‘Diverse India’ now needs an ‘inclusive society’, vowed the Prime Minister of India, after his massive electoral win on May 23, 2019. Many may consider a part of it as rhetoric, notwithstanding, as and when the government policy of Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) gathers wind on its sail, the realization of its importance would reverberate – even in the corporate world, including the pharma industry, especially in India.
I discussed this subject in my article of June 25, 2018 ,in the context of transforminga pharma company to a customer-oriented, profit-making organization, with implementation D&I within the organization. However, in this article, I shall deliberate, over and above, the current status of D&I in the pharma industry, why most drug companies are still not leveraging it as one of the powerful business growth drivers. While opening this discussion, let me recapitulate what these two words mean to us, and their importance in the drug industry.
As there are several, but similar definitions of D&I, I am quoting below just one – from the Ferris State University. It goes, as follows:
- “Diversity is the range of human differences, including but not limited to race, ethnicity, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, age, social class, physical ability or attributes, religious or ethical value system, national origin, and political beliefs.”
- “Inclusion is involvement and empowerment, where the inherent worth and dignity of all people are recognized.”
The relevance and importance of D&I as a corporate growth policy for the drug industry is immense. It will not just, help them recognize and create business policies, based on diversity in people – a wide range of human differences in their consumers or potential consumers. In tandem, it will also help promote, and sustain a sense of belongingness with the society and communities where it operates – their values, beliefs, expectations and desire for a healthy living.
D&I begins within the company, and for the customers:
There are clear indications that many pharma companies are slowly, but surely realizing that for a consistent and sustainable financial performance the whole approach to business needs to undergo a metamorphosis. One such area of transformation, is a sharp focus on effectively satisfying a set of well-defined expectations of both their external and internal customers.
This journey begins with the creation of a Diverse and Inclusive (D&I) workplace. Nevertheless, the key goal remains – meeting expectations of the society where the drug companies operate, including a diverse set of customers – by saving and improving their quality of life, with affordable and accessible medicines.
While talking about diversity to Business Insider on January 10, 2018, GlaxoSmithKline CEO Emma Walmsley also reiterated, for a future facing employer in an industry, D&I should be a priority corporate strategy – for aggressively modernizing the business.
D&I ‘may be most important in the health care industry’:
This has been well-articulated even in the Workforce – a multimedia publication, where it says: D&I ‘may be most important in the health care industry, where the workforce needs to be both business savvy and socially empathetic to serve their increasingly diverse communities.’
Quoting another CEO, a different article titled, ‘Diversity and inclusion in the pharma industry’, published in PMLiVE on June 27, 2018, emphasized: ‘The global Biopharma industry is one of the most powerful and important industries today, directly affecting the lives of billions of people around the world on a daily basis. In order to understand and meet the critical unmet medical needs of patients, the industry must represent the population it serves.’
D&I is a growth driver for an organization:
“Many successful companies regard D&I as a source of competitive advantage. For some, it’s a matter of social justice, corporate social responsibility, or even regulatory compliance. For others, it’s essential to their growth strategy.” This was highlighted in the January 2018 research paper of McKinsey titled, ‘Delivering through Diversity.’
The article further elaborates: ‘D&I is a powerful growth strategy for an organization because it creates ‘a diverse and inclusive employee base – with a range of approaches and perspectives – would be more competitive in a globalized economy.’
Importantly, this research established a statistically significant correlation between greater levels of diversity and inclusion in company leadership and a greater likelihood of outperforming the relevant industry peer group on a key financial performance measure – profitability.
Some drug companies are moving in this direction:
That some drug companies are gearing up to adopt this growth strategy, but still there is a lot of ground to cover in this area, gets reflected in the December 2018 ‘Diversity & Inclusion Benchmarking Survey’ of PwC. The survey included 183 corporate respondents from 5 regions and 15 countries. As many healthcare organizations have publicly declared their commitment to D&I, the study wanted to measure how they have translated strategy into execution and what impact it is leaving on the employee experience. The following are some of the key findings
- While D&I is a stated value or priority area for 68 percent of organizations, only 51 percent of respondents disagree that diversity is a barrier to progression at their respective companies. Thus, ‘Diversity still remains a barrier to progression.’
- Only 4 percent of healthcare organization’s D&I programs reach the highest level of maturity.
- D&I program goals are quite varied. For about 38 percent it’s a way to attract and retain talent – 25 percent – a way to comply with legal requirements – 17 percent to achieve business results – 13 percent to enhance the external reputation and 8 percent to respond to customer expectations.
