Gender Diversity is an Engine on the Path to Innovation- Niven Al-Khoury

Insights from Leaders
6 min readApr 30, 2021
Niven Al-Khoury

As a visionary leader in healthcare and the pharmaceutical industry, Niven Al-Khoury is General Manager General Medicines KSA & Gulf MCO for Sanofi.

She is not afraid to spearhead business turnarounds and cause transformational change. Her bold approach, and ability to take a broad overview to conceptualize things on a higher level, allow her to anticipate issues beforehand.

Niven was interviewed by Forbes Woman Russia to discuss why women’s leadership is essential for successful business development.

15 years ago, New Scientist magazine compared the global pharmaceutical industry with an aircraft whose crew on takeoff, not knowing where they were going to land. Pharmaceutical companies have invested a lot of money in the development of products with not obvious efficiency. Has the situation changed?

“I think focus is key here. We work every day to understand what are the health care needs of people across the world and then offer solutions to meet these needs. We are dedicated to therapeutic areas such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, immunology, oncology, multiple sclerosis, rare disease, rare blood disorders, and vaccines. We have a long track record of products that have become standards of care in may health issues and continue to invest in innovative approaches in many areas to bring the next generation of standards of care.”

How has working in countries such as Egypt and Canada influenced your outlook and career development? And how hard is it for a female leader to work there?

“Building a career in Arab countries was not easy. During the so-called Egyptian Revolution — a series of mass demonstrations, riots, and civil disobedience acts taking place in the country in the year 2011 — I became General Head at Sanofi not just for Egypt but for Sudan also, kick-starting the pharmaceutical company presence and influence in the Arab world. At moving time technology was not so advanced yet, thus everything was even more difficult. I had no GPS and I didn’t know for sure where the hospitals or my own house were. Communicating was really difficult also — people noticed my accent and many of them were unable to communicate with me. As a woman, barriers were even higher. The society was quite chauvinistic and as a leader and head to a large local company, I had to demonstrate that one’s gender does not influence one’s career. I think there are no male or female leaders, there are leaders, period. A true leader, who is credible and respectable, is to be treated as a master, not as a man or woman. People must realize your actual value, then they will start not minding what your gender is. Working in such conditions helped me become more open to new opportunities, learn to cope with difficulties more effectively, adapt and, of course, maximizing my stress resistance.”

Do you support the ideas of feminism?

“In spite of all my experiences and beliefs I do not see myself as a feminist, but as a woman who believes in inclusion and the power of diversity. It is really important to provide people skills, confidence, courage, and support, not just for women but for everybody. I would give credit to any ambitious person pursuing one’s own dreams, gender aside.”

Please, define several reasons why equality between men and women in the corporate world is important.

“I believe that women are still underrepresented in leadership positions in the field of healthcare and beyond. I’m sure it is possible and essential to put gender balance into practice. McKinsey's study in 2017 showed companies with women in the Executive Committee is 47% more profitable than companies with only men in the EC. It proves there is a link between women's leadership and economic indicators. The World Health Organization reports that gender has an impact on health equity: women and girls suffer more from specific diseases and often have trouble in accessing healthcare. By bringing more women leaders into the healthcare industry, we will improve this situation. My motto is: “Innovation needs diversity. Diversity is the engine we need to innovate”. I support the abandonment of gender bias. The world needs more leaders who can transform businesses, and leadership is gender independent.”

What are the benefits of getting away from the comfort zone?

“Stepping off my comfort zone made me find my leadership potential, adapt to a new culture, and, more importantly, give my career a new direction. I worked as a pharmacist, but then I discovered industry and research and thus discovered/found myself also in the process. Difficulties and discomforts help develop the skills needed for building a successful career. Only by facing difficulties and finding ourselves in a situation outside the comfort zone, each of us can see our points of growth and true potential. The discomfort we experience allows us to empower and expand. We learn to see broader perspectives, reduce the “blind spots” of our competencies, and can look at everything that happens from a broader perspective.”

How can you achieve a balance between work and family life? Please, give us some tips.

“There is no single approach to how to optimally allocate time between work and personal tasks. Focus on your feelings, on what brings you pleasure and peace of mind. You should remember that the balance between work and personal time is unstable, it depends on life circumstances and can change throughout life. And only when you find this point of balance within yourself and in your life (as well as your loved ones, children, friends), you can boldly walk towards your dream. It is impossible to succeed in life if the balance between personal time and work tasks makes you uncomfortable.

“Remember that success is movement, not an end goal. And only thanks to a clear boundary between work and personal life, which each of us adjusts to ourselves, it is possible to maintain efforts and achieve what we want. For me, personal time means spending quality time with my family. I always discuss every step in my career with my husband, who supports me. My two sons are proud of their mother: I want my example to inspire them.”

What are the 6 rules of a true leader?

“Foresight and a clear understanding of your goals;

The goals should be clear not only to the leader but also to the whole team because consistent and coordinated work is extremely important for success;

Do not forget about mutual assistance. Success is a merit of the entire team, especially in organizations where achievement depends on professional relationships and trust.

Always try to anticipate different scenarios for the development of the situation. Try to develop flexibility and adaptability in yourself, although these qualities will manifest themselves if you try to envisage various options for the development of events.

You can take advantage of the fact that your employees of different ages and genders have different backgrounds and cultures. Diversity is the key to innovation.

It is equally important to constantly seek and support talented employees, providing them with opportunities for growth and development. They can become leaders in the future and contribute to the success of the company.”

Read the original article here.



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