Let’s fight stereotypes and barriers in our minds. Dorota Hryniewiecka-Firlej, Country Manager of Pfizer Poland

Let’s fight stereotypes and barriers in our minds. Dorota Hryniewiecka-Firlej, Country Manager of Pfizer Poland

Even if we sometimes lack faith in ourselves, it’s worth trying. If we don’t try, we certainly won’t succeed, but if we try, we have a chance to win – says Dorota Hryniewiecka-Firlej, Country Manager of Pfizer Poland.

What causes the low number of promotions of women to top positions? Are women too shy to compete for top positions?
I see two reasons, external and internal. Firstly, as a society we make often unrealistic demands of women and blame them for not meeting them. We expect them to be more confident, more open to change. They themselves should fight and negotiate to close the gender gap in senior positions. But at the same time, we know, because research shows it, that most of the burden of housework and child-rearing falls on women. In the pandemic, the percentage of women feeling that this burden was beyond their capacity was more than 40 per cent.
Secondly, some of the barriers are in our minds. I experienced this myself when I competed for the position of Pfizer country manager in Poland. Initially, I had no intention to run for it, but I was pushed to do so by the Malgorzata Milczarek-Bukowska – then head of HR, who called me and asked: “Are you finally going to put in the paperwork to head Pfizer in Poland?”. “You know, I’m thinking about it, I don’t know if I’m ready.” In response, she said some harsh words, but these motivated me to submit my papers the same day. When I did, I thought that my main enemy lived in my head.
That experience taught me that even if we sometimes lack self-confidence, it’s worth trying. If we don’t, we will definitely fail, but if we try, we have a chance to win.
What is your approach to parity and diversity in your organisation?

Among Pfizer’s almost 600 employees in Poland, there are representatives of 18 nationalities. Women make up 77 per cent of our team. But diversity represented by numbers is not enough. For me, it is first and foremost a state of mind – an everyday attitude that manifests itself through openness to different perspectives, opinions and experiences. The counterpart of this attitude at an organisation-wide level is an inclusive culture that embraces diversity in approach to problem solving.
I believe that diversity and inclusion are skills that everyone can learn. Just like… calligraphy. Until a few years ago, I knew nothing about it, but I began to explore the field, took a course and discovered a new passion for creating manuscripts as if straight out of the Middle Ages. It reinforced my belief that we can learn and change at every stage of our lives.
Of course, opening up to diversity comes easier to some, they have it early in their careers, but inclusivity can also be learned. This is important, because diversity involves a constant clash of habits and needs, it creates tensions. You need to be able to manage and derive value from them, because they are the source of the most interesting solutions to problems. At Pfizer, we believe that we will not be able to help our diverse patients around the world if we are not equally diverse ourselves.
Are women open to new technologies?
This topic is close to my heart, because for several years I have been an ambassador of the Woman Update campaign, which aims to support women in developing digital competences and taking up digital careers. Studies show that the group of Polish women with digital competences is only a few percentage points smaller than the group of men, and among the youngest, these differences are no longer visible at all.
In addition, the report “Digital Key to the Professional Future” shows that women in Poland understand digital competences are becoming more and more important, some of them seeing them as a guarantee to get a good job. Despite this, only one in one hundred working women in Poland is related to the new technology industry, and they are a definite minority in this sector.
Unfortunately, this is influenced by culture and stereotypes. Let me use a personal example. When the pandemic started and we were meeting only online, there were a few times when I either couldn’t be seen or heard. When the problem was on my side, I could sense these reactions – “you know, a woman, she can’t operate technology”. But when it happened to guys, it was “technology has failed, it’s Zoom’s fault!”.
Does it work in women’s favour that the most important qualities of a good leader, i.e. empathy, understanding, a pro-social view of the organisation, are qualities attributed to women?
I think so. Already many years ago, statistics said that women care more about employees and their development, consult others more often in decision-making, and establish interpersonal relationships more easily. Research confirms that this approach is effective – the more women at the highest levels, the better the business results.
I also believe that in these difficult times that we have been experiencing over the last few years, it is of great value on such a human level that women leaders more often have the courage to be themselves, to show their feelings, to appeal to values. Sometimes we women can be cramped in the world of the rigid, cold standards of the male point of view, so we ask questions, we dig deeper. This allows us to look wider, to include more perspectives.
What experiences from your youth have influenced you?
When I look at myself today, it seems to me that where I came from made a big difference. I grew up in Przemyśl, a city with a rich and multicultural history, which lies on the border with Ukraine. Unfortunately, in my youth I observed and experienced exclusion myself, which is probably why I developed a special sensitivity – I subconsciously pick up on discriminatory words and behaviour. This also allows me to react to them almost spontaneously. Related to this is also my personal goal to create a working environment where everyone feels accepted and respected. I also use this energy by getting involved in my local communities and as an ambassador for the Woman Update campaign I mentioned earlier.
A sense of closeness to my Ukrainian neighbours also did not allow me to remain idle when the Russian invasion began a year ago. When the first information about the dramatic situation of the Ukrainian people reached me, I felt that it was also my personal tragedy. Like thousands of other Poles, I knew it was necessary to start acting – to unite and selflessly organise help. The natural step was to turn to the Siemacha Association, which Pfizer supported even before 2022 and which helped orphaned children from Ukraine after the war broke out. I also share our local experience as part of the Pfizer Foundation’s global team, which has already committed $30 million to support the people of Ukraine through, among other things, grants to 15 NGOs and humanitarian organisations working in Ukraine and neighbouring countries. The fact that at the head of Pfizer Poland I have the power and ability to help others is extremely important to me personally.

Country Manager Pfizer Poland

Dorota Hryniewiecka-Firlej has over 20 years
of experience in the pharmaceutical industry.
For many years she worked in management positions in the biggest pharmaceutical companies like Janssen-Cilag, NovoNordisk, and Wyeth.
For years, she has been with Pfizer, one of the world’s leading pharmaceutical companies, where she successfully combines the vision of a CEO with a people-oriented perspective.

She comes from Przemyśl, a city with a rich and multicultural history, which lies on the border with Ukraine. Her personal experience of exclusion gave birth to her long-standing personal goal of creating a workplace where each person feels accepted, respected, and appreciated. She strives to create an environment where colleagues feel safe regardless of their views, background, or gender. For four years she was Co-Chair of the Diversity and Inclusion Council of Pfizer’s European structures.

She bases the organization’s culture on a community of values rather than interests. She supports gender parity goals. One of her recent projects was ‘The future has a woman’s face’ #BelieveSiebie. In addition, she is active in organizations and associations such as the Executive Club and the Polish-Jewish Dialogue Forum. For years, she has been an ambassador of the Woman Update campaign, which supports the development of women’s digital competence.

She has held key leadership positions in leading organizations and industry associations in Poland. She was president of the Association of Employers of Innovative Pharmaceutical Companies (INFARMA), and vice president of the largest employers’ organization, the Employers of the Republic of Poland, where she cofounded the Human Rights & Business initiatives.

She is a graduate of the Poznan University of Medical Sciences, where she obtained a specialization and a Ph.D. in internal disease.

Not only does she lead an active professional life, but she also works socially for the benefit of local communities, and in her free time she devotes herself to her passions, which are playing the piano and illuminating medieval manuscripts. She is a member of the Italian Association of Calligraphy and Illumination.

Last Updated on March 15, 2023 by Anastazja Lach