Promoting Diversity and Inclusion in Healthcare

Insights from Parmjot Bains, Pfizer Gulf Cluster Country Manager on the ‘DEI by Design’ Initiative”

Shereen Shabnam

Recently, Pfizer Middle East and the Arab International Women’s Forum (AIWF) collaborated on a virtual panel series initiative titled ‘DEI by Design: Women’s Leadership and Legacy in Health’. The series drew from the insights of luminaries in healthcare, advocacy and policymaking to explore salient diversity issues impacting women’s inclusion in global and MENA health.

Pfizer and AIWF have now revealed the recommendations to emerge from that series, encapsulating a rich synthesis of these conversations and delivering a set of rich, impactful and action-oriented recommendations for engagement, reform and embedment of DEI principles into healthcare working practices, places and cultures.

We get insights from Parmjot Bains, Pfizer Gulf Cluster Country Manager about this initiative.

Can you provide an overview of the ‘DEI by Design: Women’s Leadership and Legacy in Health’ initiative and its goals in promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion in the healthcare sector?

In 2022-2023, AIWF and Pfizer were proud to collaborate on a virtual panel series initiative titled ‘DEI by Design: Women’s Leadership and Legacy in Health’, exploring salient diversity issues impacting women’s inclusion in global and MENA health.  This initiative, and the report and rich recommendations it has produced, is an important step towards addressing social disparities and other DEI gaps that have long been prevalent in the male-dominated health sciences sector. 

Could you share some insights into the key themes and topics discussed during the panel series, and the notable speakers and experts who participated?

The key findings and recommendations of the report are born of comprehensive discussions with women in every part of the industry in several countries across the region. It highlights that promoting gender equality in healthcare across the MENA region requires a concerted effort across various fronts.

First, recognizing and celebrating the achievements of women leaders can serve as a powerful source of inspiration for young women and girls. Initiatives such as mentorship programs, guest speaker series, and networking events play a crucial role in connecting established women leaders with the next generation, fostering growth in educational and workplace settings. It’s imperative to embed diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) into education, workplace processes, and the overall mindset of health professionals. This involves agile and inclusive healthcare workplaces with policies eliminating gender bias and supporting work-life balance. Men’s support is essential in accelerating progress toward DEI, and instilling values like trust and equal opportunities from childhood is vital for cultivating a more inclusive STEM and healthcare workforce.

The post-COVID era highlights the intersection of healthcare and social justice, presenting an opportunity to advocate for health as a fundamental human right with a rights-based approach to DEI in healthcare. Creating respectful environments for health workers and patients, emphasizing inclusion, and fostering a cultural shift towards continuous learning and DEI values are imperative. Addressing acute health challenges for women in conflict zones and refugee camps emphasizes the need for women’s voices in decision-making to tailor medical provisions to unique community needs. Revisiting ethics codes, investing in homegrown research, and harnessing technological advances can empower women to lead and innovate. Governments must address public health issues, ensure women’s representation, and respond strategically to the mental health crisis. Initiatives targeting health disparities, enhancing health literacy, and promoting equitable access to care, coupled with collaborations between health authorities, hospitals, and academic institutions, lay the foundation for a more inclusive healthcare future in the MENA region.

The initiative aims to explore diversity issues impacting women’s inclusion in global and MENA health. Can you highlight some of the most pressing diversity challenges identified through these conversations?

Deep-rooted cultural and societal norms often prescribe traditional gender roles, reinforcing the perception that certain professions, including leadership roles in healthcare, are more suitable for men. This contributes to a systemic bias that can limit women’s access to educational opportunities and career advancement within the sector. Additionally, family expectations, such as the prioritization of domestic responsibilities, create challenges for women seeking to balance work and personal life, further impeding their progress in healthcare professions.

Educational opportunities also pose a significant hurdle for women in the MENA region. Limited access to quality education, particularly in rural areas, can restrict women from pursuing careers in healthcare from the outset. Moreover, instances of discrimination or bias within educational institutions can affect women’s ability to choose certain specialties or advance their careers in the healthcare field. These combined barriers contribute to the underrepresentation of women in leadership positions within the MENA healthcare sector, highlighting the need for concerted efforts to address gender-based disparities and promote inclusivity and equality.

What role does collaboration play in advancing diversity, equity, and inclusion in healthcare, and how has this initiative fostered collaboration among stakeholders?

Collaboration is pivotal in advancing diversity, equity, and inclusion in healthcare by fostering diverse perspectives, sharing best practices, and creating a supportive culture. Collaborative efforts amplify awareness, drive policy changes, and ensure that healthcare systems address the unique needs of diverse populations, ultimately promoting equal access and quality care for all.

AIWF and Pfizer are proud to have worked in close collaboration and in dialogue with all the stakeholders and speakers featured in this report, exploring how women can be better represented at all levels of the sector and in the process, paving the way for the next generation of women scientists and healthcare practitioners, researchers and innovators. The senior leadership of AIWF and Pfizer hope that the key findings and recommendations published within this report will inform workplace and regulatory policy on DEI in the health sector, and inspire the next generation of women leaders in global and MENA health.

In what ways can individuals and organizations in the healthcare sector engage with and implement the action-oriented recommendations provided in the report?

To implement the outlined recommendations, we turn to our comprehensive diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) strategies. This involves creating mentorship programs, networking events, and educational initiatives to support women’s professional growth. In fact, this is already at full force at Pfizer. We have the Leadership Aspiring Future Talents program focused on providing participants with best practices towards their leadership development based on mentoring, coaching and internal networking.

We will also prioritize transparency in career development and promotions, while also actively involving men as allies in the DEI journey. Furthermore, we will continue to foster a culture of continuous learning, trust, and empowerment, and support initiatives that address acute health challenges for women.

Barriers to implementing these recommendations in the region may include deeply ingrained cultural norms and societal expectations that reinforce gender stereotypes. Limited access to quality education and biases in educational institutions can also hinder women’s entry into healthcare professions. Additionally, political instability and conflicts in certain areas may pose challenges to implementing comprehensive healthcare and educational reforms. Overcoming these barriers requires collaborative efforts, advocacy for policy changes, and engagement with local communities to ensure the successful adoption of gender equality initiatives in the region.

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