For this edition of Sanofi Stories, we spent some time with Wema Hoover, the new Head of Diversity and Inclusion at Sanofi US who joined us in July. Learn more about Wema and her take on diversity and inclusion in this, the first in a series of interviews with her.
Welcome to Sanofi US and thanks for taking the time to speak with me. Maybe start by telling us how you came to pursue a career in diversity and inclusion?
To be honest, I’d have to say that it was mostly by accident. When I was a Human Resources Business Partner (HRBP) at Bristol-Myers Squibb, I helped support the opening of the company’s first research center outside of the U.S., in Bangalore, India. This experience helped me see the importance of connecting, relating, and working with individuals from different countries, cultures, and backgrounds. It really opened my eyes to what diversity is and the best ways to leverage differences. As it turned out, not only did the experience intrigue me personally, but it led the organization to create a position for me to lead the Diversity Center of Excellence.
What brought you to Sanofi?
Full disclosure… I worked with Sanofi CEO Olivier Brandicourt at Pfizer, and I knew he was a very strong proponent of diversity, so I was eager to learn more about the position at Sanofi US. As I interviewed with the company’s senior leaders, I could clearly see how we could define diversity for Sanofi in a way that would motivate, encourage and activate our employees.
Also, I saw opportunity in that the company recently moved to a global business unit structure. So employees are working with global colleagues more often, and this intensifies the need for creating a diverse and inclusive environment.
What is your personal philosophy on D&I?
I’m not sure I have one, but this is a good opportunity to say I don’t like calling it D&I because it’s such an ambiguous term. And people – especially here in the US – seem to tense up when they hear about D&I because it makes them feel uncomfortable – like they’ve been doing something wrong. And that’s not at all the case.
So I guess I would say that my philosophy is that if we were successful at diversity and inclusion, it would be so woven into the organization’s fabric that we wouldn’t need a D&I role. And we would be calling the way we operate as a company something else – maybe ‘successful talent management’ or ‘effective engagement processes’ or ‘innovative perspectives and practices’. I guess what I’m saying is we would have all the behaviors associated with diversity and inclusion without calling it that. Of course, that means I’d be out of a job.
What do you hope to accomplish in your first 100 days here at Sanofi US?
I have to watch myself because I tend to be overly ambitious. So I would say one of my early goals is to really define why D&I is important to Sanofi and how the behaviors and practices and tools embedded in D&I can add value to the work we do.
Then we need to establish key anchors and take a stance on the two or three things that will be our biggest contributions from a D&I perspective. We must ensure that those things are connected to our people processes, our organization’s strategy or to how we are connecting with our customers and patients in much more meaningful ways. And then we need to rally around them.
Another key goal for me is to help establish more understanding and recognition of the value of our Employee Resource Groups. They are doing amazing things, and I want to help people see that the work they’re doing not only benefits our employee base but also supports organization initiatives. The groups’ members also provide insights that in the past we had to go outside the organization to get.