How This Chief Development Officer is Championing Gender Equity and Strengthening Male Allyship

Sponsored by Pfizer

Photo Courtesy of Pfizer.

Photo Courtesy of Pfizer.

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Pfizer’s Chief Development Officer Rod MacKenzie is on an important mission: Developing medical solutions for COVID-19 while keeping all other clinical trials on track. And he’s ready to say the best way organizations can get innovative work like his done is by prioritizing diversity and inclusion. 

“Put simply, diversity expands and enriches our innovation. One of our four values as a company is Equity,” MacKenzie said. “I view achieving gender diversity as simply living our values. It’s a responsibility and an opportunity.”

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MacKenzie is currently working towards Equity as the Executive Sponsor for the Pfizer Women’s Resource Group and a champion of gender equality within his organization: By 2025, the top positions (VP and above) in Development will reflect the gender mix across all levels of the company. 

Recently, MacKenzie shared with Fairygodboss further insights into how he and his colleagues at Pfizer are galvanizing equity across the organization and, ultimately, the industry. He also shared his best advice for men who are looking to be better allies, insights into the barriers that hold them back and the female role models, authors and colleagues that have impacted his allyship.

Tell us a little bit about your role. What are your key business priorities, and why do you think gender diversity is important in the workplace?

I’m Chief Development Officer at Pfizer. Right now, my top priorities are the development of medical solutions for COVID-19 and to keep all our other clinical trials on track. Our purpose is to create breakthroughs that change patients' lives. It’s not easy work and, put simply, diversity expands and enriches our innovation. One of our four values as a company is Equity. What that means to us is that every person deserves to be seen, heard and cared for. So, I view achieving gender diversity as simply living our values. It’s a responsibility and an opportunity. 

I am also the Executive Sponsor for Pfizer Women’s Resource Group. I love this role because it is very important to me that every colleague experiences equality of opportunity to thrive in a safe, inclusive environment. Everyone should experience the joy of bringing their whole and best self to work every day.

The difference in opportunity among genders is one of many long-standing inequities that is long overdue to be consigned to history. We have made progress, but the pace of change is far too slow. I believe that there is a qualified woman — internally or externally — for every job we have in Pfizer and I am pleased that we have publicly set aggressive goals on representation of women in senior positions. 

What is one of the biggest obstacles to workplace gender diversity that you see?

Men. More specifically, our lack of engagement with this issue. There is a combination of denial and bias (mostly unconscious) that many of us exhibit. Men’s careers lack the additional headwinds experienced by women. It can be hard to acknowledge the lack of something, hence the denial. Most men want to do the right thing, so education and real listening can often be the prelude to true acceptance, a change of heart and the question: How can I help?

It’s not just men, though. I sometimes ask the amazing women leaders I work with to consider becoming a CEO. Too often, this thought has genuinely never occurred to them. Self-limiting behaviours are not uncommon. I also see a lot of advice for women that too often is little more than code for ‘you need to change’ rather than that men need to or sometimes is even ‘behave more like a man.’ That’s the last thing we need.

In your opinion, what’s the first step men can take to be stronger allies? 

Listen, educate yourself and become a sponsor. Sponsorship is a personal commitment to the talented women around us. It means taking an active role in their careers and promoting women to the positions they deserve.

What is one piece of advice that you would give to ambitious women in the workplace?

Think boldly. Find a sponsor. Be true to yourself. Be skeptical when people tell you to behave differently — why should you?  

Why is your company a great place for women to work?

Pfizer is committed to gender equity. Our CEO sets a great example; almost half of our executive leadership team reporting to Albert Bourla are women. The same is true for my organization. We have publicly stated our goal to have the top positions (VP and above) in Pfizer reflect the gender mix across the entire company by 2025. 

We believe in equality of opportunity. In Global Product Development, to minimize bias, for every position that reports directly to me or to my direct report, we require that all interview slates and interview panels be gender balanced. And then we select the best qualified candidate.

We started this policy with the top 120 leaders in 2020. After that, we intend to expand to all people managers in our development organization. In parallel, we are exploring gender-blind resume reviews, engaging men as allies and providing leadership training to help us get past unconscious bias. 

Tell us about one of your female role models. How has this person made an impact on your career? 

My mother was my biggest role model.  She grew up at a time when opportunities for women were severely limited.  But she was a powerful woman with strong values who loved life and who taught me so many things that I still use in everyday life and work today. 

What are your passion projects? What do you do when you’re not working?

Golf with my son. Try to become a better guitar player. Read history, biography, diaries and practically any spy thriller — my bar is low for those. These days finding new shows on TV.  Recently, I’ve been watching the Drag Queen show ‘We’re Here’ and Queer Eye. Both are emotionally uplifting, both are rooted in love and acceptance.  

If you could have dinner with one famous person — dead or alive — who would that be?

Too many to choose from, so one man and one woman. Neil Armstrong – the first human to step foot on another planetary body.  If the human species lasts a million more years, he’ll always be the first, but he was so unassuming and unimpressed by fame. And Maya Angelou — who better to listen to and ask for her wisdom at this moment?

What’s your favorite book?

“1984.” I read it as a teenager and can still remember sitting bolt upright with heart beating out of my chest at one passage in particular. It still sends a powerful warning to us today.


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