Q & A: Peter Anastasiou on Gender Parity in Pharma – Why it Matters, Where There is More Work to be Done

Recently, Peter Anastasiou, Lundbeck’s executive vice president and head of North America, was recognized by the Healthcare Businesswomen’s Association (HBA) as the 2019 Honorable Mentor of the Year. This industry accolade goes to an individual who demonstrates a long-term commitment to advancing women in the workforce and is dedicated to mentoring and promoting women in the industry. A longtime champion of gender parity in the biopharmaceutical industry, Peter has made it a priority to promote women to leadership positions within Lundbeck. Why? Because it’s the honorable thing to do, it’s good for business and, ultimately, it will allow Lundbeck to best meet the needs of the patient communities it serves, he explains.

You can watch a video of Peter’s Honorable Mentor acceptance speech here. And below, Peter shares his thoughts on receiving the award, the industry’s progress toward gender parity and where there is still work to be done.

Q: What did it mean to you to receive this award?
Peter Anastasiou:
It meant a tremendous amount. I have been attending the annual Woman of the Year event for years and have long admired the work of the HBA—you don’t have to be a woman to be inspired by all the HBA does to advance gender parity. To now be an honoree at this important event is humbling. The recognition is especially meaningful because my Lundbeck colleagues nominated me. I value their opinions and also trust them to hold me accountable when it comes to gender equality in our workforce.

Q: Did any female mentors play an important role in your own career path?
My mother was my first female mentor. She and my father came to the United States from Greece in the 1950s, uneducated immigrants seeking a better life. She was a stay-at-home mom and I’m certain she never viewed herself as anyone’s career mentor. But my mother taught me, through her actions, just how important it is to support women and provide them equal opportunity to succeed.

She supported my two older sisters, one of whom came to this country with my parents at age 6. With her immigrant family and hard-to-pronounce last name, she was often viewed as an outsider in our homogenous community. But my sister didn’t let anything stand in her way. With my mother encouraging her every step of the way, she became the first in our extended family to get a college education, and then went on to become a pharmacist. My middle sister also got her degree and worked in marketing. Both of my sisters have guided me throughout my life as mentors and role models; and the way my old-country mother encouraged and cheered their success made an indelible impression on me.

Q:  Why is gender equality in the workforce important to you today?
I champion gender equality in the workforce because it’s the honorable thing to do. But it’s also good for business. Studies demonstrate that an equal gender mix contributes to diversity of thought and leads to better business performance. It’s about material improvement in sales, operating margins and shareholder value. In fact, research shows that publicly traded companies with more women on their executive teams are more likely to experience above-average profitability. The business case for gender equality is clear. 

This is especially true in healthcare, an industry in the midst of transformative change. Now, more than ever, healthcare needs agile thinkers. We need to tap the best and the brightest amongst us, and we need to ensure that these influencers have the on-ramps they need to assume leadership roles in our organizations.

I also support gender equality in the workforce because we can’t effectively meet the needs of our patient communities if we lack diversity of experiences and opinions in our own organization. More than 700 million people across the globe are impacted by brain diseases; there is no gender monopoly on suffering caused by brain diseases, and brain diseases are an equal opportunity plague on all of us. Accurately identifying and meeting the needs of people living with brain diseases requires that our organization represents the diverse populations we serve. 

Peter Anastasiou accepting the 2019 Healthcare Businesswomen's Association Honorable Mentor award.

Q: How are you advancing gender parity at Lundbeck?
PA: Gender parity doesn’t happen overnight, it takes a long-term, serious commitment. I work to ensure promoting women is a priority at Lundbeck, and I’m proud to say that 50 percent of my leadership team is comprised of women. Across Lundbeck US, 54 percent of VPs and above are female.

Also, while women in the United States earn 85 cents on the dollar, compared with men, here at Lundbeck, women make 97 cents on the dollar, compared with men. We are not at parity, but we will be soon, and I am proud that we are at the forefront of pay equity.

While I am very proud of our achievements, I want to acknowledge that we are not yet where we need to be with women of color, and this is a priority.

Q: What role does mentorship play in achieving gender parity?
PA: When it comes to the progress our industry still needs, I believe mentorship is crucial. Studies show that those who are mentored are promoted five times more often than those who are not. Mentorship is especially important for women because research shows they don’t always get the support they need from their direct managers. Research from the consulting firm McKinsey & Company found that managers provide less support to women than men and are less likely to help them navigate organizational politics. Mentoring can help us close this gap and provide women the support and resource they need, even if their own managers do not.

But, we can’t mentor just to get the numbers right. We need to focus our mentoring efforts on truly leveling the playing field. Numerical parity does not fix this. We need to provide mentorship to ensure there is no “thumb on the scale” when it comes to how things get done, who gets listened to, whose ideas are respected. We need to mentor women with a single goal in mind: true equality in the workplace.

Q: What advice do you have for male leaders?
PA: I challenge everyone to look for more opportunities to mentor or be mentored. Make it a priority.  And for those who mentor, I promise you will get something out of it too. With all of us working together – and leveraging the power of mentorship - I’m confident we will soon achieve gender parity in our industry – and we will be better for it.


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