VIEW: Why Australian Pharma Needs to #ChooseToChallenge this International Women’s Day

The following is a guest post from Elaine Phillips, Business Unit Director – Oncology at BMS Australia.

I’m a girl who was born in the 70s to a very traditional ‘housewife’ family, with a brother who experienced different expectations to myself. Over the course of my 20 year career, my confidence and self-belief has certainly grown. Through finding the right mentors, networking and being open to feedback, my mindset has changed.

While society has certainly progressed and there are more and more opportunities for women each day, I’m adamant there is more to do.

I recently read an article that none of us will see gender parity in our lifetime, and that it’s highly unlikely our children will either1. This statistic really stayed with me.  

This year’s theme for International Women’s Day is #ChooseToChallenge, and I’m calling on the Australian pharma industry to challenge ourselves through conversation and action.  

We need to strive for more diverse and inclusive working environments that ultimately reflect our diverse customer base, the stakeholders we interact with and our patients.

Stereotypes and barriers are still an obstacle

Ask any woman and I can assure you she will have at least one story of how gender has affected situations in the workplace. 

I remember just four months into my maternity leave, I had a check-in call that left me incredibly overwhelmed at how much had changed already since I’d left. The thought of returning to work and how little I would know made me weak at the knees – my confidence had taken a big hit!

And I’m not alone – The Diversity Council of Australia recently released a report titled ‘In 2020, do we still really need workplace gender equalitywhich highlights that women with children experience a ‘motherhood penalty’. A combination of years not working due to interruptions, part-time employment and unpaid care and work account for 39% of the gender pay gap.2

Women also face significant barriers in trying to enter the STEMM workforce. Despite female academics and researchers making up 43% of the jobs in the science sector, only one fifth of them have senior positions.3 Women are also less likely than men to enter STEMM careers due to stereotypes, non-inclusive workplace cultures and a lack of access to flexible work plans and childcare.

If we want to make wins for our patients, we need diversity

Gender equality in the pharmaceutical industry isn’t just important in driving business performance – it’s integral to the work we output, the medicines we produce and to the patients we care for. From ensuring there is accurate representation in clinical trials to the delivery of new treatments, if we want to make wins for our patients, we need diversity.

So how can Australian pharmaceutical companies rise to the challenge and strive harder for diversity in the workplace? We are all learning and we will make mistakes but having open dialogue is key to making sure that everyone can bring their unique selves to work every day.

In my time at BMS Australia, I can certainly see that diversity and inclusion is a key driver of success.

I have recently taken on a role as an Executive Sponsor of the Bristol Myers Squibb Network of Women (B-NOW), a group which aims to embrace gender diversity in the workplace, celebrate the achievements of BMS women and provide meaningful development opportunities through a range of programs and activities.

One of the standout initiatives we’ve implemented is the Back2Work Buddy Program. This program helps returning parents make the journey back into the workplace by pairing them with an experienced buddy that can share tips, acknowledge challenges and provide reassurance that they are not alone. The BMS Managing My Career course is another tool in the belt of our people – a practical course with hints and tips, supporting women to take a proactive approach to their career development.

I can confidently speak of the powerful impact of these programs, because I know how valuable they would have been as I sat on my four month maternity leave catch-up feeling overwhelmed. By making meaningful contributions to our colleagues on a personal level, we can move towards gender parity and advocate for the advancement of all women in their careers.

Let’s rise to the challenge

International Women’s Day is a day to reflect and to keep the topic of gender diversity and inclusion alive. It is also a time for us to encourage others to focus on creating gender diverse and inclusive working environments that reflect the diverse patients and stakeholders we interact with.

If we want to achieve our goal of gender parity we need to challenge ourselves and our colleagues to move towards each other and have those difficult conversations.

What are you going to #ChooseToChallenge this International Women’s Day?  


  1. Diversity Council Australia, 2020, In 2020 Do We Still Need Workplace Gender Equality?
  2. Global Gender Gap Report  – 2020 –
  3. Higher Education Research Data, 2016. Accessed from:

About the expert

Elaine Phillips studied a BSc (Hons) in Molecular Biology at Glasgow Caledonian University and has more than 20 years’ experience working in STEMM. She is currently the Oncology Business Unit Director for Bristol Myers Squibb Australia and New Zealand, a global biopharmaceutical company focused on discovering, developing and delivering innovative medicines for patients with serious diseases. 

Image description: Headshot of Elaine in front of a grey marble background. Her arms are crossed in front of her, she has short blonde hair, and she wears a blue blazer over a black blouse.