In Pharma Sales, Diversity Makes a Difference

By Malcolm Fleschner

On a short list of the most commonly used but vaguely defined terms bandied about in the business world these days, diversity probably ranks right near the top, perhaps coming in a close second to synergy. Undoubtedly nowadays you’d be hard pressed to find a corporation that didn’t claim a commitment to diversity on the company’s Our People Website page. This commitment often is accompanied by an expression of the company’s belief in the bottom-line benefits of a diverse workforce.

The diabetes drug manufacturer Novo Nordisk is no different. Unlike many companies, however, Novo Nordisk’s executives actually can explain what a commitment to diversity means to them.

“We define diversity as the variety or differences among people, which is broader than gender, age, race and socioeconomic status,” says Mike Dwyer, Novo Nordisk’s vice president of diabetes sales and executive team sponsor for the Diversity Task Force. “Our view also encompasses differences in cultures, ethnic groups, life styles and ways of thinking and communicating. In essence, everyone is valued as an individual. Valuing diversity on a corporate scale means having the capacity for being open to and inclusive of people who are different from ourselves. It’s also about respect for the individual and understanding and appreciating those differences, which actually create the mutually rewarding relationships between our diabetes care specialists, physicians and other customers.”

This last point, of course, gets to the fundamental reasons why pharmaceutical companies would want to develop a sales force reflecting a broad set of backgrounds – it just makes good business sense.

“We believe a diverse workforce facilitates a broader understanding of our diverse customer needs,” Dwyer says, “which leads to enhanced customer service, a more effective sales force and increased market share. Studies conducted by Fortune and others have demonstrated that companies whose CEOs place a premium on diversity have stronger business performance than those companies whose management is less engaged in the topic. As a world leader in diabetes care we have to consider the individual as well as the global needs of our varied customers, especially when the prevalence of diabetes is higher among African Americans, Asians and Hispanics than Caucasians. Diabetes does not discriminate; therefore our workforce must reflect this community.”

Management commitment certainly goes a long way toward creating a corporate culture where diversity is valued at all levels in the organization. But as Dwyer points out, achieving diversity isn’t a one-shot project with a beginning and end.

“We encourage our managers to seek out, recruit and select people who bring additional skill sets, ways of thinking, ideas, passion and motivation to their team, who can stimulate better service for our customers and their needs. We also encourage our team members to discuss these differences and share ways to improve their understanding and sensitivity.”