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Leadership & Management

Determined ‘to make it easier for the next generation’, say Merck Healthcare and Merck Life Sciences senior leaders

Health Industry Hub | March 6, 2023 |

While women make up half of the population, they are still underrepresented in senior leadership positions within the health industry. As we strive toward a brighter future, the need for gender diversity in leadership roles has become more crucial than ever. This year’s International Women’s Day (IWD) theme is Cracking the Code: Innovation for a gender equal future.

Josie Downey, General Manager and Managing Director, Merck Healthcare and Rebecca Lee, Managing Director, Merck Life Science joined Health Industry Hub‘s IWD interview series to reflect on how the pharma and life sciences sectors stack up on gender equity when we consider this theme.

Female leaders invest twice as much time as male leaders on driving diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) in the workplace, according to recent research.

Ms Downey said “If you haven’t experienced it, then it’s probably not as much on your radar. People who have been negatively impacted in the past, from being in less supportive environments are probably more committed to ensuring that others don’t face the same challenges.”

Ms Lee remembered starting her first STEM job and being the only female in the team. “I don’t want others to see or have to deal with the same things that I’ve dealt with. I’m really focused on making sure I make it easier for the next generation coming through,” she said.

As gender equity advocates, the duo shared their personal passion and inspiration for driving meaningful change.

“If we really want to drive true diversity, you need to be authentic,” Ms Downey commented.

“If I reflect back I was told very early on that I was too emotional. I’ve learned to embrace emotion in a good sense. I’m not afraid of being a passionate individual. I get excited by the science we do, I get excited by the impact we have. I’ve been able to create it into my own personal brand and I think that’s what’s really important about authenticity,” added Ms Lee.

Merck’s initiatives have contributed to the mindset shifts and change of culture required to drive gender equity in the workplace, especially improving the percentage of women in senior leadership roles.

“I’m really proud that we’re one of the few organisations that has a female CEO. Just that sends a great message to our organisation. Over time, Merck has strengthened its commitment to diversity and we do have a number of initiatives that are ongoing,” Ms Downey stated.

Gender equity is not a women’s issue – it is a societal issue requiring collective action for meaningful change. Ms Lee’s advice to men and the wider community in making gender equity a business and personal imperative is to call out behaviours that are non-inclusive.

She said “I always reference people to think about what if that’s your sister, your brother, your uncle, your mother, your father, your daughter or your son? You’ve got to call it out. We can’t allow this to purvey across and it’s sometimes those snide remarks and those comments behind the watercooler that can be really destructive. It’s action that we need to continue to take to set the expectations.”

In reimagining healthcare across the entire patient journey, Health Industry HubTM is the ONLY one-stop-hub bringing the diversity of Pharma, MedTech, Diagnostics & Biotech sectors together to inspire meaningful change.

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