding leadership roles.
According to a recent report from Catalyst, a non-profit organization working to accelerate women's progress in the workplace, women only account for 33% of all senior management positions in Canada. And women are two or three times less likely to hold a senior management position than men in the country.
While we are citing Canadian statistics here, the issue of gender equality is not unique to our country. The World Economic Forum (WEF) – a Swiss-based international non-profit foundation committed to improving the state of the world – predicts that women and men may not reach economic equality for another 170 years.
What’s even more interesting is that as progressive and as diverse as we have become over the last several decades, WEF ranks Canada 35th in the world in terms of gender equality, which is a significant drop from a decade ago when we ranked tenth.
While this trend is disappointing, not all companies are the same. At Roche Canada, we recognize the different perspectives and approaches women bring to business. This isn’t just something we say, it’s a reality. Women make up 65% of our total staff, 65% of our executive team, and 62% of our Director-level or above positions. We believe that a more inclusive workplace means better ideas and better performance.
And it’s not just us saying this, it’s science. Research shows that gender equality is as good for business as it is for employees. Diverse teams and companies produce better results and higher revenue and profits, which lead to more opportunity.
As Maria Teresa Lopez, Vice President of Finance and Business Services and Chief Financial Officer of our Pharmaceuticals division in Mississauga sees it, our female-forward approach has helped our company succeed: “Women are by nature network builders, good communicators, and tend to be flexible and adaptable. In today’s era of global business, fast paced and changing work environments, and competition for talent, these are critical skills.”
Maria knows a thing or two about versatility in an increasingly global world. Since joining our company in 1995, she has worked in four countries – Brazil, Switzerland (at our global head office in Basel), the United States (at Genentech in South San Francisco) and now Canada.
She attributes her success to being challenged and not shying away from opportunities. “Although I have been working here for 22 years, it’s almost as if I joined the company yesterday,” she says. “I guess it’s because change was constant during all these years. And with change comes learning, opportunities and great people. It’s been an interesting and rewarding journey built on four pillars: courage, positivity, hard work, and resilience.”
A Culture of Inclusion
For many female leaders, the challenges they have faced have shaped both the people they have become and the work they do. That’s definitely the case for Marie-Chantal Perreault, Executive Director of Human Resources and Communications at our Diagnostics division.
“I was put into management positions immediately following my studies in University,” she says. “I had to overcome adversity tied to age, gender, and lack of experience early in my career. It was a great opportunity to build character and confidence.” This experience has translated into a passion for developing talent and encouraging those around her. “I need to feel like I’m making a difference and adding value - I want to take those who are good and help them become great.”
As the lead on human resources and internal communications, Marie-Chantal’s work helps shape our culture as an organization. She is responsible for performance management, rewards, learning and development, internal communications and employee engagement. Corporate culture, the beliefs and behaviors that determine how a company's employees and management interact, are ingrained in the fabric of every organization. They are built over time and are not easily changed.
So how has our culture helped women succeed? In one word: trust. “Success requires trust, and here trust is given to you right from the start,” says Marie-Chantal. We empower smart people who have great ideas to do what they need to in order to succeed, trusting them every step of the way. “Our culture shows our desire to innovate, to explore new ideas with an open mind, and to try different things. It’s the only company I’ve worked for where people are willing to share their knowledge and experience without asking for anything in return.”
A culture of inclusion doesn’t just happen. It’s a choice that individuals and leaders make. In order to foster diversity within leadership, you need to build an inclusive talent pipeline and support these future leaders.
According to Alicia Gardner, Vice President of Product Strategy in our Pharmaceutical division, “Our leadership commitments include a focus on people development, and I believe that we live this. I’ve been fortunate to have great managers, both male and female, who helped me grow and develop. Further, because Roche has a number of women in leadership positions, there are many strong role models to learn from.”
During her time at Genentech and our global head office in Switzerland, Alicia participated in women’s professional groups within the organization. These groups provided her with opportunities to reflect on and address gender issues, while getting to know many women across the company.
When asked for advice by women looking to advance their careers, she says:
1. Speak up. If you find yourself hesitating to contribute to discussions or disagree with a collective opinion, find ways to say what you’re thinking. Our business will be better for having your ideas on the table.
2. Seek out projects or roles that challenge you, and then be open to feedback as you tackle them. This will help you grow quickly and you’ll likely be surprised by what you can accomplish.
3. Set boundaries. You’ll be your best self at work if you make time to pursue what’s important to you outside of work, be that spending time with your family, staying healthy, or finally using your vacation time.
The only way to address and overcome barriers is to have more women in leadership, providing the support that women need to advance, and encouraging flexibility in the workplace. However, while culture is an important part of the equation, women need to look out for their own best interests.
“I don't think women use their negotiation powers enough to create the conditions they need to succeed,” says Nita Arora who leads our global Pharmaceutical Product Development site in Mississauga, and also serves as the North American Regional Head of Country Clinical Operations. “Ask for what you need and you'll be surprised at the flexibility that might be available to you. Organizations want to support and retain talent.”
Beyond the drive, determination, and courage these female leaders possess, they all share a passion for doing something meaningful. They come to work each day knowing they are making a difference. For Nita, who leads a team focused on bringing new medicines to patients through clinical trials, this is the bottom line: “I genuinely believe with all my heart that the work we do benefits society, so my work at Roche allows me to do what is deeply meaningful to me. I have worked on medicines that have transformed medical practice in transplantation and oncology, and I hope to be able to say that about many other diseases by the end of my career.”