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GlaxoSmithKline: Talking gender equality with pharma’s first female CEO

Category: Women, diversity, Women in Leadership, Gender Equality, Leadership, major, GlaxoSmithKine, proactive, sponsoring, supporting, pharmaceutical

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"We should be much more proactive about sponsoring and supporting all types of diversity to get to the senior leadership positions,” says Emma Walmsley, the first woman to head up a major pharmaceutical company.

As CEO of GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) she sits at the helm of a science-led global healthcare company working to support people to do more, feel better, live longer. That runs from the top of the management structure down.

At GSK we’re committed to an inclusive environment where all employees feel engaged and know the value of the contribution they make. That’s an environment which welcomes a range of ideas, perspectives and experiences. This push for individual innovation and empowerment creativity makes good business sense.

Gender equality in modern business

Ms Walmsley explains, "You cannot be a modern employer in an industry that should be future facing and modernizing (arguably much more aggressively than it is) without being very demanding on this topic.” She adds, “I really do think the part of our trust agenda is being a modern employer where whoever you are … you can bring the very best version of yourself to work without fear of any kind of inappropriate behaviour.”

In practice this means understanding and responding to the needs of patients and healthcare workers in all our markets. And attracting and supporting a workforce that reflects the diverse communities we both operate in and collaborate with. For example, we’re highly committed to flexible working. Our staff face changing requirements and demands at different stages of their lives and where, possible, we’ll respond with flexible solutions. We’re also looking at attitudes that may create barriers to gender equity in our senior roles, and empowering individuals to enact change.

We believe this work is making an impact. The percentage of women in management within the company is rising steadily.  Five of our non-executive directors are women (31% of the Board). Three members of our Corporate Executive Team are women (23% of the team).

Emma Walmsley believes setting this tone is important. “I try to define myself personally by my job … rather than by my gender. But I recognize the responsibility I have as a leader, in brackets a little bit, as a role model, because you’re just more visible whether you like it or not, you just are more visible for that. And I have — I want to — represent diversity in that sense.”

About GSK

GSK is a science-led global healthcare company with over 99,000 employees and offices in more than 115 countries. We develop innovative medicines and brands used by millions of people around the world. GSK is headquartered in the UK and has major research centres in the UK, USA, Spain, Belgium and China, as well as 87 manufacturing sites globally.

Our commitments to inclusive employment include:

  • Promoting inclusion and diversity globally at GSK.
  • Creating a working environment that inspires people to grow and perform in a healthy and resilient way.
  • Extending volunteering opportunities to bring about positive change to communities and global health while providing individual development.


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VERCIDA works with over one hundred clients who are committed to creating an inclusive work environment. If you are an employer and interested in working with VERCIDA to promote your diversity and inclusion initiatives and attract the best candidates, please email [email protected] for more information.

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