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Supporting women in the workforce throughout the pandemic

By Ramona Sequeira

Republished with permission from STAT. This article originally appeared on September 1, 2021 at: https://www.statnews.com/sponsor/2021/08/23/supporting-women-in-the-workforce-throughout-the-pandemic/

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There is no question that the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on working women today will reverberate for years to come. An analysis last fall from the National Women’s Law Center found that nearly 2 million women left the workforce during the pandemic. Women of color have been particularly affected.1,2

Those statistics have implications not only for the workforce at large, but also may foreshadow a potential talent-drain within our industry; one in which people’s lives and wellbeing depend on our ability to harness diverse perspectives to innovate and bring critical therapies to market. At Takeda, we know we need diversity around the table that reflects the variety of patients and communities we serve.

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And to retain those voices, creating a more supportive and flexible work culture has never been more important as we navigate the remainder of the pandemic and prepare for what’s ahead.

As a business leader, mother, daughter and wife, I experienced the juggling act first-hand during the pandemic. The programs we created and services we provided at Takeda helped support me as well as many other parents and caregivers – including enhanced family support benefits, a wider selection of care options for infants, school-aged kids, or elders, and time off for volunteering and community work. We also demonstrated that many tasks we previously thought had to be performed in person can be met with greater flexibility. The premium we placed on flexibility enabled our colleagues to adjust their schedules to accommodate at-home learning or other family responsibilities that competed for our time – and still do – during the workday.

Although the Delta variant has pushed out the launch of our hybrid working model to later in the fall, we’ve spent considerable time listening to the needs of employees, customers, and patients – including those waiting for us to launch a number of potential therapies in the coming years. This listening resulted in our firm, yet flexible approach to hybrid working. Firm to ensure that we’re staying true to our mission and the patients we serve by meeting our business goals, and flexible in how we achieve those outcomes by allowing teams to determine where and how different work is best accomplished. Along with this mutual flexibility and shared accountability, we’re redefining the office to be a place of collaboration, innovation, and culture building, all of which is so critical to our shared success, including allowing flexibility for employees to work from home and even remote locations when appropriate.

We know this approach alone, however, will not be enough to help us attract, retain and develop more female talent. We’ll need to combine our benefits and flexible work arrangements with a continued investment of time and resources into mentoring and talent development, as well as a heightened focus on integrating DE&I into all aspects of our business, including working to ensure inclusive leadership is demonstrated at all levels of the organization. This means revamping our leadership development programming, updating our advancement, recruiting and onboarding processes and materials, assessing our vendor partnerships and even updating and expanding our workplace vocabulary and ways of working together. It means encouraging and facilitating open and honest conversations (especially the difficult ones). It means leaning into curiosity so we can continue to recognize and value differences knowing they make us stronger. It means ensuring our processes are equitable for all employees - including under-represented groups - and inviting different perspectives to speak up and be heard. It’s up to us harness the power of diversity to overcome inherent bias, to create a culture of belonging, and ultimately to make better decisions for the patients who depend on us.

In truly investing in supporting our employees, my hope is that our industry, and Takeda specifically, continue to grow as a place where people from all backgrounds can come together, feel appreciated as individuals, know their voice matters, and feel empowered to thrive, grow and lift those around them. And diversity, equity and inclusion inside our company can be used to drive health equity – through enabling trusting, innovative partnerships across diverse healthcare stakeholders so we can make our transformative treatments available to all patients who can benefit from them.