Good morning, Broadsheet readers! Erika Fry here, filling in for Kristen and Claire. Spain sets a women-friendly world record, Republicans are saying #MeToo, and we chat with one of the most powerful women in healthcare, Emma Walmsley, CEO of pharmaceutical giant GSK. Also, it’s Friday! Have a great weekend.
• Big pharma’s leading lady
A little more than a year ago, 48-year-old Emma Walmsley became the most powerful woman in the world of big pharma—also No. 2 on Fortune’s Most Powerful Women international list—when she took the reins as CEO of GSK, the $40 billion U.K.-based drug firm. She knew that taking on such a job would involve “giving [my] life up” for a period of time. She also considered it “a privilege” to do so. In the time since, Walmsley has been working furiously to reinvigorate the 300-year-old firm. She discussed those efforts and her vision for the business in a wide-ranging conversation at Fortune’s New York office on Thursday afternoon.
Walmsley’s humility is striking as is her mastery of a business in which she was quite recently considered an outsider. Though being a woman executive in the drug industry makes her a rarity—Heather Bresch, who helms the generics giant Mylan, is the only other woman to lead a major pharmaceutical company—Walmsley says it’s her background in consumer goods that accounts for her diversity in the pharmaceutical field. She says that unusual career history, which included 17 years at the cosmetics firm L’Oreal, has in some ways been an asset, allowing her to view the company’s activities and outside perspectives of them more easily. In any case, it’s not a hindrance.
“You don’t need to be a scientist to make the diagnosis that our investors, I would say, are in violent agreement with,” she says.
Her diagnosis was to resuscitate the company’s flagging innovative pharmaceutical business, a conclusion she reached largely by listening. She says that listening is an act vastly under-appreciated in the corporate world. In the five months before her tenure began, she spent her time talking to thousands of individuals in the company and outside it. She said among the most valuable things she did was “hold the mirror up to see what investors are talking about.”
She’s also focused on bringing to her team people who are aligned with her ambition and vision for GSK. She puts a premium on diversity, which she notes includes demographic diversity and diversity of experience and expertise. “We have to be careful about not defining diversity as just a gender issue,” she says. That said, she adds there is no debate that women are underrepresented in the industry’s executive ranks. While Walmsley “doesn’t define herself first and foremost as a female CEO”—she naturally wants to be focused on improving returns for patients and shareholders—she understands the dual nature of her role. “If not me, then who is, in terms of taking responsibility for modeling or visibility or just simply giving people a face that they can half recognize when they look for their futures?”
ALSO IN THE HEADLINES
• Women rule (in Spain). Spain’s new Prime Minister, Pedro Sánchez, ushered in his new government by appointing a female-majority cabinet. Eleven, or 65%, of the 17-member body are women, a percentage that bests Finland’s, which according to the OECD, previously held the record for representation of women at the cabinet level with 62.5%.
• Mazie matters. The Senate’s only immigrant and first-ever Asian-American woman, Mazie Hirono—a Democrat from Hawaii—is often assumed to have politics as polite and staid as her soft-spoken style. But Hirono has proven a dogged and committed member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and the only member to ask every nominee whether they’ve previously been accused of sexual assault.
• Sexual harassment reaches the board room. As the #MeToo movement has made clear, corporate culture around sexual harassment and misconduct is a risk management issue that should be on every board’s radar. A couple of experts argue, in fact, the approach should be not all that different from how boards manage executive compensation and financial risks.
MIT Sloan Management Review
• Power pendants. Can jewelry stop sexual assault? That was the winning proposal put forth by Leaf Wearables, an India-based company crowned with the $1 million Anu & Naveen Jain Women’s Safety XPRIZE at the United Nations on Wednesday night. Leaf’s accessories are embedded with a tiny cell phone and were inspired by the contest, whose mission is to solve the threat of sexual assault. The company launched in 2016 after a spate of gang rapes and harassment cases made news in India.
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT
• #MeToo moves red state voters. U.S. representative and South Dakota Republican gubernatorial primary victor Kristi Noem made the issue of sexual harassment central to her campaign and won handily. This story argues that’s not the only evidence that the #MeToo movement has begun to transcend the nation’s polarization.
• Maeby should have said more. Or maybe her cast mates should have listened more? Arrested Development‘s Alia Shawkat reflects on the cast interview that made waves last month when her male co-stars defended actor Jeffrey Tambor’s harsh on-set behavior towards actress Jessica Walter.
• The Oprah show. A new exhibition at the National Museum of African American History and Culture pays tribute to the inspiring and improbable rise of the nation’s most beloved media maven without any sign of her.