The future for corporate executives appears to be more difficult than ever, despite the optimism that the pandemic will soon be …
Investing in Female Leadership Essential to Prepare for Challenges Ahead
General Manager, Dermatology & Respiratory, Sanofi Genzyme US
The COVID-19 pandemic brought many lessons in leadership, and it’s heartening to see recognition of the success of female leaders in navigating the early days of the pandemic.
Research conducted by Supriya Garikipati (University of Liverpool) and Uma Kambhampati (University of Reading) demonstrated that countries led by women experienced better COVID-outcomes. The researchers identified one potential reason for the difference in outcomes –the leadership style employed by female leaders; specifically, an emphasis on empathy, personal connection and open communication.
In the health and life sciences sector, women have been historically underrepresented in leadership positions as well as in research. Despite this, we saw several women at the forefront of the development of the game-changing COVID-19 vaccines – including Dr. Özlem Türeci, Chief Medical Officer at BioNTech, Dr. Kizzmekia Corbett, Immunologist at the US National Institutes of Health (NIH) and Dr. Kathrin Jansen, Head of Vaccine Research and Development at Pfizer. I believe that when we empower women in the health sciences, they can challenge long-established ideas and bring in new perspectives – even more necessary when facing novel challenges like the pandemic.
Unfortunately, as we experience the impact of female leadership, the pandemic has placed an immense burden on women. McKinsey’s 2020 Women in the Workplace study found that “[w]omen—are more likely to have been laid off or furloughed during the COVID-19 crisis” and shouldered an increase in responsibilities due to the disruption of school and childcare. The impact has been even more disproportionate for women of colour. This resulted in one in four women considering taking a step back in their career. In the US alone, nearly 1.8 million women left the workforce during the pandemic.
With the demonstrated value of women in leadership roles, there is urgency to reverse this trend. Our next challenges are close at hand – the fourth wave of COVID and the potential for a “Great Resignation” – and gender balanced leadership is essential to a resilient response. How can businesses, government and academia engage female leaders to remain in the workforce when the demands on women have never been greater?
In reflecting on my own leadership journey, as well as in discussions with my peers and colleagues, I believe we need to prioritize three areas to support the development and engagement of female leaders:
- Maintaining a flexible work environment. While employees will be facing common challenges, there is rarely a universal solution that will address all needs. Providing flexibility for how, when and where work is done enables employees to navigate competing demands. Further, ensuring parental leave policies are inclusive and gender neutral, allows caregiving duties to be balanced between parents.
- Connection and mentorship. Creating formalized networks for women to connect with mentors, sponsors and peers relieves the burden of independently developing those critical professional relationships. These connections are necessary for navigating both personal and professional challenges. At Sanofi, our Elevate program is a network for our talented female colleagues that ensures they have the leadership skills and the exposure necessary for continued professional growth. Our employee resource groups (such as WISE, MOSAIC, ParentsConnect and PrideConnect) also offer mentorship and networking opportunities to support female, BIPOC and LGBQT+ colleagues. These forums are essential to provide a trusted and inclusive environment and ensure a strong pipeline of talent to support diversifying our leadership teams.
- Empathy and mental health support. Indisputably, our return to office in the coming months will be a major shift for all. Leading with empathy during this transition is important for employees to feel heard and understood. Establishing formal, accessible mental health tools and resources– including, providing coverage for mental health services as well as virtual care – are also important for employees who may struggle with the transition and juggling personal and professional responsibilities.
The pandemic will continue to have an indelible impact on all leaders – and I’m encouraged and inspired by the critical role that women will play in leadership as we look to the future. It is now our collective responsibility to ensure we have the right strategy and resources in place today to guarantee sustainability for all our leaders and employees going forward.
About Marissa Poole:
With more than 25 years in the healthcare industry, Marissa has built her career in the pharma and
biotech industry with deep expertise in clinical research and development, operations,
commercialization and medical affairs. She has been pivotal in the development, approval and launch of
transformative and lifesaving medicines in oncology, transplant, rare disease, immunology and
With leadership experience in Australia, US and Canada, Marissa is passionate about the value the life
sciences industry brings to enable a healthier and safer future. She is a strong advocate to ensure that
innovation and investment continues to be valued and recognizes the importance of true partnership
across industry, academia, patient communities, public and private sectors to ensure better health
outcomes for all Canadians.
Marissa has degrees in Pharmacology and Law from the University of Sydney
The Chief Executive Officer of a company is, in many ways, the head of the entire business. A CEO has the autonomy to make …
Women have always taken up every challenge which came their way and emerged triumphant. Women of high caliber who …
Though women excel in every field, there are a few arenas where a woman gets an opportunity to transcend her boundary and explore and …