News Article

Women in Healthcare: Sandra Sánchez

By Miriam Bello | Mon, 04/20/2020 - 17:07

Q: You are a successful woman in the healthcare industry. What has been your experience in the sector as a female decision-maker?

A: I am proud of my professional journey. There are always challenges that one faces as a leader, more so as a woman, and I am sure that many women can relate to my story. This is mostly true in Mexico and Latin America as we still have a huge gap in terms of gender equality. I often find myself the only woman in the room, fighting to be taken seriously or to be treated equally. I have always opted to lean in, to not take anything personally and to recognize the unconscious bias there might be. My goal is to be as positive as possible and to strengthen my commitment to bring the best out of myself. In the end, what matters is how you respond to these situations and learn from them.

Since joining Novartis, I have felt empowered and inspired. Our “unbossed” culture, promoted by our CEO Vas Narasimhan, is one of inclusiveness, self-awareness and accountability. It is one where we are all encouraged to bring our best selves every day to be a company filled with people who are passionate about genuinely helping patients to receive the best treatment possible for their disease. That passion is what has led my entire journey as a healthcare professional and as a woman. That sense of purpose is my inner motivation to be resilient regardless of roadblocks.

To this day, I sometimes have faced gender inequality situations. However, that has not stopped me and will not stop me in my mission to foster and promote empowerment among women. I am proud to say that I belong to a company that has never made me feel less important for being a woman. Gender aside, I feel supported and encouraged at Novartis, which of course translates into a similar behavior with my team.

Q: What do you do to promote gender equality as a healthcare professional?

A: My commitment to closing the gender gap is rooted in my professional and personal background and started more than 18 years ago. As part of the board of AmCham in Mexico, I started the Gender and Inclusion committee to bring these issues to the table. I worked with member and non-member companies on this subject, sharing best practices and developing many tools to start building a gender equality agenda. AmCham and Ambassador Anthony Wayne recognized me with the “Yacatecutli” Award in 2011 and 2012 for my work and impact on diversity and inclusion initiatives in Mexico. I was also invited by Margarita Zavala during Felipe Calderon’s administration to work on the B20 initiative to close the gender gap in Mexico. The work I did together with the first lady and key leaders in Mexico led to remarkable contributions to reach our goal, at least at the corporate level.

Changing the discourse can help to accelerate this objective: gender diversity is a business issue and there is a business case for it. It has been demonstrated by Catalyst and others that there is an improved financial performance among companies with the highest percentage of female board directors and top management positions, measured based on return on equity, return on sales and return on invested capital. There is also an improved customer understanding and satisfaction.

Women are the driving force behind most household and financial decisions. They are also the most attractive emerging market today as they are increasing their professional education and purchasing power. Research shows that the more a company mirrors its market demographic, the better positioned it is to identify and respond to evolving market needs. Moreover, diversity results in superior innovation and increased corporate competitiveness, which in turn generates an enhanced corporate image. In conclusion, there is a positive relationship and correlation between financial performance and female representation in top management.

We need to involve men in the conversation. We need more men to help develop female talent to break paradigms and stigmatism, broadening our discussions on how we seek new talent. At Novartis, we support female talent. In fact, as part of our Equal Pay International Coalition (EPIC) pledge, which is a public promise made by our CEO, we have a vision to reach gender balance in management by 2023. Currently, we are at 44 percent. We have established a gender strategy and tools to help leadership teams across the organization monitor their gender representation in both external applicants and current management population. I can share that in Mexico, we work to have a balanced committee of men and women when interviewing candidates. This lets us bring in a more diverse set of candidates. This practice is tightly embedded in our career development processes. 

Q: What advice would you give to women in healthcare with ambitions to grow and reshape the sector? 

A: There is endless potential in every woman and girl. Believing in it can help us to go the extra mile. Every girl and woman should gift herself with the success she deserves and can achieve.

The first advice I would give to women is to seek a sponsor and mentor. These are not the same nor mutually exclusive. A sponsor will help your grow in your organization whereas a mentor will guide you in your career. It is fine to have more than one and to be inclusive, sponsors and mentors should be of both genders, of varying experience levels and professional careers. Second, I would tell women to speak up and let their voice be heard. Often times, as women, we might sit back and not give our opinion or ask for what we want in our career, be it a promotion or raise. We need to speak up and ask. This is the only way to grow, learn and develop yourself professionally.

My third advice is to learn from every experience, no matter if it is positive or negative experience; there is always an opportunity to learn. Take the time to reflect what there is to learn, put that into your experience box and use it for the future. My last advice is to help other women; this is so critical. Be a cheerleader, mentor, supporter and friend to other women. Be inclusive and kind and always offer a helping hand. As Madeleine Albright would say: “There is a special place in hell for women who don't help other women." I truly believe that.

At Novartis, we foster an inclusive behavior. Inclusive leadership is a set of skills, knowledge and behaviors that create an environment where everyone feels heard, respected and valued. We need to foster these attitudes as part of our daily activities.

Miriam Bello Miriam Bello Senior Journalist and Industry Analyst