I have been the Country Manager for the Gulf countries (UAE, Kuwait, Qatar, Oman and Bahrain) for Janssen, Pharmaceutical Companies of Johnson & Johnson for the last 2,5 years and I have been working in the MENA Region for the last 4,5 years. As I get ready to depart to a new career challenge back in Europe, I take the opportunity to reflect on my experience in the region, in particular on a topic which is very close to my heart, Talent Development and Diversity & Inclusion.
Having worked for Janssen for 15 years, I can tell you, there has never been a dull moment. During this time, I have been fortunate enough to acquire experience across several functions (Pharmacovigilance, Medical Affairs, Marketing, Business Operation, Market Access and Sales) and across several markets (Portugal, EMEA, UK and MENA). I have found this to be one of the great advantages of working for a company like Janssen, where people are highly encouraged and motivated to acquire diverse experiences. Across J&J, leaders are expected to have a diverse background and to have a good balance between breadth and depth of experience, so that they can bring diverse and unique contributions to the organization and to the business. It is on these principles that we develop talent in Janssen.
At Janssen, we believe that each individual brings a unique perspective. We seek different backgrounds, beliefs and experiences, people who view the world from unique vantage points; different perspectives that bring more creative ideas, solutions and strategies. As our CEO, Alex Gorsky wrote in a recent blog for the Business Roundtable, Diversity and Inclusion drives innovation and opportunity; and the companies that invest in diversity and inclusion today will be the most innovative, sustainable and prosperous tomorrow.
A great example of the importance that J&J gives to Diversity & Inclusion (D&I) was our week-long event “Inclusion Week” held during October, where over 6000 Johnson & Johnson employees across Europe, Middle East and Africa took part in virtual sessions to discuss how we “make diversity & inclusion the way we work every day” and help leaders develop their individual vision on how to bring D&I to life.
Particularly in the GCC organization, where I am part of the D&I Council, we have seen several initiatives taking off with overwhelming engagement by our employees. We have held a series of discussions about “Unconscious Bias” and launched a touching and thought-provoking D&I awareness campaign. We have implemented a mandatory gender-diverse slate for new hires and have made significant progress in increasing the number of female leaders in our organization. We have launched new Employee Resource Groups (ERGs), like Generation Now (focusing on the inclusion of the younger generation) and African Ancestry Leadership Council (AALC), in addition to the already well-established Women’s Leadership & Inclusion (WLI), which I co-sponsor.
In J&J, we have a clear goal to reach gender parity. Of course, change doesn’t happen overnight and reaching gender parity will be a long journey. Across the entire Janssen business, our goal for gender diversity is to reach gender parity and equality for all genders by 2030. According to recent research, it will take between 170–217 years, time that will outlive us all, to achieve gender parity and equality at the current rate of progress. As a female leader in a region where business is traditionally perceived as a male domain, the topic of gender diversity is particularly close to my heart. Recently, I had the pleasure to participate in the “Break the Ceiling, Touch the Sky” 2020 virtual summit, where I was part of a panel which brought together inspirational women leaders from across the Middle East. We had such insightful discussions and made truly valuable reflections, while sharing our advice on leading with purpose and precision. Summits like this bring opportunities for us to fuel change and encourage more leaders to focus on creating a gender diverse and inclusive working environment that better reflects the diverse customer base and stakeholders that we interact with.
Reflecting on specific actions and approaches which have worked well to build a diverse and inclusive organization, I would highlight that one of the most important things that a leader can do is to establish an open dialogue with all employees. Transparency and tolerance are key for all individuals to feel that they can bring their unique selves to work every day. Another critical behavior is authenticity; when a leader role models an open dialogue by telling their own unique story, this encourages the whole organization to do the same. Additionally, having a deeper understanding of one’s unconscious biases will enable us to become more inclusive leaders and truly listen to all voices and perspectives – this will result in better and more innovative decisions and strategies. Nonetheless, the most important of all is to hold leaders accountable for modelling and implementing inclusive behaviors.
My experience in the MENA region has been particularly rich in terms of the diversity of people and styles that I have encountered. Particularly in the UAE, the diversity of nationalities means there’s huge variety in the cultural backgrounds, management styles and personalities of leaders and professionals in different organizations. Understanding the subtle differences in leadership styles and approaches is extremely important in a multi-cultural context. Newcomers will benefit from understanding the differences in leadership habits and how to build successful professional relationships in a diverse environment.
Nevertheless, something that is common to everyone working in the MENA region is the ability to manage ambiguity and complexity, to tolerate volatility and to thrive at the face of challenges. The year of 2020 has been a year where VUCA (volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity) has ruled across the globe; no region is more accustomed and proficient in dealing with a VUCA environment than the MENA region. Resilience, agility and decisiveness are certainly skills frequently required and highly appreciated in this region. At the same time, having work experience in the MENA region presents a golden opportunity to further develop and sharpen these critical leadership skills.
In the MENA region, there’s an abundance of talent; the region itself boasts diversity and attracts and retains much talent from other parts of the world. At the same time, there is a shortage of jobs for the young and ambitious graduates of today and this is creating a growing gap between the skills young and aspiring jobseekers have to offer and the opportunities available to them. At Janssen, we recognize this and have internship and graduate programs open for nationals and non-nationals to allow young people to develop key professional skills that will help them secure a fulfilling permanent role with long-term prospects.
Janssen in the Middle East and North Africa region is a significant contributor to the Johnson & Johnson enterprise and our employees work in a diverse range of disciplines. Our commitment to ongoing professional and leadership development and to a diverse and inclusive work environment is what makes us a great place to work.
Ana is the Country Director for Gulf Countries at Janssen (J&J Pharmaceutical business) and she brings more than 14 years diversified business experience in both established & emerging markets, small & G5 markets.
Ana worked across several different roles (including Pharmacovigilance, Medical Affairs, Marketing, Business Operations, Market Access and Sales) and across different geographies (including Portugal, UK, Near-East, Africa and GCC), as well as Regional (EMEA) roles.
Ana is currently based in Dubai, where she lives with her husband and 2 children. In addition to being the Gulf Director for the Pharma business of J&J, she is also a member of the Diversity & Inclusion Council and the Sponsor for the Women’s Leadership and Inclusion (WLI) in J&J Middle East.
As a passionate advocate for D&I and WLI, Ana is actively involved in internal and external initiatives and events, addressing topics such as the impact of unconscious bias, advocating for diversity and inclusion and barriers to social and professional equality across genders. In her previous role as Marketing & Market Access Director in Near East, Maghreb & Africa (NEMA), Ana has founded a new WLI section and has co-delivered the first ever WLI event in Iran and other NEMA Markets.
Ana’s guiding principles as a leader are: “Always be true to yourself and don’t compromise your values. Help those around you to succeed. Make a difference.”