Sanjay Vyas, Parexel

For over 22 years, Sanjay Vyas has worked in several major cities across the world, in vibrant economies like India, Singapore, Brazil and the United States of America. Over the years, he has worked in varied fields of global and regional P&L management, logistics and supply chain management, sales and marketing, product development, operations and people management.

He feels fortunate to have experienced an excellent blend of leadership, teamwork, multi-cultural and complex business scenarios ranging from a multinational to a multi-locational organisation. After living and working in seven other countries, he returned to his native country, India, as the country head for biopharmaceutical services company, Parexel where he is serving as the executive vice president, managing director India as well as the global SBU head for clinical supplies and logistics.

Highly passionate about getting new therapies to the market with focus on patient centric innovations, he says he fits right in at Paraxel. In all his corporate outings, he has been a strong proponent of diversity, equity and inclusion. In fact, he often describes himself as a servant leader who is consistently trying to bring in a fine balance of head, heart and gut. He spoke to Women Icons Network about the importance of this balance and how to bring it about.

Gender Equality at Home

Sanjay thinks that the key skill to effective gender diversity policies is one’s innate ability to understand, accept and genuinely demonstrate how they embrace diversity as a part of their daily life. It’s not enough to talk about it at a superficial level, he says, but believing in it to the point that it becomes a part of one’s DNA and is visible to others in every walk of their workplace experience.

It comes as no surprise that he and his wife often engage their two daughters in gender diversity dialogues as part of dinner table conversations. Even when it comes to completing domestic chores, the family doesn’t bring in any kind of gender biases and treats everyone equally. If there are any subconscious slip-ups, the girls (aged 10 and 14) are quick to point them out, making sure that gender equality becomes a way of life for them.

“When this acceptance happens at the highest level in an organisation, it becomes easier to make it a part of one’s own daily life and then embed it throughout the entire organisation,” he states.

Gender Diversity at Workplace

While insisting upon the importance of individual beliefs in bringing about gender diversity into the workplace, Sanjay says the industry needs to come together to formulate the right policies in this direction. He also thinks that for the best outcome, all stakeholders need to be vocal about their opinions. He mentions that they have been witnessing an uptick in this trend in the last few years.

For him, a company’s commitment to gender diversity should not be restricted to talks and policies, but rather lived and quantified with facts and figures. “It starts with an inclusion attitude and culture at all levels in the organization and is not just about being vocal but being effective in implementing policies into actions at all levels,” he says.

Despite his own beliefs, there have been many instances wherein he has witnessed female colleagues being in uncomfortable or offensive situations. He feels the best way to deal with them is by calling it out then and there, to address it immediately and to articulate a zero-tolerance harassment policy loud and clear. In the more serious situations, he doesn’t hesitate to engage the organisation’s POSH (Prevention of Sexual Harassment) committee to ensure that strict actions are taken, including termination, if needed.

Parexel Approach

Sanjay proudly declares that Parexel takes gender diversity very seriously. With a dedicated Diversity, Equity and Inclusion leader at the global level it is supported by in-country DEI and culture committees. Some in-house initiatives that were floated with the aim of coaching, mentoring and developing women leaders within the organisation include the Wisdom Circle Mentorship Program, Women in Leadership Program, MARC (Men Advocating Real Change).

In fact, the company’s diversity goals extend beyond gender and race to include different sexual orientations and several disabilities. It promotes a strong ‘speak up’ culture program that allows employees to voice their opinions. Recently, they made their POSH at workplace policies gender neutral as well.

He says that he has seen a commitment to equality and inclusion within the company’s executive leadership level up to the junior most level. While there is still work to be done, the base of a positive attitude and acceptance is there, he points out. He feels that the company now needs to continue to magnify that across the organization.

Male Allyship

Men have a very critical role in ensuring gender equality in the workplace, believes Sanjay. They can help not just by supporting the cause, he adds, but also acting as sponsors for development of strong women leadership within the organisation. “They need to be aware of their privileges and then work towards breaking those privileges,” he thinks.

Male leaders, he feels, need to act more as sponsors than just being mentors. He shares that in the past six years above, he has helped ten women leaders to catapult to their next rung in the career. Talking about this experience, he says, “When I look back at this journey, it gives me an innate sense of satisfaction knowing I guided these talented, powerful women and helped them achieve their career goals.” He believes that other male leaders have to make similar contributions to make this an equitable world.

He believes that men in leadership positions need to make a conscious effort to ensure that gender bias does not creep in their daily interactions.  He shares that the biggest bias that he has seen in men, is the work life and family life balance comparison between the two genders. They must ensure that does not cloud their judgement or decision making when it comes to promoting a women leader, he says.

Pandemic and Beyond

Talking about the impact of the pandemic on the industry, Sanjay acknowledges that statistically we have seen more women impacted globally. He shares that when he spoke to some Indian women colleagues and peers who had to leave their jobs not because they wanted to do so but because either they or their family members were impacted by the pandemic. Often, the collective decision made by the family impacted the woman’s job.

That’s why the Parexel team has decided that their doors will always remain open if and when those female colleagues decide to come back. “We have also introduced flexible working hours and decentralized working options during the pandemic to allow women to act as caregivers as needed while also balancing their work life,” he informs

Sanjay believes that the world is on the cusp of transition to ensure that gender diversity becomes a way of life and does not remain just another initiative or thought. However, making that transition and getting the sceptics to come on board is what is going to be challenging. With the new way of working from home, it is all-the-more critical to stay connected on such critical issues around gender diversity and to keep bringing them back to the forefront.