‘Diversity And Inclusion’: A Missing Link For Indian Pharma

Inadequate access to affordable health care to a vast majority of the population has been a favorite topic of debate, since long, globally. This discourse is generally centered around the least developed and the developing world, such as India. However, in the recent time, the reverberations of the same can be heard even from the most developed countries, like the United States.

Possible solutions in this area generally encompass several tangible issues, e.g. high cost of drugs and care, alleged unethical practices of the providers, infrastructure bottlenecks – to name a few. Curiously, despite the availability of an increasing number of innovative drugs, state of the art facilities and diagnostics, brilliant healthcare professionals and so on, disparities in the degree of access to all these, between different members of the civil society, keep steadily mounting.

This cascading socioeconomic issue, creating a widening the trust deficit, especially on pharma, throws a critical management challenge for long term sustainability of business, if not survival too.

Transformation to a customer-oriented, profit-making organization:

Building a profit-making organization is not an easy task. However, transforming a profit-making organization to a profit making through customer-centric policies, is several times more challenging. That’s because, making a true external customer-centric organization gets kick started from a significant cultural change within the organization. Systematically creating a pool of requisite internal customers (employees), with diverse background, experience, gender, belief, perspective, talent and, more importantly, ably supported by the organizational vision of inclusion, forms the nerve center of this transformative process. No doubt, why the quality of ‘Diversity and Inclusion (DI)’ culture of an organization is assuming the importance of a differential success factor in business excellence.

The August 25, 2016 E&Y article, titled “Embracing customer experience in the pharmaceutical industry” epitomizes its relevance by articulating: “It is the companies that focus on continuously delivering a better customer experience to build a trusted and transparent relationship over time that will win in the market. They will not only acquire customers that will remain loyal, but also win advocates that will refer the company or brand to more customers.”

The missing link:

It is now being widely established that creating a culture of ‘Diversity and Inclusion (DI)’ across the organization, is of critical importance to maintain sustainable business excellence, with a win-win outcome. Going a step forward, I reckon, although, this is an arduous task for any organization, but an essential one – even for long-term survival of a business. However, today, the very concept of DI is apparently a ‘missing link’ in the chain of sustainable organizational-building initiatives, particularly for most Indian pharma companies.

The role of DI in making a customer-centric business:

Health care customers, like many others, are generally of diverse backgrounds, financial status, ethnicity, gender, health care needs, expectations, and also in their overall perspective. Thus, to make a customer-centric organization for greater market success, and drive product and service innovation accordingly, pharma companies need to deeply understand them, empathetically. A competent pool of well-selected employees with diverse backgrounds, race, ethnicity, gender, perspectives, could facilitate this process, more effectively. However, the company should also create an environment and culture of inclusion for all to listen to each other’s well-reasoned views – expressed uninhibited and fearlessly for this purpose.

In making this process more effective to add a huge tangible and intangible worth to the business, pharma players need to untether the employee potential through empowerment, making them feel valued and grow. This would also help immensely in charting newer pathways of all-round success in many other high-voltage complexities of pharma business.

‘Why diversity matters’?

That diversity within an organization matters in several ways, has been established in several studies. For example, the February 2015 article, titled “Why diversity matters”, of McKinsey & Company says, “More diverse companies are better able to win top talent, and improve their customer orientation, employee satisfaction, and decision making, leading to a virtuous cycle of increasing returns.” The analysis found a statistically significant relationship between a more diverse leadership team and better financial performance (measured as average EBIT 2010–2013).

Why is inclusion so important?

In a large number of organizations that include Indian pharma, senior management staffs generally seem to appreciate hearing more of what they want to hear. This culture quickly percolates top-down – encompassing the entire company, probably with a few exceptions. Personal ‘likes’ and ‘dislikes’ of various nature and degree spread wings within many organizations. Such a situation is created from intrinsic apathy to patiently listen to and accept another employee’s viewpoint – even on critical customer-centric issues. Employees, in that process, also get branded as ‘argumentative’ and often ‘disloyal’, if not a ‘socialist’. The major decisions often get biased accordingly – sometimes unknowingly.

Whereas, inclusion entails empowerment and close involvement of a diverse pool of employees with dignity, by recognizing their intrinsic worth and value. Moving towards a culture of inclusion would require creation of an organizational desire to communicate professionally and learn how to listen to each other’s well-thought-through arguments with interest.

The business should accept that it is not really important in getting along with everybody on all issues – every time. Neither, does it make sense for professionals to develop personal ‘likes’ or ‘dislikes’ on other fellow colleagues, based on issue-based differences, while finding out ways and means to improve organizational performance, image or reputation. Inclusion helps employees to learn to work closely, despite personal differences on all important issues.

Has Global pharma industry started imbibing DI?

Yes, many global pharma majors, such as, GSKNovartis and Merck and several others, have started practicing DI as a way of organizational life and culture. Some of them like GSK India has put it on its country website. But, generally in India, the scenario is not quite similar. Though, many head honchos in the country talk about DI, the February 16, 2017 edition of Bloomberg/Quint carried a headline “Most Indian Companies Do Not Value Diversity At Board-Level Hirings,” quoting Oxfam India.

A voluntary survey of ‘company diversity’ conducted by US-based DiversityInc at Princeton, ranks the companies on four key areas of diversity management: talent pipeline, equitable talent development, CEO/leadership commitment, and supplier diversity. It revealed an interesting fact in its 2016 study. The survey reported, while diversity continues to improve in the overall perspective, its ‘Pharma 50’, as a group, ‘is right in the middle of the industry pack when benchmarked against the Fortune 500.’  The survey also brought to light significant differences in the levels of gender, national, and ethnic diversity even at the company boards and executive committees of individual companies. Nonetheless, some global pharma entities are taking significant steps in this direction. But, these are still early days in many organizations.

Conclusion:

The E&Y article quoted above, also says that pharma “customers are becoming resistant to push sales and marketing, and are instead preferring to relate to the overall experience provided in their pull interactions with the company. The customer experience will be the next battleground for the pharmaceutical industry. The deployment of a customer experience capability is a transformational journey in often unchartered territories. The key to success is to start early and drive a process that is both rigorous and iterative, allowing the organization – and its customers – to learn along the way and always to be ready with the next best action in place.” DI, I reckon, plays a critical role in attaining this goal.

Pharma companies are also realizing that building a profit-making organization with blockbuster high-priced, high-profit making molecules, such as Sovaldi is possible, but this may not be sustainable. It isn’t an easy task either, not anymore. There lies the urgency of transforming a profit-making organization to a profit making through customer-centric business entity. This process, I repeat, is several times more challenging, but the business success is much more sustainable.

Organizational transformation of this nature is prompting the global pharma majors to use Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) while achieving their key financial and people goals. Both D (Diversity) and I (inclusion) work in tandem for taking any fairness-based organizational decisions, irrespective of whether it’s staff or customer decision.

DI has the potential to help an organization to create and chart new and more productive pathways almost in all functions within the company – right from R&D, communication, service delivery to market access. In all these initiatives, customer focus to occupy the center stage – for a win-win outcome – significantly reducing the degree of difficulty for access to affordable medicines. DI is not a panacea to mitigate this problem totally, but would help significantly, nonetheless – with the help of employees with diverse background but having fresh eyes. Many global pharma majors have initiated action in this direction. However, in Indian pharma business generally, DI still remains a missing link, as it is seen today.

By: Tapan J. Ray

Disclaimer: The views/opinions expressed in this article are entirely my own, written in my individual and personal capacity. I do not represent any other person or organization for this opinion.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.