You are currently viewing #BreakTheBias- Women in Pharma.

#BreakTheBias- Women in Pharma.

The pharma industry has changed dramatically in recent decades, not only in terms of the vast strides that have been made in science, but also in terms of the leadership landscape. In the 1970s, it was highly unlikely that a woman would be running one of the world’s largest pharma companies, and today we have Emma Walmsley at the helm of GlaxoSmithKline.

According to recent studies women in healthcare represent 65% of the workforce – a significantly higher ratio when compared to other key industries (Tech – 26%, Financial Services – 46%). Despite their buying power and workforce influence, the number of women in top leadership positions is discouragingly low.
If we look at the pharma sector for instance, the gap is even higher. Although I am very pleased to see many of our big pharma clients and friends at the forefront of the gender equality line, the fact that women account for only 25% of leadership teams and that there is only one female CEO among the top 10 pharmaceuticals (by revenue), demonstrates that we still have a long way to go.

The question arises – why is this? First of all, let’s make one thing clear – this is not only an issue in the healthcare industry. The gender gap in business is well documented, countless studies show that women outnumber men in college. They are well educated, talented, and just as hard working as their male counterparts; yet the percentage of chief executives of global Fortune 500 companies is just under 5%.

Given so many talented female chemists, biochemists, biologists and physicists already in the sector, one can conclude that there is no tangible barrier for women when it comes to workplace entry. However, when it comes to advancement – the obstacles seem to be immense; whether it is the pay gap, unconscious bias, micro-aggressions, or childbearing. Correlated with advancement, it is evident that as women move up the ranks – the resistance, discrimination, and isolation increase as well.

Why should companies be worried about it? On paper, gender inequality is a long list of statistics showing the imbalance of power between men and women. In reality, gender inequality is a major issue that affects not only the lives of individual men and women but stunts economic growth and innovation, along with hindering social development. As a testament to this fact, the United Nations even named gender equality as one of the Sustainable Development Goals as part of the “2030 Agenda”.

Because essentially, gender equality is not just the right thing to do, it’s the smart thing to do.

Studies have shown that gender equality provides numerous economic benefits to corporates. A PIIE Report concludes that an increase of women in corporate leadership teams to 30% correlates to 1% increase in net margin, which translates to a 15% increase in profitability. Moreover, Credit Suisse revealed that companies with women in leadership positions report 19% higher return on equity (ROE) and 9% higher dividend payments. Remarkably, no matter how the data is manipulated, in any event increasing female leadership is unquestionably positive for companies, leading us to one important conclusion: The diversity in corporate leadership is essentially what improves profitability – it makes teams question their default assumptions in a way that produces better outcomes – more innovation, more creative solutions to intractable problems, and ultimately better financial outcomes.


The woman behind the brand, Stella Okoli

A native of Nnewi in present-day Anambra State, Stella Okoli was born on the 30th of July, 1944 in Kano State, to the family of Felix Ebelechukwu and Margaret Modebelu.

She completed her primary education at All Saints Primary School, Onitsha in 1959, and attended Ogidi Girls Secondary School, Ogidi for the next 5 years. She proceeded to Federal Science School, Lagos where she spent a couple of years.

She travelled to the United Kingdom where she got her Bachelor in Pharmacy from Bradford University, UK in 1969. A few years later in 1971, she bagged a Masters in Biopharmaceuticals from the University of London, Chelsea College.

Over the years, Stella has also undergone Executive management programmes from notable institutions like the I.E.S.E Business school, Spain; Harvard Business school, USA; and Lagos Business school.

After her education in the UK, Stella started working as a Ward/Clinical Pharmacist at Middlesex Hospital in London and later had a brief stint as a Pharmacist at Boots Chemist UK.

Upon returning to Nigeria, she worked briefly with Massey Children Hospital, Lagos, before she joined Park Davies Nigeria Limited (now Pharma-Deko Plc).

The journey of a thousand miles
In 1977, Stella decided to set up a small drugstore – Emzor Chemist – in Shomolu where she lived at the time. It was a pharmacy retail shop where she put her pharmaceutical knowledge to use, in administering and dispensing drugs to her customers.

She started importing the drugs to be sold locally by the turn of the 80s, but it only took a short while before Stella came to the realisation that a lot of the drugs being imported could be produced locally as the raw materials were available In 1984, Emzor Chemists was incorporated as Emzor Pharmaceuticals to manufacture high-quality drugs locally. Stella, of course, did not have the money to carry out large scale productions, and she approached her father for support.

Talking about some of the resistance to her entrepreneurial move, Stella said “Business is business. There is no special business for man or for woman.”

Using his house as collateral, she secured a loan of N100,000 from First Bank of Nigeria Plc, and pilot productions started in 1985 with the popular Emzor Paracetamol. The company has now grown to become one of the leading indigenous pharmaceutical brands with well over 50 products to its name, including vitamins, anti-malaria, antibiotics, antacid, analgesics, and anti-histamine.

From that single chemist store, Emzor now has offices in Mali, India, Liberia, Ghana and Sierra Leone.

Emzor Group has a number of subsidiaries, such as Zolon Healthcare Limited, a specialty healthcare organisation targeted at providing intelligent solution to the healthcare needs of people. The company’s specialties include oncology, gynecology, biotechnology, cardiology and others.

Emzor Hesco Limited is a total healthcare solution provider, with a B2B business model to provide solutions for hospital equipment and services in conjunction with reputable brands and manufacturers from Europe, America and Asia.

The company procures, consults, supplies medical equipment, carries out trainings on best practices, and supplies medical consumables among others.

Emzor Pharmacy and Stores is the retail arm for distributing Emzor Pharmaceutical products to Nigerians, while Life Gate Medicals Limited provides training for healthcare workers and medical tourism.

In memory of her late son, Stella Okoli started Chike Okoli Foundation (COF) in 2006, to promote healthy lifestyle and entrepreneurial skills among Nigerian youth.

As part of its activities, the foundation has trained thousands of youths on owning and running their businesses. In 2011, COF built Chike Okoli Centre for Entrepreneurial Studies at Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka, to provide entrepreneurial research, training and education for youths.

The foundation also gives free healthcare services and lecture people worldwide on effect of heart disease and stroke.

Services and awards:
Stella Okoli has served in several capacities including as a member of the Economic Summit of Nigeria and the Health Matters Advisory Boards of Nigeria, as Vice President of Manufacturers Association of Nigeria and the Nigerian Association of Chambers of Commerce, Industries, Mines and Agriculture (NACCIMA).

She was once the Chairman of the Pharmaceutical Manufacturer Group and the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria. In 2010, she became a non-Executive Director of Guaranty Trust Bank.

Stella Okoli is a member of the Nigeria Industrial Policy and Competitiveness Advisory Council.

Her contributions to the Nigerian pharmaceutical industry have not gone unnoticed as she has received due recognitions. She was conferred a Honorary Doctor of Business Administration by Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka in 2011, Women of Distinction and Lifetime Achievers at ThisDay Annual Awards in 2012, and Business Person of the Year at the Sun Newspaper Awards in 2016.

In 2017, she received the Africa Women Innovation and Entrepreneurship Forum, and also the Silverbird Lifetime Achievement Award in 2018.

Now in her 70’s, Stella continues to drive her pharmaceutical business in addition to other interests. In an interview, she said, “everything I did not achieve before 70, now is the time to get started”.

She is believed to be one of Nigeria’s richest women.


Welcome to Pharmahub!