As someone who enjoyed a lengthy and varied career path, the most frequent question I’ve been asked this year is why I chose to move to a new, start-up company and why at the same time, I added more change by choosing to uproot and move to the other side of the world in the middle of a global pandemic?
The answer for me is simple – from the moment I heard about Organon and the incredible vision and mission to ensure a better and healthier every day for every woman, I knew I wanted to be a part of this incredible company and this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
The fact that this would take me to Singapore with a role that spanned Asia Pacific and Japan – an entirely new location and region for me – only added to the appeal of this opportunity. This is an incredible region with such diverse cultures, governments, healthcare systems and approaches to women’s healthcare. This is also a unique opportunity to implement and shape meaningful and long-lasting change.
The diversity of this incredible region isn’t just something that is important to our company from an external perspective. Internally, we truly celebrate and promote greater diversity, genuine inclusion and a culture of collaboration and innovation. In fact, one of the reasons I joined Organon was the company’s focus on gender equity and its absolute commitment to inclusion and empowerment in our organisation.
At Organon, we know women are the foundation of a healthier world, and that gender equity is critical to women’s health and prosperity. We understand that when women rise, we all rise — and that when women are healthy and empowered, so too are their families and communities. We are committed to advancing gender equity because we know it is critical to achieving our vision: to create a better and healthier every day for every woman.
Our commitment to gender equity and our operating principles reflects a whole-of-company approach and guides the creation of a responsible and sustainable business. For example, our highly experienced Board of Directors is 70 percent women, setting a new standard for diversity and propelling us toward greater inclusion across our teams and partners.
As the Regional President for Organon’s operations in APJ, I am very conscious of the fact that I have an important opportunity to ensure I am playing an active role in advancing this equity and in ensuring we are a truly inclusive and empowering place to work. I am very committed to supporting female founders, what we call Organon employees, across our region and ensuring we achieve greater diversity across all elements of our organisation. If we’re not diverse and inclusive, then how can we possibly reflect and understand the unmet healthcare needs of our patients? This commitment to gender equity, diversity, inclusion and empowerment is absolutely fundamental to our organisation’s success, and I am fully committed to ensuring each person in our company has the opportunity to reach their full potential and are empowered to be their best.
I feel it’s critically important for leaders to embrace authenticity and to openly share what we’ve found has worked and what hasn’t worked. It’s also important that we share that it’s not always easy and that we all learn as we progress and continue to do so, regardless of our role or title. Above all, it’s critical that we as leaders seek out the issues facing our teams and find ways to address and support these challenges so that we can ensure we are inclusive for all and truly operating in a supportive, inclusive, and flexible way.
I’m also conscious that, as a working mother, I may be a visible role model for women considering a career pathway and who may have concerns about taking on additional responsibility, moving to a different function or indeed, moving to a new location. I am therefore focussed on ensuring I’m transparent and open about my own career pathway, what I have learned and about the fact that it’s sometimes a struggle and sometimes I get the balance right, sometimes not.
Over the course of a 25-year career, holding more than 10 positions in seven countries, I have learned a great deal about taking chances which have informed my personal commitment to mentoring women and ensuring they are aware that you don’t have to choose between family and your career – there are practical steps you can take to resolve your worries and, in many cases, your employer will work with you, if you voice your concerns or worries.
As women, we need to move from “why I can’t” to “how can I” and leverage the resources and support that are available. In many cases, companies will have policies and resources in place, but we do also need to ensure we create a supportive environment where people feel empowered to express their concerns, to ask for flexibility and to seek guidance as to “how they can” advance or progress their careers. As a leader in Organon, knowing how important gender equity is to women’s health and prosperity, I am 100% supportive of doing all that I can to support the women I work with to realize their goals.
But we can’t just focus on diversity, we have to ensure that we also support a culture of inclusion and empowerment. Why is this important? Quite simply if we’re not finding a way to truly listen to diverse perspectives and commit to ensuring these are reflected in how we do business, then we won’t understand, represent or help advance the unmet healthcare needs of our diverse patient group.
For example, in the APJ region alone there are approximately 2 billion women living in very different countries, with very different healthcare challenges, unmet needs and a variety of social and gender-based norms and practices. If we don’t see, understand and appreciate the differences across our region, then we won’t be able to improve women’s health, share the voices of those women we’re listening to or identify how we can play a role in partnering with key stakeholders to find and implement solutions that address the unmet medical needs facing these women.
I also firmly believe that the topic of diversity is much broader than gender, although that is a fundamental and critically important starting point, and that we need to actively seek out different perspectives, views and inputs in the broadest sense of the term. Quite simply, it is like building a jigsaw, the more pieces we assemble, the clearer and fuller the picture is.
