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How Sanofi is empowering women in the workplace



"The Asia Recruitment Award is the oscars of the recruitment industry! A display of the best of the best!"
Submit your entries for the Asia Recruitment Awards before 22 February 2019.

Julie Zhou, HR vice-president for Sanofi Asia, shares with us the philosophy Sanofi undertakes when it comes to gender diversity, and the leadership development initiatives it has in place to empower women.

Women leadership development makes Sanofi a better place by promoting gender balance and driving a culture of diversity. We are aware companies with a higher proportion of women in their management perform better.

The war for talent is of particular concern in Asia, where a failure to recruit and retain able women can only exacerbate the acute talent shortage that many companies operating there face.

Currently, a need for such development is definitely present, as seen both from tangible and intangible types of data. For example, our total population is very evenly allocated between male and female. Same when we look at the managerial level.

However, this figure changes dramatically as we go higher up the hierarchy: less than 15% of our senior vice-presidents and general managers are women in Sanofi APAC.

The root causes of this, at least in Asia, are that I feel women between the ages of 35-45 do not get the right amount of social, corporate and spousal support to work. This is mainly because a majority of women are the busiest during this period – with their children in school and old parents to support.

The second root cause of this is there’s no trustworthy community for them to get such support from, or role models for them to look up to – a coach or mentor who can give you insights on how to manage your personal and professional life simultaneously.

The last root cause is around women’s own self-awareness and education. We find women often limit their career aspirations due to several reasons – be it self-inflicted or socially induced.

The war for talent is of particular concern in Asia, where a failure to recruit and retain able women can only exacerbate the acute talent shortage that many companies operating there face.

Women today cannot overcome these root causes by themselves. They need to – at a corporate level – have a team who believes in and has a sincere interest in developing more successful women.

This is why Sanofi’s programme to support women involves leading them on a journey of self and career development, building greater self-knowledge, identifying their personal leadership brand, enhancing their professional presence, and including world-class assessments and tools.

Our mission is to create a Sanofi with an excellent gender balance, and inculcate an environment and culture which can support our women employees to help them and our business to grow.

Initiatives to do these things are led by a regional women leadership council, comprising of 16 passionate men and women. These members represent the different countries and business activities of Sanofi Asia Pacific and they sponsor initiatives that are deployed locally – depending on each country’s economical/historical/sociological situation.

Because we have very diverse issues to tackle in each geographical location, a local network has also been set up to roll out local initiatives with more efficiency.

At a regional level, the main initiatives are the catalyst programme, a work-life flexibility system, and mentoring opportunities.

The catalyst programme is a three-day women leadership programme targeting high potential women. Set up by the women leadership council, the programme was launched in March 2015 with sponsorship by Jean-Luc Lowinski and in partnership with Korn Ferry Institute.

Over the next three years, 200 women will be invited to attend this three-day immersion programme.

The programme aims to help women overcome the barriers to their careers and helps in building self awareness and confidence. It also helps in enhancing their influence, enabling them to become politically savvy and aiding them in building their executive presence.

Sanofi’s programme to support women involves leading them on a journey of self and career development, building greater self-knowledge, identifying their personal leadership brand, enhancing their professional presence, and including world-class assessments and tools

Additionally, the programme also trains women on how to navigate organisational cultures and dynamics, and how to communicate effectively for high impact. As a result, through the programme, the company is able to enrich and strengthen its talent pipeline.

The programme works through a train-the-trainer approach. Certified Sanofi business leaders function as in-house facilitators and help in building internal mentorship capabilities. The programme also allows participants to have open dialogue sessions with male and female leaders, along with helping to create role models.

Interestingly, the catalyst programme does not constitute solely of classroom training. The first day of the programme is about exploring yourself and who you are. Regardless of the challenges they’re facing, we teach our women leaders that they need to know how to manage various types of barriers. There’s a lot of storytelling and sharing of personal experiences and about embarking on a self-journey.

On the second day of the programme, we focus more on the corporate culture we provide in the company, and whether it is suited to our staff’s potential. Through a self-development tool, we analyse participants and explore three different dimensions of their confidence.

The first type of confidence is called technical career domain confidence, which mainly explores their technical competencies. For example, if a participant is in the HR division, how well does he or she think they are performing in the function. The second type of confidence we assess is called relationship and networking confidence, and the third one is how politically savvy our women leaders are.

Interestingly, we have observed women will assess themselves very strongly on the technical confidence and professional area. However, they are less confident in being politically savvy.

The catalyst programme is a three-day women leadership programme targeting high potential women. Set up by the women leadership council, the programme was launched in March 2015.

To overcome this, we share with our participants videos of the most successful women in the world, and through these, demonstrate real-life case studies on how to leverage on their position and power in the organisation. We also discuss with them how they can create a strong impact in a matrix organisation.

On the last day, we discuss with participants what they are planning to do after this training, and the key takeaways they’ve learnt. We explore what is the next step in their career, and how they plan to get there. We also share with them more about Sanofi’s performance management process.

The feedback we have gained about this programme has been phenomenal. Sixty women have already attended this programme in 2015, and 100% stated they would recommend this programme to their colleagues. The overall satisfaction rate is 4.9/5.

Additionally, since their participation in the catalyst programme, 24% of women have been promoted.

We also have in place flexible work arrangements for staff to support their needs.

Flexible work arrangements refer to work arrangements which provide greater flexibility in the workplace, the scheduling of hours worked and the number of hours worked. These flexible work arrangements aim to give employees control over where and when work gets done, as well as the time they choose to work.

There is a lot of misconception around work-life flexibility, as business leaders traditionally find that they want staff to be physically working in front of them. We need to get them to be aware of the fact that productivity has nothing to do with work-life balance or flexible working.

If you have highly motivated employees, they will find a way to deliver the result – and this might not necessarily be done by staying in the office. At the end of the day, it’s about the outcome and results you have achieved, and not about the number of hours you have spent in the office.

Employers need to be realistic – you cannot have everyone walking in at 11 am and going home at 4 pm. You need to empower business leaders to make their own decisions and rules regarding workplace flexibility.

HR’s role in this is to provide boundaries as well as clear guidelines. But instead of providing them rigid instructions, we work together through open dialogue and education sessions. We have sessions with line managers where we give them successful examples of flexible working and ask them to give it a try.

Diversity in Sanofi, essentially, isn’t just an HR agenda, it is a business agenda.

Image: Provided



"The Asia Recruitment Award is the oscars of the recruitment industry! A display of the best of the best!"
Submit your entries for the Asia Recruitment Awards before 8 February 2019.

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