- Interestingly, in 39 percent of cases there was no D&I program-leader in place, 32 percent cases the person reports to senior executives, 19 percent of cases the responsibility was assigned to staff with non-D&I responsibilities and only in 10 percent of cases – the leader is a peer to C-suite.
- Only 29 percent leaders are tasked with specific D&I goals.
These may not be the points to cheer about – not yet, nonetheless, the survey findings send a clear signal about the beginning of D&I in the pharma industry.
Two facets of D&I for a pharma company:
As I said before, D&I is more important in the health care space, especially for drug companies, where the employees across the organization not just be business savvy with patient orientation, but also be inclusive and socially compassionate to benefit the diverse communities.Thus, there are two clear facets, I reckon, around which organizational D&I policies, especially for pharma players, should be formulated, as follows:
- For employees within the organization.
- For stakeholders outside the organization – putting patients at the core of the business strategy.
The above PwC survey is on the first one – D&I for employees within the organization. However, a holistic D&I policy requires dovetailing business savviness with a socially empathetic mindset to serve increasingly diverse communities, is even more challenging.
More challenging is dovetailing business savviness with social empathy:
To serve increasingly diverse communities, dovetailing business savviness with socially empathetic mindset, appears to be more challenging for the pharma industry, in general. Its manifestations are varied, such as, dented image or its declining reputation – leading to trust deficit with many stakeholders, including patients. Likewise, one of primary causative factors that give rise to such manifestations is considered to be in the drug pricing area.
The current scenario in this area has been captured in a paper titled, ‘Curbing Unfair Drug Prices’, published by The Yale Global Health Justice Partnership (GHJP), Yale Law School, Yale School of Public Health, National Physicians Alliance and Universal Health Care Foundation of Connecticut. The article unambiguously states, the high cost of prescription drugs is unsustainable, wherever it is. Spending on prescription drugs is increasing, either for different payers, or directly to patients through ‘out of pocket’ expenditure – at a faster pace than any other component of health care spending. Consequently, it is forcing many patients to skip doses of critical medicines, and several others to choose between their health and necessities, like food and rent.
The paper adds: “Meanwhile, the pharmaceutical industry continues to launch new drugs at exorbitant prices, increase prices of many old drugs without justification, and reap record profits. Evidence has unequivocally shown that high drug prices are not linked to the actual costs of research, development and manufacturing. Instead, inflated drug prices are a result of drug manufacturers’ power to charge whatever price the market will bear. The need for legislative action is urgent.”
One of the most recent examples of such jaw-dropping drug price was reported by Reuters, along with many others, on May 25, 2019 as: “Swiss drug maker Novartis on Friday won U.S. approval for its gene therapy Zolgensma for spinal muscular atrophy (SMA), the leading genetic cause of death in infants and priced the one-time treatment at a record $2.125 million.”
That said, achieving this facet of D&I, is not just desirable, but also necessary to gain a sharp and well-differentiated competitive edge in sustainable financial performance. It is noteworthy that to be successful in this area, one of the key requirements is to assign specific accountability for D&I to that individual, where the bucks stop.
Assigning specific accountability for D&I implementation:
Yet another article titled, ‘Diversity and Inclusion: A Pharma 50 Perspective’, published in PharmExec on June 23, 2016, asserted that there is little point in tackling diversity without solving for inclusion.
It underlined: ‘Whereas diversity is the hardware bringing different machines together, inclusion is the software that brings the system to life.’ The authors suggested, as many others would: ‘Hiring a chief diversity officer can help, accelerating the process at the highest levels.’
The good news is, the above McKinsey research study also found: ‘Corporate leaders increasingly accept the business imperative for D&I, and most wonder how to make it work for their firms and support their growth and value creation goals.’ The article reiterated the correlation between D&I and company financial performance. Thus, to effectively leverage this factor, developing a robust corporate D&I strategy aimed at both – the employees and the society, at large, appears to be the right choice.
From this perspective, a diverse and inclusive pool of employees, with varied range of approaches and perspectives are expected to meet both business expectations and the health needs of the society with more innovative ideas. Consequently, this deserves to be an organizational growth strategy, having a sharp competitive edge. It is mainly because, the initiative will uncover newer and unconventional pathways for providing greater access to affordable medicines, to save and improve the quality of many more lives. As the process rolls-out, it will keep gathering critical momentum, with support from all around and, more importantly, the enormous goodwill that the D&I strategy will attract from public, in general.
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.