I also recognise that it’s much harder to recruit and assemble a diverse team and it’s far easier to develop and work with teams where there’s consensus and a similar way of thinking. I am firmly committed to ensuring we embrace difference and, respectfully, that we promote and celebrate teams where there are different perspectives, ways of thinking and alternative approaches. We will be a better company, workplace and enabler of change if we embrace this diversity, support it and ensure it becomes part of how we work, and I know that is something that Organon is truly supportive of and committed to.
My own leadership approach is very much a people-centric one. I want to know the strengths and goals of my team; I want to identify how best to motivate and support each individual to ensure they succeed and grow and I really want to ensure inclusion is at the heart of how we operate.
As I’ve embarked upon different roles in different markets, I’ve really evolved my own approach to ensuring people are comfortable working with me, challenging my perspectives and genuinely being themselves. In my own case, that has seen me get more comfortable with being myself – from the small steps, such as dressing for my day, wearing casual clothes when I don’t have external meetings, to the larger ones, asking my team for their advice and help, being open about challenges and seeking views and perspectives on how we approach problems and collectively identify solutions that benefit our business, our patients and the wider healthcare landscape.
As part of my commitment to inclusion and authenticity, I am a firm believer in a non-hierarchal approach and I welcome and value the perspectives of my team, regardless of their title or experience. It’s a value that Organon really champions – We All Belong – and I find the best ideas come from a team that feel empowered to speak up, who feel their opinion is valued and who know there is genuinely no such thing as a bad idea.
Key to this approach is encouraging input from my teams and ensuring their voice and perspectives are being heard, listened to and acted on. We only benefit from diversity if we include these perspectives in how we work and what we action. I’m very open to being challenged, I am very appreciative of team members speaking openly and I firmly believe the outputs from open and honest discussions are much more valuable. I am very honest with my teams in that I love learning and I feel I have a lot to learn about so many different elements of our business.
What I bring is a wider perspective that has been informed by working in different markets, in different roles, addressing different and varied challenges. I am incredibly fortunate in my current role to have the opportunity to work with a dedicated, highly experienced team, over 1000 people strong, based in 20 countries, who are focused on our patients and who are passionate and committed to improving women’s health across our incredible region.
The expertise that this team brings is second to none and it is absolutely critically important that this expertise and these perspectives are heard, are listened to and inform how we do business. If we’re not inclusive, then we’re wasting an incredible resource and opportunity. If we don’t celebrate inclusion and empowerment, then we will genuinely not be successful in realizing our company’s incredible vision to improve the health of women throughout their lives.
As mentioned, I am a mother of two and my sons teach me something new about inclusion and diversity every single day. As I have moved countries and worked all over the world, so they have travelled and grown up in all corners of the globes, with a truly unique exposure to so many different cultures and perspectives. I am continuously humbled by how inclusive they are, how diverse their peer group is and how truly rounded they are by being influenced by such an incredible range of views. I do believe we can learn more from how children approach the world – looking for points of connection rather than identifying and seeking points of difference. It’s this approach that I constantly remind myself of and I want to ensure both I and my teams start from this position.
As a new company with an incredible vision and a commitment to improving women’s health, we have an incredible opportunity to genuinely make a difference to women and their communities. But to do this we are fully focussed on the need to innovate in how we do business but also to challenge Governments and stakeholders to approach this opportunity differently and to embrace the chance to implement change. Healthcare systems the world over are facing incredible challenges in terms of funding, resourcing and long-term sustainability – issues that were in existence long before the current pandemic but which have absolutely been exacerbated by the impact of COVID on our healthcare facilities and our societies at large.
However, we also have an opportunity to identify and recognise how we can do things differently and, in the case of women’s health, apply those principles of diversity and inclusion to the wider healthcare system to ensure we are listening to all needs and supporting all patients. At Organon, we’re fully committed to playing our part in helping to raise awareness of the opportunities for change, to ensure we are listening to women across our region, to help amplify “her voice” and to advocate for real and meaningful change. We are and always will be Here For Her Health!
Kaja was appointed Regional President for Organon Asia Pacific and Japan in June 2021. A global healthcare company, focused on improving the health of women throughout their lives, Organon has a portfolio of more than 60 medicines and products across women’s health, biosimilars and established medicines.
As Regional President for Organon’s Operations in over 20 countries across Asia Pacific & Japan, Kaja oversees a dedicated, highly experienced team of over 1000 people, united in their drive to better support the health of women across the region.
With extensive experience in the biopharmaceutical industry Kaja has worked across a wide range of markets, holding global roles including Global Commercial Lead for Cardiovascular and Metabolic Diseases. She was Managing Director of MSD Netherlands, Managing Director for MSD in South Africa, and commercial operations lead at MSD Russia.
Kaja joined MSD in 1996 in Norway as a medical representative, subsequently holding roles of increasing responsibility in sales, marketing and external affairs as well as Eastern Europe, Middle East and Africa business operations.
She holds a degree in Pharmacy from Oslo University College, Norway, and an Executive MBA from ECSP-EAP, Paris, France, and the Norwegian School of Management, Oslo, Norway.