Starting a Movement Through Internal Business Influence at Pfizer

Through a combination of personal circumstances, transferrable skills and fortunate timing I have been able to start a movement in Pfizer’s UK business, which has brought together colleagues from all levels and is making a significant contribution to Pfizer’s Inclusive Culture.

Pfizer is one of the world’s largest research-based pharmaceuticals firms, with more than 90,000 colleagues and with products in cardiovascular health, metabolism, oncology, and inflammation and immunology. While the US is Pfizer’s single largest market (accounting for half of all revenues), the company has a strong global presence, operating in more than 90 international markets and selling its products in more than 125 countries. A key element of the company’s diversity strategy is to represent the customers we serve.

There is plenty of data to support the value of a diverse workforce, as long as that diversity is celebrated, and everyone is allowed to contribute. Research over many years indicates companies able to leverage the benefits of a diverse workforce are more successful on a number of measures, including financial output, retaining a competitive edge and anticipating shifts in consumer needs [Mckinsey 2020]. A diverse workforce brings a range of experiences and perspectives. Appropriately managed diversity, and particularly when also visible at the senior level, improves productivity and innovation; assists in understanding the customer; enhances corporate competitiveness and benefits brand reputation; and reduces the likelihood of costly errors and of litigation. In addition, the UK talent pool is becoming more diverse [Business in the Community 2020] and therefore the ability to attract diverse candidates is becoming increasingly important. 

Psychological safety is critical to employees’ wellbeing, and therefore their performance, and this is where employee networks can make an important contribution in assisting the organisation to understand what inclusion looks and feels like for different groups.

Employee networks (also referred to as colleague resource groups or CRGs) have existed in Pfizer for many years, although most active in the US. In 2016 the Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender (LGBTQ+) CRG (OPEN) had only 4 members in the UK and there were no other UK-wide CRGs.

One of my adult children identifies as gay and non-binary, so I joined OPEN in 2016 as an Ally. An Ally is a person who does not identify as a particular minority but supports people in that minority and uses their own position as a member of the majority to advocate for the minority. The term Ally has historically been used for people who support the LGBTQ+ community, although recent world events mean the importance of Allies to other minority groups is being recognised and the term expanded.  Around the time I joined OPEN as an Ally, US colleagues started an Ally education initiative using bi-monthly emails and I realised I could use skills from my previous roles to develop education materials for events to engage more Allies. My driver was to help make work the sort of place where people in a minority (like my child) could be themselves and flourish. I was fortunate that this was a growing desire in Pfizer across the rest of Europe and in 2017 I was able to take my ideas to an OPEN European Forum, where I was subsequently appointed European Ally Lead.

When starting an initiative like this seniority is not relevant, although having support from senior leaders is important. The first people I signed up as Allies were in my department, the people I work with every day, who I could easily share my personal story with. In D&I the personal story is often key as it brings the experiences of others closer to people. I then approached our Site Leadership Team for support, which they were very happy to give. So now I had a growing group of Allies across all levels on our site, plus contacts at different levels across Europe and we started the education program. Initially I piloted materials at my Site, which at the time had about 300+ colleagues, using a ‘Lunch and Learn’ format. Quite informal, anyone can come along, but I had no budget, so they had to bring their own lunch. This gave me the chance to see what worked well and what needed refining. The purpose of Ally education is for people who do not identify as the minority to understand more about the community, what language to use and what specific words mean, and the impact being ‘different’ can have on a person’s wellbeing and job-performance. In addition to addressing their own biases we encourage Allies to become aware of bias and discrimination in work processes and strive to address these.

A core team of Allies helped to set up engagement events and sign up more members and now with support from the Site Leadership we could tempt people with cake and balloons. We developed some punchy messaging to explain what an Ally does and had cards printed. The next step was to take the events to other Pfizer UK sites, where the growing support led to the creation of a core team to steer UK events and, for the first time, a real budget!

The first step of being an Ally to LGBTQ+ people is to provide a safe space so they know they can be themselves, without judgement. Often LGBTQ+ people will hide that part of themselves at work, so we use various visual signals to show we are Allies, including a rainbow lanyard, ‘I am an Ally’ stickers and our Ally teddy. Even with those signals some people will never ‘come out’ at work, and that’s ok – we know that by creating a safe space they will feel more accepted and happier at work, even if we don’t know who they are.

It is important to recognise that managing a group of volunteers, which is what CRG members are, is not like managing a team who report to you. They have other responsibilities and might only be able to spare time irregularly. And they don’t have to help you, so you need a strong hook to get them involved. The advantage of working with volunteers in a business setting is the shared values, and this is where we benefitted from timing. A change of CEO at the beginning of 2019 led to an update to the Pfizer values, to become Courage, Equity, Excellence and Joy. The work we were doing in D&I in the UK gained a significant impetus from the focus on these core values and our Ally program benefitted from the visible support from a new UK Country manager and his leadership team.

Membership of any network like this gives you opportunities you might not have in your ‘paid’ job. In my current paid role I write technical reports, analyse data and act as a Subject Matter Expert in Quality Systems. In my voluntary role I oversee teams who are converting our existing education materials to on-line versions in a variety of new formats, I write surveys and materials, organise events, deliver presentations, sit on panels and liaise with people at all levels of the business and outside of Pfizer. And the other volunteers in OPEN (and in the other CRGs we now have in the UK) have similar opportunities to engage in activities which are either an extension of their paid role, or develop new skills they would not have had an opportunity to gain in their paid role.

My vision is that education events like ours will become part of the normal training for colleagues, integrated into induction and into manager training, in a way that makes Inclusion a natural part of our day to day behaviours and being an Inclusive manager is a basic requirement to meet before being considered for promotion.

Pfizer is becoming a more and more inclusive organisation, driven by leaders at the very top, who sincerely believe in and support Inclusion, and by people from every level who continue to contribute over and above their paid roles to push for the changes needed to make inclusion a reality, throughout the business.

MCKINSEY & COMPANY (2020) Diversity Wins: How inclusion matters. May 2020 Available from:

BUSINESS IN THE COMMUNITY (2020) The Business Case for Diversity Business in the CommunityMarch 2020 [factsheet] Available from:

About the author

Jane Finch

Jane Finch

Pfizer, Quality Assurance Specialist & Diversity, Inclusion & Belonging

Jane Finch holds a BSc (Hons) in Applied Chemistry and has worked in Pharmaceutical Manufacture Quality Assurance for over 30 years. She started her career as a lab analyst in Quality Control, was quickly promoted to a supervisory position and, following several leader positions, moved into her current role in a Quality Systems Team.

She has 2 children in their 20’s, one of whom identifies as gay and non-binary. Jane joined Pfizer’s LGBTQ+ group OPEN in 2016, becoming European Ally Lead in 2017. Using the training and training design skills she gained from her QA roles, she has led on the development of materials to engage and educate Allies in Pfizer Europe and shared the materials and her passion for the engagement of Allies with OPEN chapters globally. Jane firmly believes that by working collaboratively we can make work a place where everyone can be their best self.

Subscribe to our FREE newsletter