- By Satta Sarmah Hightower

Only 35% of corporate America’s senior managers and 24% of its C-suite leaders are women, while women of color account for just

4% of C-suite leaders and 9% of senior managers. These figures

suggest that advancing diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) in the workplace will require companies to put more energy into the

initiative than they have up to now. Pfizer, a 2021 Forbes “Best

Employers for Women” list honoree, offers one model for how companies can move forward. Here’s how the pharmaceut­ical company made equity one of its core values.


“Our DEI efforts have to be bold, just like our purpose is. They’re

aimed at changing the lives of our people,” says Payal Sahni

Becher, executive vice president and chief human resources officer at Pfizer. Those efforts, she says, won’t only give each employee a voice and ensure that Pfizer “look[s] like the population and patients” it serves: They’ll also help drive innovation by harnessing

the creativity of a wider range of talent.

Pfizer’s DEI programs eschew an incrementa­l approach in favor of precisely those bold efforts that Becher is calling for. The company, for example, in 2019 adopted metrics-driven

opportunit­y parity goals that ensure fairness in promotions and

horizontal movement across demographi­c groups, with the goal of increasing female and Black, Indigenous, Latino/Hispanic, People of Color representa­tion in leadership roles by 2025.

Its Breakthrou­gh Fellowship Program, a nine-year commitment designed to increase Black, Indigenous, Latino/Hispanic, People

of Color representa­tion at the company, launched this year with

a group of 19 rising undergradu­ate fellows who participat­ed in a 10-week summer internship at the company. Fellows are eligible for two years of full-time employment at Pfizer after they graduate from

college. After that two-year period, the company will also pay for

them to complete a full-time two-year MBA, MPH or MS statistics degree program and offer them a summer internship between the first and second years of that program. Finally, fellows can return to Pfizer for a permanent position upon the program’s completion.

Pfizer aims to develop 100 fellows by 2025.


“This is not just lofty goals without metrics,” Becher says. “We have very clear metrics that we’re measuring ourselves against.” Pfizer, she says, wants “to move the needle, and we want to move it big.”

By 2025, Pfizer aims to achieve a global workforce with 47% women at the VP level and above, increase Black, Indigenous, Latino/Hispanic, People of Color representa­tion in leadership roles to 32% and double the population of Black and Latino/ Hispanic employees within its U.S. workforce. Pfizer has already made significan­t strides in many of these areas. As of December 2020, the company had increased Black, Indigenous, Latino/

Hispanic, People of Color and female representa­tion at the VP

level and above by 2.5% and 5.1% since 2019, respective­ly. Women now make up a third of Pfizer’s executive leadership


“We have more women in leadership now than we ever have, and not just in our C-suite but at all of our leadership levels,” Becher says.

Becher, whose family came to the U.S. as refugees from Afghanista­n, understand­s firsthand the value of DEI initiative­s. She joined Pfizer in 1997 through an internship program before being offered a full-time role. The company paid for her final year of graduate school, which Becher says was life-changing

for her family.

“What I experience­d was a company that put me first,”

she says.

She says the support, encouragem­ent and guidance she’s

received from allies of all background­s and from female mentors at Pfizer have helped her flourish at the company, and Pfizer is

now nurturing a new generation of talented, diverse leaders.

“[We we’re…the want to] voice make of change sure and that we’re keeping our values front and center. When we say equity, we mean it. We want to make sure that we look exactly like what we’re standing for.”

PAYAL SAHNI BECHER Executive Vice President and Chief Human Resources Officer, Pfizer

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