Astellas Pharma starts career improvement program for women

GLENVIEW — Elevating women to higher company positions and developing their health and wellness are the intentions of a new effort at Astellas Pharma, the international pharmaceutical business in Glenview.

In July, Astellas launched the Women’s Employee Resource Group with the purpose of giving them self-prescribed choices to improve the workplace and personal lives.

Of the 3,000 Astellas employees in the region, 180 joined the Women’s Employee Resource Group.

They were surveyed to identify important employee issues.

An area having the most substance was ensuring that women were appropriately represented in management, including the senior level.

Another goal was in professional development by bringing in guest speakers and implementing a mentoring program, in which Astella executives would be mentors to employees in a one to one relationship.

In structuring the groups, each is assigned a sponsor from Astellas’ executive ranks, often of different gender and race to expand their perspectives.

Bill Fitzsimmons, a divisional executive vice president for Astellas, is the women’s group sponsor.

“My role is breaking down barriers and advocating for women’s issues. I can be their voice at company meetings,” said Fitzsimmons, a 24-year employee.

“Bill is wonderful in this role because he’s well respected by the women here. He can help them with career advice,” said Collette Taylor, senior vice president of Astellas human resources.

In all, Astellas has seven Employee Resource Groups to represent workers: women, African Americans, Hispanics, Asians, lesbian/gay/bisexual/ transgender, military veterans and for the disabled and their families.

“Often, companies have a paternalistic view of workers with a prescribed set of steps for employee development,” Taylor said.

“We want our employees to take initiatives of their own and come to us with ideas. They need a way to feel empowered.”

Taylor also said none of the resource groups have resisted the program; in fact, they compete for best and most unique ideas to improve their workplace and careers.

“The program spurs ideas. We want employees coming to work fully engaged,” she said.

The Employee Resource Group program is similar to the Women’s Innovative Network for Diversity in Tokyo, where the Japanese-owned Astellas is headquartered.

WIND was started in 2007 to promote the hiring and advancement of women.

“Astellas as a whole group engages in diversity management as a core initiative, with the aim of growing as a truly global company where all employees can actively participate, regardless of race, nationality, gender, or age,” stated a company release.

In March, Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry awarded the Women’s Employee Resource Group its Diversity Management Selection 100 for promoting diverse management.

Karen Cates, adjunct lecturer of management and organizations at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management in Evanston, said women advocacy programs could be beneficial, but added they were a “short short term, targeted solution, in my opinion.”

She said women who gain company positions may have done so only because they completed the program, and often women-only groups did not include “power players.”

“If women participate in these programs because they are seeking high level positions, they should make sure that the power players support and are a part of the program,” she said in an email.

In addition, she believed organizations should seek managers based on leadership and adaptability — not on gender.

“But really, businesses should be interested in finding the right skills for the right scenario — and except in some specific instances, gender should have nothing to do with it,” she wrote.

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