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Be Bold - Think Differently! Some highlights from the European Leadership Summit 2022

HBA European Leadership Summit

The HBA ELS 2022 conference flew by so fast, and I took some time to digest the wonderful content we saw. You'll find my highlights and some personal notes on the ELS2022 below. Feel free to share your thoughts, different insights or ideas below! I'd be curious to hear about them. In the end, DE&I really is all about open conversation and really understanding each other.


I want to take a moment to thank all of the volunteers that made this edition of ELS2022 such a success! Volunteering is hard work and we set aside our own priorities to make things work. So thank you - really! Also a little shout-out to the wonderful Sandra Van London (our HBA Brussels president) and Carola Bleeker (our HBA Brussels director of operations), who both did an awesome job as ELS2022 hosts.


Day 1

ELS2022 was kicked off with an HBA Corporate Partners executive brunch, to thank our sponsors for all they do and offer them the chance to meet with likeminded leaders in the lifescience business. We reconnected with familiar faces and met a lot of new ones. The topic of the session was "Leading in the new era - how can you intentionally balance change, wellness and business as usual?" and was sponsored by Organon.

We heard about "leading with purpose" from Organon's Managing Director Petra Willems. Key messages were that, to lead with purpose, it's most important to be authentic, and always keep wondering, and questioning. Truly listen to your employees and people.

The keynote speech was followed by coffee round tables. Through brainstorming sessions in focusgroups, we deep-dived into four topics;

  • How can we ensure wellness at the top leadership?
  • How leaders can step up and help deliver transformational changes?
  • How can we do this with a special focus on digital transformation?
  • How we can involve "invisible people and unheard voices" and tap into the Power of All through inclusivity.

The input was rich, coming from different angles and experiences. Some ideas that really struck a chord;

  • The importance to not feel guilty about taking time for yourself.
  • Set up and communicate your boundaries clearly, and decide for yourself what your priorities are - don't let others decide for you.
  • To drive transformation, the way you communicate is key. Look for the change actors in your organization and allow them to take responsibility.
  • When driving change, you will be met with resistance. Investigate why and listen to people's fears in order to understand and help them.
  • In a world of hybrid and remote working, we will need to find ways to keep employees included and involved. Through creating visibility, keeping a "brag" folder in their inbox, and truly take the time in virtual meetings to ask them "how are you doing, really?" - Reconnect F2F whenever you can.

Re-connecting with the corporate partners passed by too quickly, but ended with the promise to keep our newly formed connections alive. Already looking forward to the next HBA Brussels Corporate Quarterly Connect on September 16th!

After lunch, the ELS2022 program kicked off with a keynote on "Shared Commitment - How to turn a personal mission into a professional purpose" by Merck Healthcare's Senior Vice President Europe - Marieta Jimenez. Her personal story was incredibly inspiring and it shows that having true purpose is being seen and felt by people. Purpose will attracts followers, and people that want to be with you on your journey, because they feel they belong. And it is okay to dream big things!

Following this, was Brendan McGeever's keynote on "To drive change, act like a salesperson"! He explained about the framework they use at Google to learn salespeople how to take a no and turn it into a useful and customer-centric answer. I will never look at "bananas" the same way. There were some great negotiation basic tactics. We learned on how we should understand what is behind a "no", how to receive and give feedback using the POPO framework (What I did great/What you did great/What I could improve/What you can improve), and how to use that feedback to drive organizational change. 

After this great session, there was a panel discussion on "Driving Change - Organizational, Strategic, Cultural" with panelists Oualae Alami (Pfizer), Alexander Alonso (BD) and Laetitia Decroix Guilloux (Johnson & Johnson). Some strong and powerful statements were shared. If we truly believe in diversity as a strategic competitive advantage, then why is the sense of urge currently not yet a non-negotiable? We need to drive diversity in the same way we manage other company goals. Through measuring data, setting up KPIs and truly understanding where things are going wrong so we can adress these issues at their roots. And most importantly, we need to have clarity on what exactly it is we want to change, and explain our "why".

One key observation is that we see an important "drop-out" of female leaders in the middle-management levels of our organizations. Some clear and actionable take-aways were that:

  • the need to ensure that only the real requirements for the position are in the job description
  • we can add a line in job descriptions that it is OK to only tick 70% of the boxes (notably one of the conclusions of our previous HBA Brussels Quarterly Corporate Connect, as well)
  • the importance of individual mentorship and how companies should ensure those for their female employees
  • the importance of people speaking up for you when you are not in the room (sponsorships)

 This great panel discussion was followed by a "Designing for Innovation and Disruption" workshop session brought by Jennifer Batey. On how that customers in fact, don't know what they want. And how important it is to collect insights from them to better understand their true needs in order to innovate and be able to find creative ways to meet those. We did this through "Jobs to be done" worksheets. The key was to understand what jobs customers were trying to solve with their decision/purchase, through a more thorough understanding of their pains and gains. And in the end, how to make sure that we "don't build better camera's, but create better photographers".

