Why Diversity Lies at the Heart of Patient-Centric Pharma

How can we be truly patient-centric if our companies aren’t representative?

Whether understanding a patient pathway, designing a service platform or training staff, patient centricity is, at its core, about the continued desire to improve the patient experience. This requires an understanding of the patient experience for everyone, regardless of gender, sexual orientation, race, religious beliefs, disability, socio-economic background or age.

Yet ‘diversity’ is a poorly used word, says Paul Simms, Chairman of eyeforpharma, a term invoked to meet artificial quotas or provide a tick box. “It can be a minimum requirement, something too easily dismissed by conservatives as only of importance to extreme lefties,” he says. “But understanding patients can only be done properly if we embrace diversity, because our companies must mirror society.”

He points to a recent speech in the UK parliament by actor Riz Ahmed, who said we need to create organizations where people from minority groups feel they belong, where they feel of value, where they feel they are represented. “We require a pharma industry where people feel like they are being represented as individuals – where someone like them is looking after them. Otherwise, if one feels that ‘nobody in pharma is like me’ then it’s too easy to think ‘pharma is not for me’. That’s where we see the rise of pseudo-science, of a ‘them versus us’ attitude that harms our reputation, and questionable campaigns like the anti-vax movement which affect the safety of us all.”

Women in pharma

Earlier this year, eyeforpharma announced a collaboration with the Healthcare Businesswomen’s Association (HBA), a move designed to provide women in healthcare with a platform to share their leadership and knowledge.

We require a pharma industry where people feel like they are being represented as individuals – where someone like them is looking after them. If someone feels that ‘nobody in pharma is like me’ then it’s too easy to think ‘pharma is not for me’.

“Women make up 50% of the population, yet this proportion is distorted within our companies, especially in positions of leadership,” says Simms. “This must change, but it will only change if women feel they are able to gain more authority within their organizations, particularly as we move into an era where the personality traits usually attributed to women such as empathy and collaboration are paramount. The HBA has created the right environment for women to thrive and we, in turn, must give space for the HBA to be heard.”

HBA Europe will be represented at eyeforpharma’s flagship Barcelona meeting on the 14 March, 2017. Magdalene Pedersen, President of HBA Europe will be discussing moving the needle on gender parity through industry partnerships.

With its own events, eyeforpharma is actively working towards equal representation of women, says Simms. “Apart from ensuring the HBA has a good amount of airtime, we always want to provide a representative and diverse speaker line-up. At Barcelona 2017, for example, we realized that through no deliberate attempt of our own, almost all of our keynote speakers were male and that this did not represent the industry we are looking for. To be brutally honest, although there has been some improvement, we have still not achieved the diversity we were looking for, and we must take greater pre-emptive measures next time, highlighting individuals earlier who could walk onto the podium and supporting them to do so, working more collaboratively with organizations like the HBA where necessary.”

Providing a platform

A crucial part of the company’s strategy is to provide a platform for women to share their leadership to the industry, says Giselle Quartin, Head of Commercial, North America at eyeforpharma. “As a woman, I find it essential that we lift and recognize women’s amazing work. With so little representation in the workplace, we need to fight to be heard. By presenting themselves as leaders, our speakers and delegates open doors in their careers and, more broadly, subconsciously change the gender bias that exists, moving things in the right direction.

Quartin highlights eyeforpharma’s role in leading this change. “It’s important that we’re seen as leaders in changing this issue by including women who are working hard on projects and initiatives at our summits and giving them a place to showcase this and be recognized in front of their peers.”

Representing the diversity of patients and professionals at conferences increases accountability, says Rosa Elswood, a Global Project Director at the company. “It is so important to include patient voices in conversations about health, especially when big pharma already has such a loud voice. Providing patients with a platform at our conferences can force big pharma to reassess itself and improve practices for the good of public health. I am always looking for women and people of color who are leading the way in healthcare and can provide inspiration to underrepresented professionals to do well in their own careers. I tend to feel uninspired by panels and speaker faculties made up of men only.”

A recent success for the company is that its Patient Summit Europe 2016 was accredited as a ‘Patients Included’event. “We believe that it’s really important to ‘walk the talk’ in the same way as the rest of the pharma industry, so we always try to involve patients in the planning and running of our events – especially those like our European and US Patient Summit,” says Global Project Director, Nicky Williams. “Incorporating patient experience and insight into these events is vital to their success, which is why we provide ‘scholarships’ so that any patient who is interested in attending can come without incurring any costs.”

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