Diversity is not about “fixing women”


Bahija Jallal, President, MedImmune and Executive Vice President, AstraZeneca

Reflections on a Year as HBA Woman of the Year

Standing on the stage at the Healthcare Businesswomen’s Association (HBA) Woman of the Year event in New York one year ago, I recited a Moroccan proverb: “The arrogant man has no friends.”

In Morocco, where I was born, it is a faux pas to talk about yourself.  What’s more, I’m a scientist, and at heart an introvert. I don’t love being in the spotlight.

Yet, as I quickly learned, being named the 2017 HBA Woman of the Year was more than an honor, and it was about much more than me. It was an opportunity and a responsibility to give back to the community – in this case a community of women who are on their own career journeys.

In the year since—the year of #metoo and #timesup—I’ve seen firsthand that there is another powerful movement underway. Women in the healthcare community are making connections to share our successes, learn from our mistakes, and continue to build a pathway for the women who are just now entering the field or beginning their studies.

In my travels, both on behalf of HBA and in my capacity as a leader for a global biotech, I have heard common themes.  Women around the globe share many of the same career challenges and many of the same concerns.  We still experience pay gaps based on gender. We still find too few women in the C-suite and around the Board table.

We still want to change the system to make it easier for our daughters and their daughters to fulfill their passion to make the world a healthier place. And that means changing the narrative around diversity.

Diversity is not about “fixing women.” We don’t need fixing! Instead, it is about driving home the message that innovation happens when there is diversity of thought.

Statistics bear this out. When more women have a seat at the table, organizations are more successful. Simply put, diversity is good for business.

Consider the data: Research has shown that Fortune 500 companies with at least 3 women on their Boards see a 66% increase in return on invested capital and a 53% increase in return on equity.

And the facts go beyond big businesses. Small and mid-sized companies with at least one-woman director were found to perform better in their stock prices over a six-year period.

Even so, too many companies still think of diversity, inclusion and gender equity as a reputation issue. In reality, it is a bottom line issue that can strengthen balance sheets and catalyze business growth.

If my time as HBA Woman of the Year has shown me nothing else, it is that women in the healthcare industry must continue to come together and share this message: Diversity of thought drives innovation.