The first day of ELS content was concluded with a speaker presentation on "Accomplishments do not speak for themselves". I really want to shout out to Myriam Schächtel because the #Iamremarkable project that started in 2016 as an initiative at Google is just A-MA-ZING. The importance of self-promotion in your personal and professional life is often underestimated. Being humble is one thing. But it's not bragging when it is based on facts! <3

To thank the HBA Europe volunteers for all their hard work over the past few years and during the pandemic, we had a wonderful Greek dinner at Strofilia together. Did you know that the first HBA chapter in Europe was founded back in 2010? Since that date, the Europe region has known a tremendous growth, thanks to these volunteers! HBA co-founder Peg Dougherty was present as well and she told her inspiring story on how the HBA started out in 1977, (over 45 years ago!) and grew to be the worldwide organization it is now, with about 10000 members in over 76 countries and counting. How can we not be proud about that? :-)

Day 2

 Day 2 was kicked off with a keynote speech on "Leveraging Intersectional Diversity Through Inclusive Leadership" by Phaedria Marie St. Hilaire. The different types of diversity in groups were discussed through the four layers of diversity model [Gardenswartz & Rowe].

Four layers of diversity model [Gardenswartz & Rowe]


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We know that diversity can raise the level of innovation. However, it does not matter how diverse our teams are, if we are not willing to preserve their authenticity and want to conform them to our way of thinking. Personal thinking is shaped by our culture, our backgrounds, our experiences and personality, and there exists something that is called affinity or similarity bias. In order for diversity to reach its true potential, ensuring that we look passed that bias through inclusive leadership (Sharing/Daring/Caring) is key. Sharing our own vulnerabilities and struggles, daring to have uncomfortable conversations, and call things out if they are not right. And truly caring about our teams, through showing them their opinion matters. In order to continuously improve, establish feedback loops to ensure all voices are heard. This will benefit our organizations in the long run. Even if it takes more time and energy to reach a well-managed diverse team, they will in the long run outperform homogenous and well-managed teams.

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 A panel discussion on “DE&I in the workplace (and corporate strategies to implement)” was moderated by Phaedria in which Jamila Louahed (GSK), Nadine Paschen (Daichi Sankyo) and Sally McNab (BMS) discussed what their companies have done, and how the road ahead looks like, to foster DE&I. Some highlights were the different employee programs the different companies have. I liked the three-phases approach of "Be you. Feel good. Keep growing." Ensuring we put up personal development goals that are measurable is crucial if we want to achieve our dreams.

We also discussed how important it is to involve men into these initiatives and discussion, and discussed the importance of allyship. I want to really take a moment and say thank you, to all men that were present in the room. They showed their support and listened in on the (sometimes difficult) conversations we had. Real culture shift towards more gender parity will only happen when we are allies together. I'm really curious too to hear their input on the highlights of what they took away from ELS2022, so please do comment below on your take-aways!

My absolute favorite keynote came from Dr. in leadership Gabriel Morin - on Leadership through turbulent times - Women CEOs during COVID-19. Maybe because I'm rather a fan of management through data analysis and statistics :-). One of the biggest struggles in gender equity discussions is the lack of unbiased data to back up our statements around topics of female leadership as the existing literature is often ambivalent and rather based on qualitative empirical analyses concentrated on limited sample sizes (in terms of the number of countries, sectors, companies or women involved). He mentioned how the perceived difference between leadership by women and men sometimes has more to do with the gender of the follower than of the person who leads (Chin 2014; Saint-Michel 2011). And how other studies have shown that differences in leadership style are often related to the economical, cultural, sectoral and organizational contexts of the concerned companies (Chin 2014). To fill these gaps and have more meaningful discussions around leadership, Dr. Morin mentioned how we need more absolute, quantitative data. Through AI and NLP methods, a multidisciplinary team of data scientists (S&P) and management science researchers (from the Paris Panthéon-Asses University) analysed an index comprising thousands of the world's leading companies across countries and sectors, as well as nearly 5000 earnings call transcripts featuring commentary by both women and men CEOs during the pandemic. Dr. Morin showed us how that research resulted in 5 data-backed findings:

