Diversity and inclusion’s crucial role in shaping the healthcare industry

June 21, 2022
Diversity and inclusion’s crucial role in shaping the healthcare industry

The current healthcare landscape means that adopting new approaches to ensure success for both patient and provider is paramount. As such, healthcare brands have opted for sustainable “Diversity and Inclusion” (D&I) initiatives to improve performance and encourage innovation within the industry – many more benefits come with integrating D&I initiatives into the system.

Peggy Wu, Asia Vice President at AbbVie, shares more with Healthcare Asia (HCA) on D&I’s crucial role in shaping the healthcare industry.

HCA: Why is D&I growing in importance?

A growing number of businesses have recognised the strong links between a D&I workforce and business performance. Research has found that many companies with the greatest diversity outperform those with a homogeneous workforce.

In fact, companies with a solid commitment to equality, equity, diversity, and inclusion (EEDI) have also earned additional benefits such as an increase in innovation, enhanced brand reputation, and the ability to attract and retain talent effectively, according to the Workforce Institute D&I Report 2021.

For the healthcare industry, a diverse and inclusive culture is a business imperative as well. To ensure that we can develop and deliver innovative life-changing medicines for our diverse patients with unique health challenges, a diverse workforce is essential to fostering thoughtfulness and creativity that comes from having a wide range of inputs and perspectives. Incorporating diversity and inclusion into ways of working do also result in better clinical outcomes for patients, as it enables a systematic approach to clinical trial diversity, patient centricity, and patient experience throughout the clinical drug development process to address unmet needs and strive toward the best possible outcomes.

HCA: What are some challenges and opportunities in embedding D&I into organisation and culture?

While the importance of D&I has been growing, sustainable and significant progress remains a challenge given the situations where we continue to face barriers in achieving equitable, diverse, and inclusive workplaces. A report by McKinsey in 2020 discovered that only one-third of the firms the company tracked since 2014 had achieved real gains in executive team diversity. Additionally, nearly 50% had made little or no progress and, within that, some have seen gender and underrepresented populations gains go backwards.

This could be attributed to some gaps and barriers to implementing holistic changes. For example, according to various reports dating from 2017, companies that focus simply on diversity without factoring in inclusion efforts as well see lower business outcomes than focusing on both aspects. Inclusion that helps employees feel respected, valued, and heard needs to be an integral aspect of companies’ D&I strategy.

In this light, company leaders must play a substantial role in cultivating a D&I workforce, as the extent to which companies respond to the matters is largely, if not fully, dependent on leadership. It was also found that business-driven D&I strategies led by CEOs and other C-suite leaders achieve more success. Additionally, around 70% of employees believe that it would be helpful for their leaders to learn to manage diverse groups, recognise unconscious bias, and adopt more inclusive behaviour and thinking. AbbVie’s CEO, Chief Equity Officer, Executive Leadership team, and all executives set formal goals and are held accountable for the organisation’s EEDI performance, committed to consistently raising the bar to cultivate a diverse and inclusive workplace.

Putting a long-term strategy in place can also help companies move towards bringing diversity and inclusion to life. Strategic roadmaps to have a D&I culture can clearly define a company’s direction, as it can pave the way for unlimited thinking and enhance capability to spark innovation and drive sustainable growth based on broad-based perspectives and growth mindsets.

For instance, our five-year EEDI strategy focuses on specific areas of opportunity including driving awareness and understanding, attracting, developing, and engaging talent, and creating connections and community. Each area has a specific objective, associated initiatives, and implementation and measurement plans organised by business function.

HCA: What advice would you give to healthcare companies wanting to create a diverse and inclusive leadership and culture that turns business into growth?

No team can thrive without a spectrum of perspectives and ideas. Research has found that organisations with higher diversity experience have an improved company culture, stronger leadership, and increased innovation: creating an effective D&I strategy starts with putting people at the center of a company’s growth plans. Talent management and development are key aspects in our EEDI Framework and Strategy that seeks to build a culture of equity and inclusion. Talent development programmes play a significant role in continuously improving employees as they go on their career journeys.

