As the Asia Pacific region continues to accelerate economically and evolve demographically, organizations are increasingly monitoring whether their workforces reflect the diverse audiences they serve. For healthcare stakeholders, we must be able to navigate the immense range of languages, religions, customs, traditions, belief systems and values, especially as more patients in our region take an active role in their health decisions.
A robust mix of perspectives and untraditional thinking sparks enlightened debate and inspires creativity, which helps transform a fresh idea into meaningful innovation. This philosophy keeps us curious and open to new solutions to unmet medical needs.
When it comes to workplace diversity, the debate has moved away from why we should be diverse to how we can effectively be diverse to reach our full potential, while making a difference for patients.
There is no longer any doubt about whether workforce diversity inspires innovation, or whether it improves the bottom line for companies. Abundant research has confirmed that companies that integrate diversity and inclusion into their operations out-innovate and out-perform others.
In fact, in January, Johnson & Johnson topped the Forbes list of the most innovative companies in the pharmaceutical industry, defined by the number of new medicines that have been approved over the past ten years. I believe our unwavering global commitment to a diverse and inclusive culture strongly contributed to this achievement.
Striking the Right, Harmonious Balance When It Comes to Diversity
In Asian cultures, achieving balance across diverse elements of a group is a higher priority than celebrating the uniqueness of the individual. This is, in part, inspired by the Confucius philosophy of pursuing harmony in the face of diversity.
Given this, diversity can cause discomfort and even disruption in a region that strives for harmony. Fully embracing diversity means we may not reach decisions as quickly, and we may need to keep pushing ourselves to adapt until a new way of operating gains momentum. In my view, harmonizing diversity means allowing healthy dissent and curiosity to take over in the pursuit of unlocking new insights.
It is particularly important for those of us coming from more homogenous backgrounds to allow for a flash of constructive conflict that may restart the discussion. People need to feel it’s safe to express a different perspective in a respectful environment that does not judge them.
That uncomfortable silence when someone suggests an unconventional idea, in an untraditional way, is precisely the moment where we must stop, listen and dig into the opportunity.
It is equally important not to assume that colleagues with diverse backgrounds are tapping into support networks and resources that will empower them to grow into global roles. We must proactively encourage diverse talent to access opportunities that they may not intuitively pursue, such as mentoring programs, online learning and experience working in other countries.
Being open to contradictions to our conventional wisdom also makes us stronger partners to other healthcare stakeholders as we improve our understanding of our dynamic region through different perspectives. This includes how patients interpret and cope with pain and illness, how governments can tackle stigma and other public health challenges, and how healthcare professionals educate patients and their colleagues about complex treatment regimens.
Traditional strategies become less relevant when we prioritize patient needs. Conformity is no longer the place to be.
Since being appointed as Company Group Chairman of Janssen Asia Pacific in 2014, Kris Sterkens has secured high profile, long-term R&D investment agreements with major governments, as well as initiatives to improve access to the company’s medicines.
Under his leadership, operating companies across the region have launched a range of programs to improve the lives of patients by applying innovative technology solutions that address unmet medical needs, creating funding schemes that improve affordability and forming public-private partnerships to support people living with chronic diseases and the healthcare professionals who care for them.