Sanofi’s Wema Hoover has an undeniable passion for diversity, inclusion and equity. This passion and drive has recently landed her not only in a new role as Global Head of Diversity and Inclusion at Sanofi, but in a new country leaving the US to live and work in Paris, France at Sanofi’s headquarters there. In her previous role as Chief Diversity Officer and Head of Diversity and Inclusion and Equal Employment Opportunity for Sanofi NA, Wema defined, delivered and drove D&I strategies and initiatives that enabled the organization to realize the benefits of D&I and enhance company capability to support Sanofi’s employees, patients and customer base. Wema set the strategic direction for the Diversity Council, developed programs to advance, develop and retain diverse talent and lead global D&I initiatives on unconscious bias, cultural competence and global leadership.
Diversity Best Practices recently caught up with Wema, a week before she was to make her big move to Paris, to gain insights into her work and the opportunities that lay ahead for her in her new role.
DBP: How did you originally come to diversity and inclusion and where does your passion for it originate?
WH: Honestly, D&I sort of fell into my lap. Earlier in my career I was an HR Business Partner supporting global R&D and working in another country. Because I was the HR lead in creating this structure in another country, I was identifying the needs of the people in that culture and looking at global leadership, cultural competence and inclusive leadership in the workplace. That company, recognizing my success in this work, created a role to do this in other markets, to examine how we can tap into and build trust with our patients and customers in a holistic way and design a structure that supports that. We needed to ensure that we knew from an internal perspective, with employees, how to approach and speak and understand their needs as well. Lastly, we looked at what we were doing in the community to show our commitment and that we care about all of our patients and customers.
Because of the needs of the organization, from a culture perspective, I ended up doing work in global leadership, cultural competence and team effectiveness. All those things, I didn’t know at the time, were part of building an inclusive workplace. A center of excellence was created based on the work I did. I worked in India, creating an R&D center there, and did additional work in Japan, China and Taiwan Korea and was able to make an impact on how we were serving the health needs of those patients and reduce disparities in access to and quality of care.
This is all born from my passion that no person should be considered not important enough,or not a part of our vision when our vision is to create a healthier world. The platform for my approach is integrated and systemic and that it is evolving the way we work. How are we integrating inclusion into all of our processes and systems: promoting employee engagement, market segmentation, effective talent acquisition processes and so on?
DBP: What trends affecting the healthcare industry, including pharma, is Sanofi most attuned to and how is the D&I team being leveraged to address them?
WH: The main thing that we have done globally is building our cultural competence. Our customers are our patients and we need to understand their life challenges, how to communicate with family members and how to connect with them to ensure we don’t perpetuate the health care disparities around the world. We are targeting this work to employees who have high-touch interventions with patients, care providers and family members.
The other focus area for us is diversity in clinical trials. In all of my roles I have worked hard to build partnerships with Corporate Social Responsibility functions to go into communities to educate and provide awareness to underserved populations for disease areas they are over-indexed for. Our ERGs are leveraged for this work to provide volunteerism to support the community-based interventions for these local communities and to provide tools and resources to support high-quality interactions.
DBP: Speaking of ERGs…given your new global role, what is your plan to expand the work of your ERGs globally?
WH: We are going to expand our ERGs starting with a handful that already have some energy in other markets mainly with our ERGs focused on People with Disabilities, LGBT and Women. As we drive the ERGs as an organizational initiative, we will need the grassroots support in local markets and that energy and ownership. One of the first things I will do is get into those markets so that I can understand what is going on and provide the support, resources and structures to ignite that energy.
“Part of my challenge, and I am being really mindful, is to ensure I take a very universal lens, tap on my experience in the US, and in all my roles, but making sure it doesn’t weigh too heavily on my view and that it doesn’t make me myopic in my view or application.”
DBP: You are about to start new position and moving to Paris to lead globally. You will literally be an American in Paris. How have you been preparing both personally and professionally for this move?
WH: I have never had any boundaries for myself. I want to show my daughter that all things are possible if you are accepting and have faith in yourself. How can I really look at this as an adventure and understand the benefits professionally, leading a global function? How can I bring my own personal experience of being an outsider, understanding the trip ups that happen where you have homogeneity, where you don’t have as much diversity? I want to use myself as a case study and try to be as reflective and thoughtful about this from the onset to evolution.
So, it’s scary but also incredibly exciting. I have nothing but positive thoughts about the move.
DBP: What are some of the new challenges you are looking forward to?
WH: I am going from managing a region to managing a function. Part of my challenge, and I am being really mindful, is to ensure I take a very universal lens, tap on my experience in the US, and in all my roles, but making sure it doesn’t weigh too heavily on my view and that it doesn’t make me myopic in my view or application. That is one of the biggest watch outs for myself.
But, I have set up my own personal board of directors made up of colleagues from my global network to help me, who I can check in with so that I am staying true to those goals. I have made great relationships with tremendously talented people in the D&I space, business leaders, HR folks across many markets and regions. I will be checking in with them to be sure I am taking a global, universal approach.
DBP: What are you looking forward to most both professionally and personally as you prepare for your new role and big move?
WH: Professionally I am excited for the new challenge of creating a footprint for inclusion and collaboration, innovation and diversity that can now be woven into the fabric of how we operate. I see such great intersections and things that we can do where we have a holistic approach. However, I need to be sure that my approach is thoughtful, that I bring people together so that we can create those practices collaboratively. I feel like I am in the Matrix, and see it becoming clearer, now I just need to be there in the trenches to develop relationships and help people connect the dots.
Personally, I am looking forward to living what I have been preaching. Being an outsider of sorts, not knowing the language, but learning it, for instance, mirrors what we see as some of the workplace challenges for many employees. I am looking forward to immersing myself culturally in a wonderful city and pushing myself outside my comfort areas. And to experience this with my daughter and my family who will be coming to support me, so that we can grow as a family, is even better.