On International Women’s Day on March 8, Sylvia Varela, Asia Area vice president at AstraZeneca, spoke to VIR’s Bich Thuy about her experience as a woman leader in healthcare and how AstraZeneca has been advocating for gender equality in Vietnam.
How is your visit to Vietnam this week?
This week, I, along with several senior AstraZeneca regional leaders, are in Vietnam to meet with our key healthcare partners to enhance public-private partnerships between AstraZeneca, the government, and other healthcare organisations as part of our long-term and deepening commitment to the people of Vietnam.
|Sylvia Varela, Asia Area vice president, AstraZeneca |
We are incredibly proud to have signed two MoUs this week. The first, signed with the Vietnam Ministry of Health, expands our strengthened partnership over the next five years across areas of disease prevention and control, manufacturing, and research and development.
It also solidifies the foundation for our new and ongoing activities with the ministry to build Vietnam’s health system resilience so that it is ready for future challenges while providing solutions to reduce carbon emissions and the impact of climate change.
AstraZeneca also signed an MoU with Tam Anh General Hospital to enhance the implementation of clinical trials, healthcare workforce capacity development, and ongoing patient support programmes.
These are crucial partnerships that will increase the healthcare capability within Vietnam and support the health system to become more equal, effective, and globally integrated.
What is your experience as a woman leader in healthcare? What is your advice to aspiring women leaders?
Reflecting on my more than 25 years in the pharmaceutical industry, I have been fortunate in my career journey. I have been supported by mentors and been provided with opportunities to broaden my horizons and grow.
When I was in Costa Rica, I had a female mentor and manager who convinced me to make one of the most important decisions in my career, which was moving abroad and exploring opportunities outside my home country. This decision was a leapfrog on my journey and has since opened many doors and taken me to over 20 countries where I learned so much about other cultures and people.
My advice to aspiring women leaders would be to not be afraid to take bold decisions, and believe in themselves and in their readiness for a new challenge.
At the same time, men, and the society as a whole, also play an important role on our path to achieve gender equality. Male leaders need to be mindful of the double standards and implicit bias that women face in and outside the workplace, and then create an open and inclusive environment where all voices are heard.
International Women’s Day falls on March 8 and this year’s theme is DigitALL: Innovation and technology for gender equality. What has AstraZeneca been doing in terms of innovating for gender equality in Asia, including Vietnam?
This year’s International Women’s Day theme focuses on digital innovation helping to achieve a more gender-equal world. At AstraZeneca, we know that unlocking innovation starts with an inclusive and diverse workplace, which is why we strive to create an environment where women are represented, valued, and empowered at all levels.
At AstraZeneca Vietnam, about two-thirds of our local workforce and close to half of the senior leaders are women. In 2020 and 2021, on International Day of the Child Girl, we also partnered with Plan International to organise a Girls’ Takeover event as part of our Young Health Programme. We invited young girls from Hanoi's high schools to walk in the shoes of AstraZeneca’s leaders and learn about the business.
In addition, several of our community investment and medical capability uplift programmes are helping to expand local patients’ access to disease prevention and early detection. A great example is GeneOn, an initiative where we are supporting hospitals to develop in-house, next-generation sequencing labs and providing genetic counselling to help Vietnamese women with breast and ovarian cancer have better access to precision diagnostics.
International Women’s Day is not just a day. It’s about the actions we take every day to ensure the equal rights of all women and girls. We need to actively create a society that is underpinned by a culture of belonging, where everyone has the opportunity to thrive.
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By Bich Thuy