The Workplace at AstraZeneca is all about Balance

Empowering people to achieve the right balance is something I often reflect upon. Ensuring that our global workforce is equitably represented, recognised and rewarded is why I come to work every day as Senior Vice President for Reward and Inclusion at AstraZeneca.

In my experience, it’s unique to put reward and inclusion together within a global organisation such as ours. To me, it makes sense because I believe that reward and inclusion have a deeply symbiotic relationship. Ideas, initiatives and contributions can come from anywhere in an organisation, and when they make a difference to collective performance, they should be recognised and appreciated. Our ambition as a team is to create rewarding experiences that inspire growth. That is, personal growth, team growth and AstraZeneca’s growth. According to Josh Bersin’s “The Simply Irresistible Organisation” model, approaching reward and inclusion holistically and in balance creates a great employee experience and drives engagement1.

At AstraZeneca we believe our approach to reward and inclusion has a big influence over our high-performing culture. Why? Because reward and inclusion both inspire motivation. Reward is extrinsic motivation, incentivising people to make a great contribution to our work together. Inclusion provides intrinsic motivation, giving people that inner drive and feeling that they can make a difference for patients whilst knowing that the differences they bring to work are valued and appreciated.

We place huge importance on our employees feeling that they belong, and connecting with our purpose to deliver life-changing medicines to patients. Our purpose is one that we take very seriously. We are a global biopharmaceutical business and our innovative medicines are used by millions of patients worldwide. Which is why it’s crucial that we create an environment where people can perform at their best to deliver the greatest possible value for society and our patients. We value people because of their differences and reward them based on the contribution they make.

Valuing our differences
We value all differences and strive for balanced representation across our global teams. Why? Because a team is at its most creative when it is made up of people who think differently from one another, in an environment where different views and perspectives are welcomed and valued. We all have a range of experiences, backgrounds, strengths and weaknesses, and that diversity unlocks challenges and brings new solutions. It fosters continuous innovation, constant learning and propels our growth as individuals and for our company and makes for a representative workforce.

Having a balance across different skillsets, ways of thinking about things and approaching problems in our teams can only be a good thing. Our responsibility as an organisation is to create an environment where we can make the most of our differences. Our I&D strategy in 2021 was focused across three priority areas:

1. Empowering inclusive leadership
2. Fostering a culture where people feel confident to speak their mind
3. Building and sustaining a diverse leadership and talent pipeline

In 2022, we’re planning to update our I&D strategy to enable us to build on the progress we’ve made and to continue to advance societal change through our alliances and partnerships around the world, with a focus on equity in healthcare.

Underpinning our strategy, we’ve embedded inclusive and ethical behaviours through our five core company Values. Those Values were shaped collaboratively with input from our global workforce and are supported by defined behaviours that we hold ourselves accountable to. In 2020 we updated our behaviours to better reflect our commitment to inclusion and diversity, both within our company and in the diverse patient populations we help.

Empowering inclusive leadership
Inclusive leadership at AstraZeneca is about valuing, seeking out and leveraging our differences to achieve our company goals. It’s how we expect everyone to behave, no matter our job role, level of seniority or location. It means demonstrating open minds, active listening and transparent decision making to create an environment where people feel safe to bring their authentic selves (more on why feeling ‘safe’ is critical later).

So how do we foster inclusive leadership? We guide managers and employees on how to support inclusion and diversity in the workplace and encourage diversity of thought through a number of learning and training programmes. Our conscious inclusion training, for instance, promotes the proactive behaviour we expect from our employees to ensure that diverse thoughts and ideas are respected, valued and incorporated into our work. Inclusive leadership behaviours are also woven into other development programmes such as our ‘Leading Self’ course which has been completed by thousands of employees.

Building that base awareness and understanding is important, and we go further to actively celebrate the differences that make us a rich and diverse organisation. For the past few years, we’ve dedicated time to come together as a global organisation, celebrate and participate in activities that foster an inclusive and diverse culture. In October last year, our enterprise-wide Power of Diversity week encouraged employees to recognise the part they play in creating an inclusive environment where differences are valued and celebrated. Global and local events included interactive sessions with a dynamic mix of speakers and case studies presented. Discussions led by senior leaders set the tone from the top and sparked honest discussions about inclusion and diversity. And in an organisation with more than 80,000 employees, I was proud to see that sessions streamed on our social enterprise platform earned over 72,000 views.

