Healthcare industry still lacks women at the top

Anna Protopapas is a rarity in the corporate world. Not only is she one of a small number of top-ranking women in the biopharmaceutical industry, but as executive vice-president of global business development at Takeda Pharmaceuticals, she is also one of only a few women at the top of a Japanese company.

Despite the large number of women in the healthcare field, it resembles other industries in its severe lack of women in high-level management jobs, according to the Healthcare Businesswomen’s Association.

Protopapas says healthcare suffers from the same issues as other industries. “It’s hard for a woman to have a career and family at the same time. It’s hard to juggle,” she told me recently.

Still, she is encouraged by the fact that women are represented in the healthcare industry in ever-increasing numbers, and she sees ripe opportunity for women in the field because of the qualities they bring to the table.

“I was attracted to healthcare because of the science, but also because of its mission to improve the outcome for patients,” Protopapas says. “I believe that is true for many women in the healthcare industry … We are an industry about talent and innovation. Women are often more perceptive. And they are often more patient about developing talent, and more nurturing, too.”

Her company, she says, is trying to do more to advance the careers of women. Tokyo-based Takeda is the largest pharmaceutical company in Japan and a global leader of its industry.

According to a survey by Toyo Keizai, the business publisher, women made up just 1.2 per cent of senior executives at Japanese listed companies in 2010. Six years ago, the country set a nonbinding goal that women would hold 30 per cent of leadership positions across most public and private industries by 2020.

“We’re sending high-potential women on leadership programmes, giving them rotations through international subsidiaries and giving them new mentors,” says Protopapas. “Despite the fact that in Japan there are not as many women in the ranks of senior management, Takada has made strong commitments to its women.”

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