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Empowering Women To Shatter The Glass Ceiling


The recently released 20th Commission for Employment Equity report revealed that women’s representation in management has seen a slow and steady increase in South Africa. However, the impact of COVID-19 is set to undo some of this progress. For this reason, it is now more important than ever for local businesses to continue to empower and support women to grow and thrive into executive positions.

One such company making significant strides is Pfizer South Africa, who won the Equal Representation and Participation Award at the Gender Mainstreaming Awards on 3 September 2020. The company was also a second finalist in the Women in Executive Committees in Multinationals category and was selected as a joint third finalist in the Investing in Young Women category.

The Gender Mainstreaming Awards acknowledge those companies that have actively worked towards gender diversity at the executive and board levels.

Equal Representation and Participation

Rhulani Nhlaniki, Country Manager at Pfizer South Africa says that these awards are testament to the transformation that the company has progressed on, over the last decade. “Our core value is equity where we believe that everybody deserves to be seen, heard and cared for. We have made it our focus to ensure women are well represented as part of the total headcount, as well as represented in the different areas of junior, middle and senior management. To do this, we implemented a targeted approach to ensure that our appointments are diverse. We are proud of the progress and look forward to continuing this into the future as we actively seek more male appointments, so we achieve true diversity.”

In collaboration with the Employment Equity Committee, employment equity targets are established by the Country Manager and HR Director, who are both passionate about driving diversity and inclusion within the business. The various business units are then held accountable for driving the equity agenda and ensuring the company meets these targets.

Women in Executive Committees in Multinationals

To date, women make up 73% (183 out of 248 employees) of Pfizer South Africa’s total headcount locally and out of 15 executive management positions, 10 are occupied by women (67%).

Women in executive management play a vital role in shaping our talent pipeline, adds Nhlaniki.  “They mentor and develop aspiring leaders and assist in the development of our talent pipeline.”

He points out that the women in the executive team fulfill various roles locally and internationally such as Commercial Heads, Head of HR, Head of Supply Chain, Head of Medical, Head of Corporate Affairs & Communication and Head of Regulatory.  “In these roles, they head up divisions responsible for strategic decisions that ultimately allow us to achieve our purpose which is to bring breakthroughs that change patients’ lives.”

Investing in Young Women

Nhlaniki says that to help women progress, Pfizer South Africa implemented various initiatives focused on growth and development. “This includes individual development plans, which incorporate on-the-job projects, access to mentorship opportunities and peer learning, executive coaching when the need arises as well as strategic secondments and stretch assignments both locally and internationally.”

Furthermore, our Learning and Development team are currently realigning a new senior leader framework in line with our values of courage, excellence, equity and joy, he explains. “These measures help us to grow and develop our internal talent and in the last 18 months 5 women have joined the executive team.”

Outside of the business, Pfizer has several initiatives that assists South African women to kick start and grow their careers in the health sector.  “One such partnership is with Unjani Clinics, whereby nurses are empowered to provide quality, primary affordable healthcare to underserved areas while building their own businesses and creating much-needed jobs in South Africa.”

At Pfizer, we believe that women should have a voice and we encourage them to lead in their respective positions at every level, he adds. “These awards have inspired us even further to continue on our business’ and the county’s path towards gender parity and women empowerment.”

“Diversity and inclusion are as crucial to building a successful business as they are to creating a vibrant team and culture, he adds. “As such, our inspiration is to be as diverse as the patients and communities we serve,” concludes Nhlaniki.