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The Roche Women’s Leadership Initiative: Award-Winning Inclusion

By December 9, 2015October 28th, 2020LTEN Bonus Focus

As trainers, you know the importance of diversity better than many business professionals. Just as it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a diverse, trained and cohesive workforce to raise an organization.

That’s a lesson the folks at Roche Diagnostics understand well. Since 2011, Roche has undergone a major commitment to bring gender equality and diversity to all levels of the organization. Those efforts have not gone unnoticed, with the most recent honor coming in the form of an ACE award from the Healthcare Businesswomen’s Association (HBA).

Pictured: Roche Diagnostics CEO Jack Phillips accepts the ACE award, along with, from left, Christie Underwood, Roche, Laurie Cooke, CEO of Healthcare Businesswomen’s Association, and Julie Russell Dilts, Roche.

The Roche Women’s Leadership Initiative (WLI) received the 2015 HBA ACE award at the annual HBA conference in Atlanta in November. Roche CEO Jack Phillips was on hand to receive the award, along with Roche leaders including Julie Russell Dilts, senior counsel, and Christie Underwood, account executive, both co-leads of the Women’s Leadership Initiative.

The award recognizes not just the WLI work, but the amazing results the group has brought to Roche and the broader healthcare industry. And Roche training leaders couldn’t be happier.

“We are over the moon with just the opportunity to even be recognized for the journey we’ve been on,” said Jennifer Wolfgram, vice president of commercial education for Roche. “It was quite an experience in Atlanta to see it all come together and be able to share.”

The WLI started in 2011 as an executive committee decision to focus on and grow women in leadership roles at Roche. The focus, Wolfgram said, was on creating more diversity of thought.

“I think it goes in line with the studies that are out there that say the more diverse leadership teams are, the better the business impact is and the better the results are,” she said. “I think as an organization we made the commitment to really put a flashlight on it and start having the conversations we needed to have, understanding what holds women back.”

Like many great journeys, it started small, with two women attending a course at Smith College. Not surprisingly, their message on return was that the issue was much bigger than just them. That led to creating WLI and an advisory board to get the grassroots campaign started, with a mission of building a framework for women to gain leadership skills and experience.

Wolfgram was on the original advisory board for WLI, then took over as board chairperson two years ago. At that point, WLI leaders began to look at the structure of the group to see what the impact of the first two years had been. They started to gather data to see how many women had been involved and how many had secured promotions.

That data collection to quantify the impact of WLI was ultimately a major factor in winning the ACE award. The results showed several success factors, including that 25% of those involved in WLI committees and groups had received a promotion.

Despite the group title, WLI isn’t just targeted toward and working with women. WLI added male leaders to the advisory board as well, and moved past mentoring toward sponsorship programs that have created 34 leadership opportunities for women. More recently, WLI has grown to also focus on diversity and inclusion issues, allowing them to gain additional funding.

It doesn’t stop there. The WLI has also targeted Roche customers, reaching more than 1,400 customers in the healthcare industry with learning that grew out of WLI.

“It’s been a fun journey,” Wolfgram said. “We realized we were on to something when we started getting request from customers. We had an opportunity to take this program and make an impact in the community and also make an impact within the healthcare industry.”

Between 2013 and 2014, WLI involvement in mentoring programs grew by 41 percent, and was also able to engage more than 1,400 field-facing employees. In 2014, WLI brought together 243 pairs of professionals for mentoring relationships.

“You create this structure that provides value to the organization but also direct value and direct skills back to the employee,” Wolfgram said. “This has been one program that has truly grown in value across the organization. That effort was truly taking the mentoring more out to the field for the field-facing employees.”

Fortunately for WLI, senior leadership is supportive of the efforts, as witnessed by CEO Jack Phillips travelling to Atlanta to accept the ACE award.

“We’ve had his support from day one,” Wolfgram said. “I just want to recognize that is important and that’s been important to us, to know we have longevity and stability. I personally want to thank him for his support in the organization. It would not have been possible without him.”

So what’s next for the award-winning WLI? The focus for 2016 will be to further support diversity and inclusion and helping other business and resource groups get started. WLI will be sharing resources and frameworks, including with other women’s groups across Roche.

“We are highly focused on how we can link arms and link efforts for the overall betterment of gender issues and women within the Roche organization and also within the healthcare industry, which is really important to us,” Wolfgram said. “We see that it’s something bigger than just what we have here on campus.”

Tim Sosbe is editor of Focus magazine and editorial director for LTEN. Email Tim at

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