During this year’s JPM conference there was much ado made about the gender gap amongst presenters. But having attended for a number of years, I can attest that is lessening, with more women attending and presenting nearly every year. But there were other observed differences at JPM worthy of highlighting. For example, this year’s conference saw the first female leader of a top 10 Big Pharma present. GSK’s CEO, Emma Walmsley, also presided over the company’s breakout session, and while not the most packed room I have ever seen at JPM (that distinction goes to Gilead back in 2015), it was still pretty full.
During the Q&A Walmsley deftly tackled queries on capital allocation and pipeline prioritization. When I asked a question about incorporating diversity into GSK’s leadership team and corporate board, she leaned forward, pulled the microphone toward her, and said, “I recognize the responsibility I have as a leader — [and] a little bit as a role model — because you’re just more visible, whether you like it or not. I want to represent diversity in that sense, and it is clearly true in this industry when you look at the gender agenda. But it’s not the only part of diversity that needs to be better represented.” According to Walmsley, she and GSK are also focused on representing diversity in other areas, such as LGBT, race, and personality. “As a leadership team and as a company, I really do think that part of our trust agenda is being a modern employer, where whoever you are, whatever shape or size you come in, whatever you look like, whatever you stand for, you can bring the very best version of yourself to work without fear of bullying or reprisal, let alone any kind of inappropriate behavior.” But Walmsley doesn’t believe companies should be approaching diversity in just a defensive fashion. “We should be much more proactive about sponsoring and supporting all types of diversity to get to the most senior leader positions, just for the most common sense factor of representing the societies we serve,” she added.