Fostering a culture where people feel confident to speak their mind
An inclusive environment is one where people feel safe and accepted as their authentic selves. That aspect of psychological safety is important to support the feeling of ‘belonging’. When we feel that we belong, we feel confident to speak our minds, suggest alternative ideas and challenge the status quo. The doors are truly open to diversity in all its forms.

What are some ways that we can foster a sense of belonging? Creating safe spaces where employees can connect with others with shared experiences is something many organisations are doing successfully. At AstraZeneca, our Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) are communities that we support with a framework and funding, such as AZPride, our ERG for LGBTQIA+ employees, or TH!NK for neurodiversity. These global and local communities share ideas and materials to drive efficient growth and best practices. And they contribute to our inclusive, diverse culture by strengthening workplace relationships and clearly demonstrating that differences are valued and accepted.

I’m happy to say that our success in fostering a culture where people feel confident to speak their mind is plain to see. Not only in that 83% of employees say that they feel comfortable to speak their minds and express their opinion at work2. But when we invite employees to share alternative ideas and opinions, they step up to the plate. We’ve seen this time and again during crowdsourcing activities which give people the opportunity to get involved in decision making and contribute to our direction as a company. Our current strategy was shaped by employees contributing more than 56,000 ideas in a crowdsourcing event in 2018. And a few months after the COVID-19 pandemic hit, we launched a further global crowdsourcing event inviting employees to contribute learnings from their experiences and solutions to allow us to adapt quickly, overcome obstacles and grasp opportunities as we look to the future. Employees’ ideas fed into evolving our approaches in areas such as sustainable working practices, digital capabilities and R&D amongst many more.

So, not only is it important to create the psychological safety for employees to speak their minds and share bold ideas that challenge the status quo, we must also give them opportunities to do so and demonstrate that we’re listening.

Building and sustaining a diverse leadership and talent pipeline
Perhaps the most obvious part of balance is ensuring that we have a workforce that reflects our communities and the patients we help. For our industry, incorporating cultural understanding and contributing to the societies we operate in is the right thing to do, and helps us understand patient needs to act accordingly. The best way that we can go about this is through attracting, retaining, and developing diverse talent for an even more diverse culture.

As a science-led company, we are dedicated to supporting women pursuing careers in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) and are passionate about inspiring and advancing the next generation of female leaders in our industry. Creating dedicated training programmes for women to support and accelerate their career and personal goals is an important way to help strike that equal gender balance at all levels. At AstraZeneca, we have women’s networks in most countries and give targeted support to mentoring relationships. As a result, just over 50% of our workforce identify as women and 46.9% of employees at management levels. This year, we were recognised by Forbes as one of the world’s top female friendly employers, which is something we can be incredibly proud of.

We’ve also built in actions at each stage of our talent pipeline to drive racial equity, such as targeting talent programmes to increase black or African American and Hispanic/Latinx representation in the US and the UK. During recruitment, we have a concept called ‘Not like you’, which requires diversity on our interview panels. And we’re investing more than USD$5 million in early talent programmes to increase ethnic minority representation across the business. Setting the tone from the top is important to demonstrate to employees that we walk the walk as well as talking the talk. We have more than 30 nationalities in senior vice president roles which I think shows that we’re serious about creating that balance at every level of our organisation.

When inclusion and diversity become part of our DNA, through everybody doing their bit to create an inclusive culture, we achieve balance as a natural outcome. The most inclusive and balanced organisations in the biopharmaceutical industry are the ones who will be able to contribute to patients and society most effectively and sustainably over the years to come, because they represent and understand the patients they serve.

  2. Results from our PULSE employee survey in November 2021

About the author

Rebekah Martin

Rebekah Martin

AstraZeneca, Senior Vice President of Reward and Inclusion

Rebekah Martin is the Senior Vice President of Reward and Inclusion at AstraZeneca.

Rebekah has a Master’s degree in Molecular and Cellular Biochemistry from the University of Oxford and went on to qualify as a lawyer in the UK, joining AstraZeneca in 2011. Since joining, she has held a number of progressively senior roles in the legal team based in the UK and Singapore. 

Rebekah moved to her current role in the HR team in April 2018.  Here, she leads the team responsible for Reward strategy, design and governance at AstraZeneca, and leads on the implementation of AstraZeneca’s global inclusion and diversity strategy.  Rebekah is passionate about the strong connection between diversity of thought, innovation and performance. 

Outside of work, Rebekah enjoys spending time with her family, which includes her son, her daughter and two border terrier dogs.  She loves camping in France during the holidays.  She is an enthusiastic (but slow) runner and has taken up “painting by numbers” during lockdown.

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