At AbbVie, we recognise that our ability to solve complex challenges is directly linked to the diversity and skills of our dynamic talent. As of 2021, in Asia, we have run more than 160 learning & development programmes to develop employee capabilities, and educational resources are readily available for our employees to evolve their skills. We also have our annual talent assessment process in place, running various development programmes based on talent development plans, coaching and mentoring programmes, and short-term assignments for talents across the Asia region.

Furthermore, having a diverse workplace also adds to a wide range of knowledge, perspectives, and capabilities that our employees bring, which is critical to our success in both the short and long term. In this light, we have developed and exported our talents beyond the region, which strengthens our global diverse workforce.

Finally, it’s imperative to measure the performance of D&I initiatives by celebrating wins, highlighting successes, and evaluating what should be improved.

HCA: How do you see D&I evolving in the healthcare industry in the future?

Today’s workplace is more diverse than ever as most organisations’ employees span across multiple generations. A multi-generational workforce is highly likely to face challenges based on the different experiences and skill sets of the team. This also welcomes opportunities to embrace various perspectives. I think nurturing a mutual understanding of these differences and valuing the diversity can inspire us to be more innovative and foster a diverse and inclusive culture.

Traditional gender roles are also being redefined. All employees, regardless of gender, should be recognised for their efforts equally, and be offered the same opportunities to grow. This will then create a collaborative workforce that that encourages productivity and innovation.

Navigating through the pandemic, the ways we work are getting more flexible. Working from home came to be part of a new normal. With advanced technology and widely prevailing online communication platforms to connect people regardless of physical location, companies can access a broader talent pool across the globe compared to the past. As a result of the advancement of information communications technology, facilitating communication across different parts of the world has become a reality. Companies can consider a hybrid workforce that includes employees who work remotely, which allows them to attract and employ diverse talents from many countries.

Given this trend, companies can look into building a diverse and skilled talent pool that can maintain work-life harmonisation, and eventually improve business operations. D&I programmes will need to consider how we can address the new talents’ needs and expectations. To enhance performance and collaboration in a hybrid working model, we recently introduced “Where We Work”, an approach where office-based employees are given the flexibility to work virtually, boosting the employee experience.

As we move into a smart industry that relies on greater interconnectivity, I believe the adoption of digital technology in recent years will mold the way diversity and inclusion progresses in the future. Such advancements in technology can provide companies with the right tools to communicate with employees, better accommodate different requests and to connect each other beyond where they are working. It also allows them to conduct in-depth analysis and reporting of D&I performance as well as customised learnings for development and growth. Based on Intel’s 2021 report, 89% of executives believe that technology will make achieving D&I goals easier. 

With these changes in mind, businesses need to be flexible enough to accommodate a broad workforce. It is also important to enable the multi-generational and diverse workforce to connect online and offline and ensure there is adequate upskilling support for employees to stay ahead of latest technologies. They also need to be able to navigate complex and fast changing environments and adapt to a hybrid-post-pandemic era, as they chart the course for D&I in the future.

Building an inclusive culture means embracing people from all walks of life. We want to bring our employees with a diverse set of backgrounds and cultures together. One of the ways we have done this is through our CONNECT Asia initiative, which was created to raise awareness of the different cultural holidays celebrated across the region and the unique ways that our employees celebrate these holidays.

Additionally, in recent years, gender equality in the healthcare industry has been following a positive trend and this backdrop points to a more optimistic future for the sector in terms of female representation. In AbbVie in Asia, a similar trend is seen with more than 60% of women in management roles, while about 40% of our workforce are women as of 2021. We feel strongly about providing sufficient opportunities for female leadership as well as encouraging efforts to increase female representation.

As a female leader, I realise how necessary it is to step up to the plate and be a role model both at work and home. In Asia, we hold D&I learning and workshops for managers to help them be aware of bias when selecting employees, and coaching and evaluating them. We encourage our leaders to attend inclusive leadership programmes where we learn how to manage diversity in teams. We also recently organised Women Leaders in Action (WLA) in Asia – an Employee Resource Group for women and allies to empower our women employees in the region to reach their full potential.

I am proud of the progress we have made so far in empowering women to pursue opportunities at every level of the corporate ladder. In the years ahead, I feel optimistic that we will see more women breaking the glass ceiling in the healthcare sector, while more businesses create environments that facilitate these growth trends.

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Category: Features, Top Story

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