Are there enough women in pharma?

Singapore has made significant strides in the pharma business world in terms of upholding gender diversity and inclusion. In particular, the industry has seen a great number of fantastic female leaders emerge who hold positions of power within some of the biggest pharmaceutical companies in the world.

It was reported in the Global Gender Gap Index 2020 rankings that Singapore ranks 5th place within East Asia and Pacific. Albeit this, putting aside the possibility of hiring limitations such as unconscious bias, there is still plenty of room left for improvement when it comes to balancing the gender gap in the pharma sector.

We had a chat with Sharlyn Soh and Dinah Yazid, Recruitment Consultants from Real Life Sciences Singapore who shared their take on having women step up in different pharma markets. 


When women lead in pharma

Having attended ISPE Singapore Affiliate’s Women In Pharma (WIP) programme held in 2019, Sharlyn and Dinah, along with other key industry leaders, shared some of the strengths of women that can bring about a positive impact on the market.

  • Agile multitaskers

The women of today are always known to be juggling dual responsibilities and this has resulted in them being perceived to be better multitaskers.

In the case of the supply chain market, men are largely preferred over women as they are more adept to taking on operational work that requires one to be more hands-on. Women on the flipside are more skilled and able to take on multi-functional roles and this is especially seen within the quality assurance and regulatory functions that require a range of technical skillsets.  

  • Greater meticulousness in identifying gaps

Sharlyn also added that the meticulous attention to detail which women in general possess is a key attribute that pharmas look out for. As pharmas continue to delve into big data that is often gathered from numerous sources and exists in many different silos, it can be challenging to integrate and use this data effectively and accurately.

It is a generally accepted notion that data is the underpinning factor in enabling digital transformation, but only if it is managed efficiently so that useful insights can be harnessed quickly and accurately. Thus, identifying gaps of analysis is essential and women who have a keen eye for detail would be a good fit for such the roles.

Being on-the-ground and interacting upfront with hiring managers across various pharma firms, Dinah also identified some of the core attributes of emotional which women generally possess, can be beneficial to the commercial pharma space.

  • Emotional Intelligence (EQ)

While various studies have proven that men and women have been shown to be equally emotionally intelligent, the main difference is the type of EQ that women have over men. In a book ‘The Power of Perception: Leadership, Emotional Intelligence and the Gender Divide’ by Shawn Andrews, it explains that in general, women tend to score higher than men in areas of empathy, interpersonal relationships and social responsibility. However, men tend to score higher than women in the areas of assertiveness, stress tolerance and self-regard or confidence. Dinah shared that the nurturing trait of women is a prominent factor, especially in line management roles. Employees with this trait are also seen to be driven by motivation which influences the performance of their direct reports.

Hence, it is clear that in regards to regional or strategic roles, they tend to be a male-dominated space as these roles require strengths in terms of assertiveness and business orientation. On the flip side, women have greater buy in in terms of emotional space – they tend to be more nurturing and compassionate and this is essential in relationship management and client-facing roles.


Case study: Johnson & Johnson championing women

Johnson & Johnson have been championing women and giving them the tools, resources and opportunities to succeed at work and at home since their founding more than 130 years ago.

Ai Hua Ong, Company Group Chairman, Asia Pacific, The Janssen Pharmaceutical Companies of Johnson & Johnson, shared in an interview with Pharma Boardroom that “creating a diverse workforce and an inclusive culture is key to an organisation’s success in today and tomorrow’s world. Organisations large and small are embracing what we in Singapore have known and nurtured for years – the understanding that diversity and inclusion breeds growth and prosperity.

On her path to the top, she held various leadership roles within the pharma industry and previously served as president of One J&J Southeast Asia. Ong has made it possible for other women to follow in her footsteps through mentorship and advocacy for women in leadership.



How can women step up to bigger roles in 2020?

Sharlyn and Dinah shared their key advice to women out there who are looking to break the glass ceiling in pharma below.


“Having a sponsor in the company – someone in a higher position who is able to see the potential in you and offer you opportunities to grow – is essential in pharma. It is also key to broaden your network. Various high-level positions are filled through connections. To make a name for yourself, you need to be active by attending various networking events and creating an impression amongst key industry leaders.

Supply chain experts also come from various backgrounds such as engineering. Not many realise the amount of transferrable skillsets that you can amplify to break into the supply chain market. Ultimately, it all boils down to the individual who needs to be driven enough to go out there and make a difference”



 “It has been much more common for director level roles to be occupied by females within the commercial pharma space. This is also due to organisations prioritising and maximising internal talents within the organisation. This is in terms of promoting and moving talents from one role to another based on their capabilities and performance.

I have seen significant changes not only in commercial pharma but even in other industries in Singapore and Asia. With more and more people being educated and celebrating female empowerment, 2020 will be a year that will continue promoting women to step up into larger roles, and higher posts.”



Care to share your thoughts on the gender diversity in pharma with us?

What are your thoughts on women in pharma and their growth over the coming years? Contact us to share your thoughts through the contact form below, or follow us on our LinkedIn page for more updates.  

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