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The Challenge: Overcoming the lack of female talent at board and c-suite level and achieving gender diversity in STEM

Sanofi is a multinational company that develops and manufactures healthcare solutions for millions of people. Sanofi Ireland produces 18 medicines at its Waterford site. In 2021, the Irish Sanofi business was faced with the task of empowering women leaders and ensuring diversity in the workplace. Caroline Quinn, People Excellence Lead for Sanofi UK and Ireland, said: “Our challenge back in 2021 was our female leadership was at 34% versus 66% male, and we wanted to move the dial towards 50/50 because we know that businesses with 50/50 diversity outperform those that don’t [have that]”.

The lack of female leadership at Board and C-suite level is among the many challenges facing the sector. BioPharmaChem Skillnet are working with companies right across the pharmaceutical industry to address this. Susan Costello, Network Manager of BioPharmaChem Skillnet said: “The Network’s mission is to lead, strengthen and future-proof the BioPharmaChem sector through collaboration, networking, innovation, and the provision of talent development solutions. The flexibility within the Skillnet Ireland model allowed us the opportunity to work with Sanofi to address the specific challenge they were experiencing on site.”

This programme is hugely beneficial in terms of attracting and retaining the best female talent for our business. It's a demonstration of our value for these females.

Caroline Quinn, People Excellence Lead, Sanofi (Waterford)

Company Background

Sanofi develops and manufactures healthcare solutions within many therapeutic areas: consumer self-care, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, multiple sclerosis, thrombosis, rare diseases, type 2 inflammation (e.g. atopic dermatitis) and vaccines.

Company Background

The Solution: BioPharmaChem Skillnet’s Women in Leadership Development Programme

Working collaboratively with Sanofi Ireland, the BioPharmaChem Skillnet designed and implemented the Women in Leadership Development Programme. Aimed specifically at women in STEM, the Women in Leadership Development Programme allows organisations to understand and address critical issues relating to leadership, upskilling, equality, diversity, and inclusion. Sanofi engaged with 160 women from across the business to try and understand why they weren’t applying for leadership roles. They found that the women had concerns around work-life balance, that they felt they lacked confidence, and that they often excluded themselves from applying to job adverts because they thought that they didn’t meet all of the criteria. In fact, confidence was cited as an issue affecting the career development of women right across the business.

Having identified the obstacles preventing women from progressing to leadership roles, Sanofi was better placed to take action to drive greater female representation at the site. The Women in Leadership Development Programme paved the way for Sanofi to provide targeted employee training supports so that women better grasped the leadership opportunities available to them. Speaking in relation to the findings from the engagement, Martin O’Leary, Head of Human Resources, Sanofi said: “What we would have heard maybe from our female leaders is the barriers that were preventing them maybe from looking at Sanofi and looking at leadership roles, and we’ve really put a lot of work into addressing some of those barriers.” The Women in Leadership Development Programme also works with schools and colleges to encourage young women and girls to consider embarking on a career in STEM, highlighting the different types of careers available to them.

The Outcome: Expanding horizons and empowering female leaders

The Women in Leadership Development Programme was hugely successful in helping Sanofi Ireland to address the hurdles facing women in STEM. The programme will also have a positive impact on Sanofi’s ability to attract and retain female talent in Ireland into the future. Female employees at the Waterford site found that their horizons had been expanded. Validation Team Leader, Caroline Murphy, said that: “With the backing of Sanofi, the programme has given me the confidence to be more ambitious with my career changes and to push myself to look for careers that make me more fulfilled. Previous to this, when I was looking at job applications, if I hadn’t ticked all the boxes I probably wouldn’t have applied for the role, but now that I know my own skillset and what I can overcome, that fear is gone now and it’s allowing me better opportunities for me to be able to progress within my career.”

Sanofi’s Site Head in Waterford Amy Brennan was also proud of how the Women in Leadership Development Programme had been able to foster opportunities for women at Sanofi: “When you see somebody that has a capability and you can train them, develop them, and give them opportunity, and then they start delivering amazing results, I think it’s massively rewarding as a leader. The company benefits because we’re developing talent internally to help develop the business need and then the person benefits also by reaching their full potential.” Striving for people excellence in the biotechnology space is key for BioPharmaChem Skillnet Network Manager Susan Costello: “Programmes such as the Women in Leadership Development Programme are critical to help tackle the issue of gender imbalance at leadership level. Following on from the successful pilot of this programme in Sanofi, we have already commenced delivery with other businesses in the sector and we’re looking forward to rolling this programme out at a national level in the BioPharmaChem sector.”

About The Network

About The Network

BioPharmaChem Skillnet is a business network for companies of all sizes in the pharmaceutical, biopharmaceutical and chemical supply sectors. Network companies work collaboratively to share best practice and to respond effectively to their business and skills needs. The network addresses both technical and non-technical skills needs.

  • Contact Person: Susan Costello
  • Email:
  • Tel: 087 287 6731

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