How We Support our LGBTQI Colleagues at Sandoz and Novartis

Twenty years ago, at the start of my career as a newly minted veterinarian in my native Belgium, I did not know what diversity & inclusion meant.  However, listening to diverse opinions and having respect for people was instilled in me early on because of the values our parents taught us at home.  My own journey from working as a veterinarian to leading a global network of HR professionals is another reason why diversity & inclusion matters a lot to me.  My career is the product of being curious, a good dose of luck, and most importantly, the openness of colleagues at Novartis to support my career move into HR. This openness to diverse views and backgrounds at Sandoz and Novartis creates an inspiring and supportive environment where I can continuously grow and learn.

Today in my role of Global Head of People & Organization at Sandoz, a Novartis division, promoting diversity & inclusion is an essential and exciting part of my job. We want Sandoz to be an organization where our employees feel they can bring their full selves to work and feel safe, and that is why we are passionate about Diversity and Inclusion (D&I). We know D&I fuels innovation, drives engagement and attracts superior talent. D&I is a fundamental part of our culture aspiration to be a curious, inspired and unbossed organization.

This is why I am proud that in 2018, we made a public commitment by signing up to the UN Standards of Conduct for Business, Tackling Discrimination against Lesbian, Gay, Bi, Trans, & Intersex People.  Our aspiration is to honor our commitment to uphold LGBTQI human rights and ensure we have a more inclusive workplace.  As a company, we stand up for greater inclusion of LGBTQI people because when each of us feels included, we all benefit.

My journey as a LGBTQI Ally began when the colleagues from GLOW@work, our Sandoz Employee Resource Group asked me to become an ally. An ally is a person who considers themselves a friend to the LGBTQI community and wants to support their work. While honored, I did not feel knowledgeable enough. This set off an exciting journey of discovery, as mentioned in a previous article elsewhere.

Aspiring to have a diverse company and achieving this are two different things.  Fortunately, there is a strong sense of urgency among our company leadership and our employee base to support our LGBTQI community.  To turn this sense of urgency into action, we take a three-pronged approach that includes Duty of Care, External Outreach, and Employee Engagement.

Duty of Care aims to directly support our LGBTQI associates. Initiatives and support include our company’s global parental leave policy that covers parental leave for any associate, including LGBTQI colleagues. We review our global policies to be equitable and inclusive of LGBTQI associates, and support the local implementation of these policies. We have an International SOS Pre-trip Advisory process, where warning for LGBTQI safety is issued to all travelers.  As our office layout is evolving , we aim to ensuregender-neutral facilities on our campuses. This year we published a new Transidentity Guide for associates, managers, and their familiesas well as a booklet about Parenting a transgender child, a collection of stories from parents at Novartis about their family journey with their transgender or their gender non-conforming child. Finally, we are proud of our company-wide commitment defining global standards to support associates with gender dysphoria and related treatments undergoing a transition process as part of the medical plan benefits.

When it comes to external outreach, we partner with external organizations to gain and share knowledge globally and locally – an example is our presence on Proud Science Alliance leadership team (PSA is a global LGBTQI Healthcare Alliance). Through outreach efforts, we aim to positively influence society to stand up for LGBTQI human rights.

With our D&I programs, we aim for widespread employee engagement.  This includes hosting global webcasts for Transgender Awareness Week and celebrating Novartis Pride 2020 with our CEO and thousands of associates.  In addition, there are 20 LGBTQI-related Employee Resource Groups in 14 countries and we offer a series of education courses and training content through our global learning platform.  This year we also established a group of senior leaders who sponsor LGBTQI equity initiatives in their respective organizations.  As the Sandoz LGBTQI Equity sponsor, my engagement  takes different forms and includes my own learning of being an ally through reverse mentoring, sponsoring internal webcasts around allyship, using opportunities to publicly share my commitment (including this article) and fostering an inclusive environment.  

I am proud to work at Sandoz where we continuously strive for an inclusive and safe environment for all associates including LGBTQI colleagues. At our company we aim to truly live our values and commitment to attracting and retaining a diverse employee base through many initiatives, but it eventually comes down to individuals.  Every person, every associate, every single one of us can make a difference. 

About the author

Inge Maes

Inge Maes

Sandoz, Global Head of People and Organisation

Inge Maes is the Global Head of People & Organization at Sandoz, a Novartis division. Trained as a veterinarian, after practicing for 2 years in Belgium, Inge joined Novartis in Switzerland in 2002 and served in various R&D roles before transitioning into Human Resources. Her career path highlights the variety of professional opportunities and growth possible within Novartis.  

Rising through HR operations, business partnering and country, regional and global leadership roles, Inge has worked with teams across the globe. She brings broad experience and insights into leading the people and organization agenda focusing on organizational design, team effectiveness, talent & capabilities and culture change. Her record also involves designing and implementing transition plans for large-scale projects in M&A, divestments and transformations, as well as fostering a culture of integrity, inclusion and collaboration. 

As a member of Sandoz Executive Committee and Novartis People & Organization Leadership Team, Inge also leads strategic planning on broad corporate issues.   

Among Inge’s proudest achievements are leading the German country organization through one of the company’s largest transformations and creating great momentum towards  a culture  where people and teams feel empowered, curious and inspired. The result of these is an environment where associates can thrive and ultimately create access to affordable and high quality generic medicines for more patients across the globe.

Inge is the proud mother of three kids, and lives in France together with her family and two cats. She also holds a Masters degree from Insead, where she wrote a thesis about the Impostor phenomenon.

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