Diversity and Inclusion

Q&A with Bahija Jallal – Fixing the system, not the women

 



 

 

Russell Reynolds Associates Consultant Dana Krueger interviewed Bahija Jallal, PhD, President of MedImmune and EVP of AstraZeneca, at the Association for Women in Science (AWIS) Annual Innovation Summit in San Francisco. Bahija is the President of AWIS. The below has been edited for clarity and abridged.

Dana Krueger:                  
You have risen to the top of a traditionally male and predominately white environment. Can you tell us a little about your personal journey and how you've gotten to where you are today?

Bahija Jallal:                       
When I look at the science and the innovation that brings medicines to patients, I feel it has been a very rewarding journey for me and I'm grateful for that. When I look at the other aspects such as being a woman in this field I think this is a journey. When it comes to diversity, I never thought that I would be a spokesperson for diversity. When I started my career, I started at a very diverse company and I naively thought, "This is how the world looks outside." I came to discover that we were far from that and that we have work to do.

Dana Krueger:                  
How do you as a leader in your organization today, and as a broader influencer in the industry, work to drive diversity and inclusion?

Bahija Jallal:                       
I absolute believe that we can't dissociate one from the other: innovation and diversity. As a leader I make that part of the conversation every single day. Also, you have to walk the walk and talk the talk. My team is very diverse, and I surround myself with people who are different than me and who can challenge me – has a hugely positive impact. As a leader you absolutely have to do whatever you preach. You have to do it first and be the example.

Dana Krueger:                  
Do you think that diversity is actually an attraction for talent to come into your organization?

Bahija Jallal:                       
I really believe so. I don't do this because we have to be nice. I absolutely believe that science is at stake if we don't bring the diversity of thought that brings about innovation. We hire people for their minds. My job, and the job of my team and the MedImmune organization, is to provide an environment where we can attract the best minds. When you create an environment where it is not important how someone looks, where they come from or which religion they practice, then the focus shifts to what that person can contribute to the organization.

Dana Krueger:                  
You earlier said that you can't separate diversity and innovation. As biopharma organizations are constantly seeking new ways to innovate how can diversity and inclusion support that effort? Is there a specific mechanism?

Bahija Jallal:                       
We talk a lot about diversity in the biopharma industry, which is a good thing. However, I believe that we need to elevate the discussion. It's not about being nice or being politically correct or blaming. This is existential for us. If we are in the business of innovation, we have to have diversity. I think the conversation needs to start there and it needs to go hand-in-hand with good leadership. A good leader is a leader who surrounds his/herself with people who don't think like they do. If we start defining a good leader as somebody who understands how diversity is important and makes them and their business successful, then we will turn the page.

As an example, I've never set a quota or number for diversity. We don't set it as a goal because I don't want a case where we could say we are done. We took the harder course, which is to make diversity part of our culture and provide that environment. Only last year I asked my HR team for the numbers. I could feel it. You could see it. We're very diverse, but now I have the numbers actually to prove it. We are 50/50 men and women. We are 10% African-American. We're 49% non-white, and we won't stop here. We will continue to provide that environment and continue to advocate for diversity, which is really important to continue to be innovative.

Dana Krueger:                  
What has been the impact of that diversity?

Bahija Jallal:                       
We have an environment that's very, very conducive for science. Our reputation at MedImmune is that we are a science-driven and innovation-driven organization. I also have some concrete examples. We publish in high-impact journals more now than we did before. The caliber of people that we attract is really high. Ultimately it is about bringing these medicines to patients, so we set a goal to bring one NDA… by 2016. We have four. These are four medicines that are helping patients. I don't think I can dissociate that from the environment.

Dana Krueger:                  
What remains problematic about the way our industry collectively talks about diversity and inclusion?

Bahija Jallal:                       
I think that both within and outside of our industry diversity is made to be a woman's issue. It is not a woman's issue. This is a system issue, and when we make it a woman issue we create two things. One is that males feel that they're being blamed. The second is that we then think we need to fix women. There's nothing that needs to be fixed about women. We need to fix the system. When we do that, I think that we will start seeing that this is absolutely important to our existence and to us being innovative.

Dana Krueger:                  
Bahija, your views and perspectives on diversity and inclusion are certainly inspirational to me and I'm sure to many others. Thank you for sharing your thoughts, and I really hope that now is the time for the breakthrough.

Bahija Jallal:                       
I hope so too, and thank you for giving me this platform to talk about it. Thank you.

Discover more about our expertise in

Diversity And Inclusion


We truly understand that nurturing and sustaining diverse and inclusive leadership is a proven way for companies to make smarter decisions.
Learn More

Sign up for our newsletter


Get the newsletter that prepares you for what's next with valuable insights across industries and geographies.












Discover more about our expertise in

Diversity And Inclusion


We truly understand that nurturing and sustaining diverse and inclusive leadership is a proven way for companies to make smarter decisions.
Learn More

Featured Insight


Sign up for our newsletter

Get the newsletter that prepares you for what's next with valuable insights across industries and geographies.
Q&A with Bahija Jallal – Fixing the system, not the women