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  • On 25th of Jan, 2021, women CEOs were still significantly under-represented (5% of the database analysed)
  • Countries with a higher share of women CEOs tend to have more gender-balanced labor force participation (see picture reposted from the article, which you can find interactively via the link below). This raises the question on what these countries are doing better, policy wise, and what we can do with the HBA (and other gender equity organizations) to drive towards that. (Do take a look at the interactive figure within the article
  • Sector and the country of companies best explain stock market performance. According to the research, CEO gender doesn’t explain companies’ total returns performance, and underscores that gender does not determine success in that optic. It suggests that diversity among a group of leaders is more likely to shape performance than the gender of one leader. What likely matters more according to the authors than gender is a mix of both experience and views. This underlines the importance of inclusive leadership, as we have talked about during other parts of the ELS2022 conference. Healthcare and real estate companies are 4 times more likely to have a woman CEO than energy companies. I'd be curious to understand how that relates to the gender-balanced labor force participation in those industries, and what actionable conclusions we could take from this.
  • Women CEO's exhibit a more positive communication style - with higher average scores for words expressing trust and anticipation (both genders expressed negative sentiment at comparable frequency)
  • Women CEO's exhibit a different leadership style compared to men CEO's during the COVID-19 crisis - more aligned with a wider range of stakeholders (related to empathy, adaptability, accountability and diversity).


During the keynote, Dr. Morin also touched upon the glass cliff phenomenon - in which women in executive positions in the corporate world and female polical election candidates are likelier than men to achieve leadership rules during periods of crisis or downturn, when the risk of failure is the highest.

Interested in the full article? Take a look at


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Following Dr. Morin's keynote speech, we had a workshop on Emotional & Conscious Leadership - given by John Climpson. He discussed how business disruption and leadership styles impact the level of change over time. These differences between a reactive leader and a conscious one and the resulting impact on risk management and stress levels within the organization. This is based on how our brains are wired for reaction, and which core characteristics we possess. The different emotional leadership styles (Coaching / Affiliative / Democratic / Commanding / Pace-setting / Visionairy) were discussed and explained. We also discussed how we could move to a more conscious leadership style, based on the needs of the organization through a 7-step approach (classify / objectives-needs / style / challenges / incentives / own unwanted emotions / strategy definition) and how to put this into action (Awareness / training / practice / acti without thinking).

The last keynote came from Brigitte Nolet (President and CEO for Roche Canada) on "Learning from times of crisis - how to leverage the potential of female leadership for person and enterprise success". She gave an empowering and inspiring speech on how leadership expectations have changed over the past decade, and how the natural skills of women leaders, using empathy, kindness, caring and emotions, is what can help us rising to top management positions. She spurred us to be authentic, courageous, resilient and compassionate in times of organizational change. And she told us to be bold, through sharing 4 ideas:


  • Challenge the type of company KPIs. Dare to see things differently and be authentic in what you think is important.
  • At company level, change parental leave systems - early childhood support matters to help support women in their careers.
  • Clarity + networking - Be clear on what you want when discussing your career development. Dare to focus on your positives, rather than to doubt your negatives. Focus on your network and do this consciously, to get you where you want to get. And enforce clarity in this career path. Be clear. Be persistent. Be driven to reach your goals.
  • Make men part of the conversation - they need to be in it with us, and we should encourage them not to stay silent, but to openly show their support.


I couldn't agree more and personally want to make a statement here to all of our men allies - WE NEED YOU. I was happy to see a few faces in the audience, but still too often, HBA is regarded as a "womens club". It is not. It is a place where we want to vie for more gender equity at all levels in (healthcare) organizations and society. A place where we can ensure our friends and wives and daughters get the opportunity to really have the careers they want, without all needing to be superwomen. For this we need a lot more male sponsors, support, an open conversation and a culture mindset shift towards a more gender equitable society as a whole. If we don't receive an equal number of CVs at the top leadership positions from both women as men, it is because our organizations are doing something wrong. It is our responsibility to understand why and take concrete actions. And while governments can install KPIs to force us to have more female leadership representation at management and board level, it should grow organically and out of a sense of urgency. We want to get to a place where the % of female leadership in our organization, should not even be worth mentioning - it should be a given. A normality.

Women do not want to be chosen for a leadership position because they are a woman. They want to be chosen because they are the best candidate, and because they earned their spot. They do not want to have to make a choice between family and career. And if you ask them if they would like a more fulfilling career when they know their families are going to be fine, a lot of them will very likely say yes. So lets go for that, together...?

That is my bold statement.

Constructive comments or thoughts...? Let's open the discussion. I'm really curious to hear them!

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