Patrick van der Loo on Pfizer’s holistic approach to diversity, equity, and inclusion

The MEA region is rich with different voices and perspectives, creating an incredibly diverse landscape
Patrick van der Loo on Pfizer’s holistic approach to diversity, equity, and inclusion
Patrick van der Loo is regional president, Middle East, Russia and Africa (MERA) at Pfizer

Pfizer has long been an advocate of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) in the Middle East and Africa (MEA) region. Patrick van der Loo, regional president, Middle East, Russia and Africa (MERA) at Pfizer says that with the MEA’s diverse landscape, marked by cultural nuances and educational challenges, a proactive response through collaborative efforts is needed, especially in addressing gender diversity in healthcare.

According to van der Loo, the team at Pfizer seeks to inspire tangible, lasting change. In doing so, it hopes to contribute to more equitable healthcare outcomes. This holistic approach, deeply ingrained in the organizational ethos, emphasizes Pfizer’s mission to embed DEI principles across all aspects of its operations. Doing this enables Pfizer to facilitate transformative impact within and beyond the organization’s global footprint.

Integrating DEI into core operations

DEI is at the heart of Pfizer’s mission to deliver scientific breakthroughs to patients all over the world. “We look to our comprehensive DEI strategy, comprised of three pillars, to integrate these principles in our core operations,” said van der Loo.

The first pillar focuses on creating an inclusive workplace culture to ensure diversity among staff. This also helps foster a sense of belonging for all colleagues. This involves targeted efforts in recruitment, retention, and career development, emphasizing diversity at every level.

The second pillar aims at equitable health outcomes, embedding DEI in the research and development process and access to medicine. For example, Pfizer launched ‘An Accord for a Healthier World’ in the MERA region. The initiative provides the company’s full portfolio of medicines and vaccines to lower-income countries at a not-for-profit basis. It is part of its effort to reduce health inequities that persist between wealthy nations and many lower-income countries.

The final pillar is about societal transformation through DEI partnerships. Pfizer collaborates with a range of partners to support underrepresented communities, working towards broader societal change.

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Accord expansion

Since the Accord’s launch, Pfizer has worked with governments in the majority of the 45 Accord-eligible lower-income countries. In January 2023, at the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting, Pfizer announced the expansion of the Accord. It will provide access for all 45 Accord-eligible countries to Pfizer’s full portfolio of both patented and off-patent medicines and vaccines on a not-for-profit basis. Rwanda was the first country to receive a delivery of Pfizer patent-protected medicines and vaccines through the Accord. This included nine medicines and vaccines to help treat or prevent life-threatening infectious diseases, inflammatory diseases and certain cancers.

The holistic strategy reflects Pfizer’s commitment to embedding DEI in every facet of its operations, from the workforce to product development and community engagement.

Unique challenges and opportunities

The MEA region is rich with different voices and perspectives, creating an incredibly diverse landscape. That said, it also creates unique challenges to overcome when implementing DEI initiatives.

This can include deeply ingrained cultural norms and societal expectations that reinforce gender stereotypes. Limited access to quality education and biases in educational institutions can also hinder women’s entry into healthcare professions. Additionally, political instability and conflicts in certain areas may pose challenges to implementing comprehensive healthcare and educational reforms.

Overcoming these barriers requires collaborative efforts, advocacy for policy changes, and engagement with local communities to ensure the successful adoption of DEI initiatives in the region. “At Pfizer, our initiatives are designed to be adaptable and responsive to the unique challenges faced by people from various backgrounds,” said van der Loo.

For example, “we recently published a report in partnership with the Arab International Women’s Forum titled ‘DEI by Design’ which outlines recommendations to increase gender diversity in the MENA’s healthcare sector,” he added.

The private sector and legislators can use the report to ensure that the region’s health industry continues to be more diverse and patient centric.

Shaping leadership and organizational structure

The scientific field has historically been dominated by one demographic, but by creating space for people from different backgrounds, we enable everyone’s voices to be considered and heard at every stage of decision-making. This ensures that decisions are not made in isolation but are, instead, informed by the nuanced needs and preferences of the communities we serve.

At Pfizer, we have a dedicated DEI Council who oversees and implements our DEI strategy. Our strategy covers both how our business creates external partnerships, as well as creating an inclusive workplace for our employees. We also take pride in hiring the best qualified talent so we can achieve breakthroughs that change patients’ lives. We have our disability internship program aligned with DEI priorities. The program aims to hire interns with disabilities to advance their careers and to support them in becoming independent – many of whom become full-time Pfizer employees. It was originally launched in South Africa in 2022, but today, we are expanding across the Gulf and North Africa, to hire more talent with disabilities every year.

Long-term goals for advancing DEI

Moving forward, Pfizer envisions a future where the demographic of the healthcare sector is reflective of the patient population. As the MERA region becomes more diverse, we aim to also have teams that are equally diverse. Our focus is on building a more inclusive colleague experience, advancing equitable health outcomes, and transforming society with external DEI partnerships.

These efforts will help embed DEI in our workplace and into our purpose with trust built along the way. They contribute to more equitable healthcare outcomes by creating lasting change in policymaking, talent development, and scientific breakthroughs. By having diverse minds in decision-making positions, we include critical perspectives at the core our business.

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