- 2 years ago
21 January 2022
J&J’s Fiona Sheppard and Pfizer’s Lee Davelaar were appointed co-chairs of the Pharma Australia Inclusion Group (PAIG) in early 2020. As they near the end of their two-year term, Fi and Lee talk about working with someone they didn’t previously know, how they made it work, and what the future holds in our first MedTwos for 2022, sharing stories of unusual partnerships and successful collaborations across the sector.
Fiona: I never met Lee until I started in this role with PAIG. We didn’t even know each other. We took on the co-lead roles in 2020 and it was a baptism of fire for us both. I loved the work PAIG was doing at that time – they were right on the cusp of repositioning as a pharma inclusion group.
I was encouraged to apply. I had worked a lot in diversity and inclusion (D&I) for J&J, so there was a benefit in having a D&I practitioner on PAIG. The Steering Committee of Kathy Connell, Kirsten O’Doherty and Melissa McGregor must have thought Lee and I would be a good match, and [former co-leads] Fabienne [Connet] and Kate [Richards] probably planted the seed, but Lee was still on parental leave when we took over so it was like it an arranged marriage.
Lee has a completely different background from me, which I love. I work in this space every day but Lee has a strong background in strategic comms and public affairs and I’ve really enjoyed learning from him about external partnerships and how to position the work that we do. That is where his strengths are.
Lee drives external partnerships because he says it’s really important what we are doing remains valid and that we’re not just working in an echo chamber, listening to our own experiences as an industry. The new White Paper we are releasing will help inform what our program will be like for 2022. The threads of our inclusion program will probably stay there but I’d love to see a commercial alignment around D&I initiatives and to look at measuring and benchmarking. That’s something I’m personally and professionally really interested in.
Age is also something I’d love to see highlighted in this year’s agenda and to create awareness about ableism, and we need to bring gender back into the conversation because we haven’t shifted the dial far enough.
Lee and I were both going through renovations and moving house at the same time last year, but we just carried it for each other. Sometimes we would work together for a couple of hours a week and then it might be nothing for a couple of weeks, but we would never go more than two weeks without speaking with each other.
He makes things so easy. He’s a great storyteller as well with his gentle composition, he loves inspiring stories. I also see that come through in his work, especially with age generational gaps.
My husband and I have a son who is 22 but I’ve really enjoyed watching Lee’s journey with his two young children, taking parental leave and being a driver on the importance of taking parental leave, especially within Pfizer and within PAIG. He refers to us as the sandwich generation – we work through parental leave, yet we have ageing family and friends and have to think about the leave we need for them.
Lee has a really level head and brings all the richness of his experiences from different sectors, be it healthcare, government, not-for-profit. It inspires me because I know he’s reflected on things and is not afraid to say what’s worked and what hasn’t worked. His passion for D&I is really refreshing given it is above and beyond his day job.
Lee would say, ‘Fiona’s got the experience of the D&I lead and the knowledge and I’m the person behind the scenes that makes it work’. I say, ‘he’s the brawn and the brains and I’m just the front of shop’. Lee respects my D&I experience and I really value and respect his breadth of knowledge and experience. I don’t have the breadth of relationships he has, but that’s where we have really great balance as well. As a subject matter expert, I can dig down into the details whereas he’s willing to jump in and make sure it’s all piecing together and working.
We are now both coming to the end of our governance period as co-leads but will cycle off at different times. I will probably go first, and Lee will follow but I won’t go far. I’m very passionate about PAIG and the work that PAIG does.
There’s definitely a friendship there that will carry on after PAIG. I said to him, you’re not getting rid of me, but he already knows that. With Lee and I, we just work. We click.
Lee: Being PAIG co-chair has been an incredibly rewarding and fulfilling role and it seems a long time ago that I took it on with Fi. Looking back, I’m not sure we ‘applied’ for the role; I think ‘gentle nudge’ is a better way to put it. We are all time poor and not everybody wants to add to their workload.
Fi and I had both been working with PAIG in some capacity beforehand and when [former co-chairs] Kate Richards and Fabienne Connet said, look, there’s a need for a strong communications and administrative component in this role and that they had Fiona lined up as the ‘subject matter expert’, I was like, ‘as long as I don’t have to be the subject matter expert, then OK!’
Fi and I met a couple of weeks later and instantly hit it off. She is such a warm and genuine person, so easy to talk to, and she’s got a great sense of humour. There’s no doubt it’s been stressful at times. The impact of COVID on how PAIG operated was significant and it all landed in our laps from day dot. Looking back, I’m most proud of how we were able to pivot, given it was such an extraordinary time and we were just getting our feet under the table. To be able to deliver what we did, the standard of program – it might have looked like a duck swimming through water, calm on the surface, but it was very busy feet underneath.
That early work really put us in good stead because, since then, we developed an adaptive and agile program that meant, no matter what was thrown at us, we could overcome it.
Throughout all of this Fiona and I have had each other’s back and we’ve always found the chance to share a laugh and have fun with the role. Fi’s got a quick wit, she can be really sarcastic, and that resonates with me. Working the way we do now, everybody’s home life is on display and I’ve gotten to know about Fi and her family, her husband and son and her pet Cockatiel who is regularly on her shoulder when we talk. She’s shared with me some of the challenges about her husband working as a nurse on the frontline at St Vincent’s – hearing her perspective of the impact of COVID on frontline health workers and their families through this time was both inspiring and worrying. When you work as closely as we have, you get to know a person really well and that has undoubtedly helped build a great partnership.
I consider myself fortunate to have been in this role, not only to learn about best practice in D&I but to learn from Fi about her journey and her work in this space. I’m okay to do the grunt work, the comms and messaging, knowing that Fi’s there to lean on for advice and guidance about how the program is structured, and what best practice looks like. She lives and breathes D&I and she’s so passionate about so many of the topics, especially First Nations people and reconciliation as she has a Masters in Aboriginal Studies.
There’s definitely a tinge of sadness that our time in the role and the partnership is coming to an end. The intention was always that we would be co-chairs for two years and transition out because you need fresh eyes and fresh thinking. Well, we say that now, but I’m sure neither of us will want to walk away from it. At times over the last crazy period, PAIG and Fiona for that matter have been a constant that has always brought focus and joy to my work, and I know that’s the same for Fi.
We will definitely have a friendship beyond this and I’m sure we’re both going to stay very close to PAIG. I joke we are more Lennon and McCartney than Simon and Garfunkel – I reckon we make a pretty good pair. It’s not like we finish each other’s sentences, but we do know where to pick things up and bring the best out of each other. I’ll miss that I’m sure.