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Human Resources

Novartis, the only pharma company, recognised as a DCA Inclusive Employer

Health Industry Hub | January 12, 2022 |
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Human Resources: Inclusion may be exactly what employers need to future-proof their organistaions as we move collectively into new ways of working.

Novartis is the only pharma company recently recognised by Diversity Inclusion Australia (DCA) as an Inclusive Employer 2021-2022. This achievement highlights Novartis’ commitment to inclusion with results that exceed the National Index Benchmark.*

In an interview with Health Industry Hub, Jonny Ayres, Head of Data Privacy ANZ and Chair of Diversity and Inclusion at Novartis, discussed the organisation’s journey in creating an inclusive work environment and the impact on employees across the organisation. Jonny also explored the link between the ‘Great Resignation’ and inclusion in the workplace.

Health Industry Hub: What is the business case for inclusion at Novartis and how has this evolved in the last few years?

Jonny Ayres: A number of reports and research data have shown that individuals within inclusive teams are less likely to leave their jobs in the next year and that the workplace is better for their mental health. These teams and team members innovate better, work harder and are likely to be happier as they bring their whole self to work.

At Novartis, we have three employee resource groups: Pride, Gender and Equity, and Culture and Spirituality.

I have been at Novartis for five years and the Diversity and Inclusion Chair for over two years. In that time, I’ve observed a real shift and crystallisation of the approach to diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) where there is now a cohesive approach both internally for our employees and externally in relation to patients, healthcare professionals (HCPs) and the external environment.

Health Industry Hub: How has Novartis engaged employees, managers and leaders on the DE&I journey?

Jonny Ayres: Education and the use of data to measure impact have been the key components.

We partner with organisations like Diversity Council of Australia (DCA) and Pride in Diversity for our LGBTQ workplace inclusion. We have worked closely with them to bring continued education into the organisation throughout the year.

We tell stories from our employees to give that lived experience and we have done that at all levels of the organisation including the leaders. We have helped the organisation understand that these are not issues which impact a particular diversity group or a minority group. It has a personal impact on everybody.

The data piece is really important as well. In the past, we have always had the feeling that we are an inclusive organisation, but until you can back that up with the relevant data, you don’t know for certain.

It’s an ongoing effort to maintain DE&I education and to learn from our employees. We find different ways to do that better by making it a part of who we are as an organisation.

Health Industry Hub: How have you measured success and what has been the impact on people and culture?

Jonny Ayres: We participated in that DCA survey for the second time in 2021 which collects statistical information across the different areas of inclusion and compares it against a benchmark from other organisations.

The latest data showed that Novartis employee support for diversity and inclusion has increased from 2019 demonstrating that 99% of employees either ‘strongly supported’ or ‘supported’ DE&I. What surprised me is that the impact of the activities go beyond those in the minority groups. Individuals who do not necessarily identify as a minority also felt more included and heard within the organisation.

The DCA survey data also showed that 95.1% of Novartis employees felt that the organisation is taking action to create a workplace which is diverse and inclusive. This has increased from 73% in 2019.

Flexible working is also a key area of focus for us. We know that over half of our staff have carer responsibilities, whether that is for children or adults. The 2021 Novartis data showed that 77.2% of individuals with carer responsibilities had an opportunity to participate in an activity that helps their career development, compared to 56% in 2019. These are substantial changes.

We also participate in the Australian Workplace Equality Index (AWEI) with regards to our LGBTQ workplace inclusion. The last set of AWEI data also showed that our employees felt more included over time.

Health Industry Hub: DCA’s Inclusion@Work Index 2021-2022 report showed that Australian managers need to do better at inclusion. Less than a third of Australian workers have an inclusive manager. How is this reflected at Novartis?

Jonny Ayres: Ninety percent (90%) of Novartis respondents to the DCA survey either ‘strongly agreed’ or ‘agreed’ that the leadership team values diversity and inclusion, placing us well above the national benchmark.

Richard Tew, Country President and General Manager of Novartis Australia & New Zealand dedicates certain times on DE&I activities in the town halls and during our company cycle meetings, including an acknowledgement of country.

Another example is that the leadership team wore the rainbow pins so that every employee could see that they are completely on board and really keen to support DE&I activities.  

As a result of the continued work and impact in this area, a full-time headcount to focus on DE&I for six months has now been approved.

Health Industry Hub: What do you see as the link between the ‘Great Resignation’ and inclusion in the workplace?

Jonny Ayres: There will likely be a link between how an organisation approaches DE&I and how employees want to work in the future.

Novartis has worked really hard, even before the COVID-19 pandemic, in supporting employees in all different ways.

Seventy-five percent (75%) of our workers are flexible due to our Choice with Responsibility policy. We are giving employees the ability to manage their time around their lifestyle and carer responsibilities. Also, we now have the opportunity to work from different places. Recently within our legal team, we have appointed a virtual secondment position with a lawyer in China which is something we were never able to do previously.

Across the borders, there is a lot of employee movement. I am sure that we are not alone in seeing this within our organisation. The leadership team has been really focused on how we build internal talent and the opportunities for people to be recruited from within the business.

Novartis is in a really great place and set up well for the new ways of working. It is important to us as an organisation to incorporate the range of diverse talents and continue to build on Novartis’ success as an inclusive workplace.

*To be deemed eligible as an Inclusive Employer 2021-2022, organisations must show that they are active and committed to inclusion by achieving results that exceed the National Index Benchmark on at least five out of six of the following measures: (i) Awareness; (ii) Engagement; (iii) Inclusive Organisational Climate; (iv) Inclusive Leadership; (v) Inclusive Team; (vi) Exclusion.


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