While International Women’s Day (IWD) is officially recognized on March 8, the collective action and shared ownership necessary to drive gender parity is a constant undertaking. Last year, our drug development team located in India took the “Balance for Better” theme to heart. This year, they’re planning for an even more impactful 2020 that’s part of a commitment to make a positive difference for women across all of our global sites.
Under the leadership of Imran Ali, senior vice president and general manager, the drug development team in India has grown from 30 employees to 3,700 in a span of only 18 months as our presence has ramped up in the Asia Pacific region. The team is divided almost equally in terms of gender, with women comprising 51 percent of the overall population. Moreover, about 31 percent of the leadership team is female. The value placed on women leaders and diverse perspectives reverberates across the organization.
“I’ve traveled extensively in my career, and I know women in my country go through more hardship than most with the responsibilities of home and family,” says Imran, who joined the company in 2017. “There needs to be a trigger of support for women. I’m passionate about creating a balanced culture – a framework that allows individuals to succeed based on merit, not gender. Diverse talent is critical to our success. You’ll find 20 to 30 different educational and experiential backgrounds among our team, which leads to better decision making, more innovative thinking and higher engagement. Gender diversity follows naturally.”
One initiative to support a diverse and inclusive workforce, the India chapter of the Women’s Empowerment Network (WEN), an employee resource group with members from our drug development and diagnostic businesses across the globe, was established in August 2019. At that time, there were already multiple internal initiatives underway connected to IWD and its theme.
“IWD is not a one-day celebration for us,” says Lakshmi Subramani, learning partner, technical training. “It’s an everyday way of life. This past spring, we asked all of our leaders to share their own ideas of what ‘Balance for Better’ means. We took those quotes and created banners, then filmed a celebratory video with everyone holding them. It was an awesome and amazing experience. We’re very proud to share that video with every global leader who visits.”
In fact, more than 100 senior leaders from around the world have visited our offices in India during the last 18 months – and time is often set aside for executive listening sessions and group forums to discuss the importance of inclusion and diversity, and women in leadership. Many of those visitors have been closely involved in establishing WEN India.
“The aim of our WEN group is to foster a culture where every voice is heard and respected,” says Hufriz Karkaria, head of global talent acquisition for LabCorp’s drug development business in India. “When we say ‘empowerment,’ we’re saying ‘diversity and inclusion.’ We believe in equal opportunity for every project and position. There is a genuine belief that gender diversity brings better things to the table.”
WEN India consists of 50 volunteers – both women and men – who are busy planning events and initiatives that recognize and build upon a culture of equity. WEN members are currently organizing an interactive panel discussion featuring high-achieving women from outside of the company, and also developing a support system for parents who are returning to work following the birth of their children. This includes both new mothers and fathers, in a concerted effort to help them achieve balance between work and home life.
“I have worked with countries worldwide, and I have never encountered a group of people who are so motivated, so energized,” says Cathy Nash, director, clinical operations, on assignment in India from her home office in South Africa. “The talent and work ethic here are exemplary. Still, as women, and often as working mothers, sometimes the challenges we face seem insurmountable. They’re not. And women need to be reminded of that. Through WEN, those of us with more experience can be very helpful to the younger generation.”
WEN India is one of 14 WEN groups across the enterprise, with at least four more expected to launch in 2020. All share a global vision to inspire and empower women to achieve their goals, and the mission of promoting personal and professional acceleration through career development, leadership-focused forums, mentorship, collaboration, and elevating the power of women’s voices. Like its sister chapters, WEN India is already planning around the theme for IWD 2020 – “Each for Equal.”
“The importance of empowering women and creating a flexible, respectful work environment, has become part of our culture,” says Savitha Hanuman, head of quality assurance in India. “With WEN India, we’re providing the additional support needed to help women achieve success in their careers and balance in their lives.”