(Photo: Novartis)

In December of last year, the Mexican arm of pharmaceutical company Novartis received HRC Equidad MX 2019 certification from the Human Rights Campaign Foundation for being one of the best places to work for the LGBT+ community.

Fernando Cruz, who is a Tec graduate and president of Novartis group, said in an interview with Tec Review that being committed to inclusion is a good business model.

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He confirmed that sexual orientation can be expressed freely in the company and that they even celebrate ‘Coming Out Day’.

They also have a Diversity and Inclusion Committee, made up of 60 people, which addresses issues such as sexual harassment and discrimination. A performance measurement system was also created that favors equal pay between men and women, as well as forming teams with gender parity.

The businessman said that developing trust within teams has helped them work more efficiently now that the Covid-19 pandemic has forced them (like most companies) to operate from home.

He also sends a message to entrepreneurs who have suffered from the economic crisis caused by the coronavirus and asks them to remember that the bad times will end, and to understand that it is okay not to have all the answers.

How did you decide to take steps towards being more inclusive?

The award we received was for supporting the LGBT+ community. Essentially, within the company we recognized that, in parallel with business strategy, culture plays a central role if you are looking for people to identify with the vision that you are pursuing.

Every day, we’re working to discover health solutions and elements come into play that perhaps are not so present in other industries. For that reason, we want to develop diverse, inclusive environments, where everyone feels represented and, above all, people have the psychological security of knowing that they are free to be who they are without being judged.

In Mexico, we set up a Diversity and Inclusion Committee that consists of more than 60 employees, in which different ways of thinking come together. From there, we’ve organized debates between organizations, and we’ve taken part in International Women’s Day. We also have a performance measurement system which favors equal pay: women are paid the same amount as men.

Does the committee review cases of sexual harassment, for example?

Yes, of course. Our corporate governance system holds us to very high standards. More is expected from us than from a company that makes glasses, or the chairs on which we are sitting. As a result of our aspiration to honor our social commitments, we have corporate governance mechanisms that monitor and provide the necessary channels so that practices and behaviors that we do not tolerate in the company can be reported.

The issue of sexual harassment and respect between employees is very important to us. Over the year, we organize different campaigns through which we seek to raise awareness, educate, and ensure that all the people who work with us (direct or subcontracted employees) understand that there is a mechanism for reporting this kind of conduct which is both confidential and has a robust follow-up process.

Can understanding inclusion and diversity bring economic benefits to companies?

There are benefits, but they go beyond the solely economic because they’re intangible. Over time, you can capitalize on them, and I am specifically talking about company reputation.

As a company you have a reputation in many areas; for me, the concept is not limited to doing things well or doing them badly. One of the areas is the issue of human rights.

Now we are seeing that companies are making commitments to causes with purposes that go beyond commercial ones. These are, undoubtedly, changing leadership in many areas and changing how society views companies.

It seems to me that having very clear processes, where people understand that the environment within the organization helps to build reputation and much more productive teams, and means it is possible to capitalize on these benefits over time.

Should all companies in Mexico commit to being more inclusive?

We’ve been committed to this cause for many years. It’s not new but raising awareness of this in Mexico is relatively new; recognizing that we are a very diverse cultural mosaic with different ways of thinking, different ideas, different preferences, different orientations, etc., makes us stronger. I don’t see weakness in our differences; I see strength.

Teams must understand their differences and know how to find common ground for making agreements; as a result of that, they can be better and stronger teams. All companies must do this. In my opinion, those who do not do so will, over the years, see how they are isolating themselves.

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There’s a lot of debate about racism in the United States right now, and the debate is beginning in Mexico. Will you discuss this issue with your employees?

It’s a conversation that forms part of our inclusion efforts, and it’s not something new for us. Talking about ethnicity in a company with presence in 155 countries is not new for us.

Have you seen the benefits of inclusivity when you’ve been working from home, and has communication between teams changed?

When an environment of empathy is fostered (which is genuine) and this is transferred to the home office, people perceive it and they reap the benefits in many ways: in productivity, in open collaboration, and in the social impact that it has.

At the end of the day, all the people who work with us are members of families. When we had to send people home, that implied having to be empathetic, respectful of other people, and of their home lives, too.

When we’re able to approach things through empathy, the results are more collaborative and productive environments (because there are issues on which we will agree more easily than on others) and it’s also fine to disagree and have differences, as long as we can empathize.

What message can you give to the Tec de Monterrey community, to the entrepreneurs who are struggling to continue working in the face of the difficult conditions caused by the pandemic?

It’s my alma mater (…) My recommendations would be to focus on understanding that these are unprecedented circumstances and on trying to look at things in the long term. Don’t lose focus. This is going to end; it is obviously going to end. I understand that it can be difficult when you are starting out and, suddenly, the numbers don’t look good and the market outlook is complicated, but at the end of the day we will get through it. There are also communities, networks of friends, that we can fall back on in these circumstances.

I would also recommend feeling comfortable with ambiguity: no one knows what the ‘new normal’ that is being talked about a lot will really be like. We don’t have all the answers. Sometimes, as leaders, we want to have all the answers, but it’s okay not to have all the answers.

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