MSD Ireland is one of the country’s leading healthcare companies. It employs about 2,700 people across six sites. These manufacture roughly half of its global top 20 products.

“Diversity and inclusion is key to how we operate in MSD. It drives how we engage our employees and gives us a competitive advantage as a business. D&I is an integral part of MSD’s business practices here in Ireland and globally,” explains Lorraine Kenny, executive director and HR lead at MSD Ireland.

Lorraine Kenny, executive director and HR lead at MSD Ireland.

Lorraine Kenny, executive director and HR lead at MSD Ireland.

Why? “We believe firmly that true innovation is achieved not in a vacuum but through the powerful intersection of ideas from employees from a wide range of diverse backgrounds who bring different ideas to the table, or the production floor in our case. We are a global company, supporting patients worldwide, and it’s critical that our workforce is representative of those patients,” she says.

Building a diverse workforce and an inclusive work environment takes focus, investment and commitment, she says. “In MSD we support and accelerate our diverse talent through coaching, mentoring, on-the-job training and learning and development programmes. We believe it’s not enough to simply attract a diverse workforce, it’s critical that we support them and encourage them to reach their full potential through targeted, bespoke training and mentorship programmes.”

It still has work to do to ensure greater diversity, which is why it has identified a number of priorities for the coming years. For example, in ‘operations’ at MSD Ireland, the part of its business that supports medicine production, more men than women hold senior roles. This is in contrast to its plant manager population, the most senior roles in its Irish operations, where it achieves a better balance, with two women and three men.

Why is this the case? “We all know that traditionally Stem subjects have attracted more male than female students. While this is starting to change and we are seeing this positive trend in our graduate intakes, it will take time for this to have an impact on our leadership demographic,” Kenny explains.

But there are other factors at play too which seem to inordinately affect women. “We’ve heard also that certain roles, such as those in production operations, can be less attractive because of a perception that the shift-based, site-based nature of the work could mean less flexibility for those juggling busy work and life demands,” she says.

This matters, because experience in areas such as operations is a great asset for high-performing employees, providing day-to-day experience on the ground and an all-round understanding of the manufacturing business, she points out. “Therefore, as a company we are challenging ourselves as to how we can support the practical nature of production but build in greater flexibility.”

The pandemic has helped. “This year has certainly offered us a great opportunity to leverage technology to enable teams to be dispersed yet still operate effectively,” she says.

Leader development

Another project it recently launched is the ‘key series’ programme, a multi-market initiative. This leader development programme is bringing together high-potential female employees from across EMEA and supporting them in their career growth.

“The aim is to provide them with the confidence and know-how to envision themselves in senior roles, equipping them with the right mindset and skills necessary to accelerate leadership capability, improve their communications skills and build confidence and assertiveness to enable them to reach their leadership potential,” says Kenny.

The organisation is determined to create an environment of belonging, engagement, equity and empowerment for all employees, she says. “We are committed to challenging ourselves to continuously do better to truly ensure we have a more globally diverse and inclusive workforce into the future.”