5 Minutes with Aida Sabo

Fulfilling a Sense of Purpose

Aida Sabo, global head of diversity and senior vice president for biopharmaceutical company Parexel International, knows how uplifting a diverse and inclusive environment can be. Yet the child of Mexican immigrants recalls all too many incidents while she was growing up when diversity was not celebrated.

Those experiences lit a fire in Sabo to create an environment in which employees’ differences are appreciated. That’s key in her current role at Parexel, where her work includes global initiatives in regions including India, Germany, and China. Prior to working at Parexel, she championed workplace equity as chief diversity officer for Cardinal Health and technology company EMC.

Sabo spoke with Diversity Woman about increasing the number of women in the C-suite, and why it’s important for men to be allies.

Diversity Woman: You moved to the US from Mexico when you were three. How did your upbringing influence your perceptions about diversity, equity, and inclusion?

Aida Sabo: I knew how hardworking my parents were. I knew how smart my dad was. Yet some people would say, “Mexicans, they’re really lazy.” When I do diversity work, I remember how my family was treated. I think that everyone has something to offer.

DW: Parexel received a 2022 Catalyst Award for its resources that help women at the company succeed. Which achievements helped lead to this distinction?

AS: We created an initiative to focus on the advancement of women at the VP level and above.

We started it in 2014. Last year, when we submitted the application, the percentage of women at the senior vice president level had gone from 13.3 percent to 38.8 percent and at the vice president level from 32.3 percent to 50.3 percent. Also, our percentage of women of color in the worforce at the senior vice president level increased by 10 percent.

DW: Throughout your career, you’ve stressed the value of having men in the workplace as champions of diversity. Why is this important and how does Parexel get men engaged?

AS: If you have a goal that includes just women, then you’re not being inclusive. We included men as allies, and then we educated the men. I knew that in order to get men in the game, they needed to realize what the workplace was like for women and other genders. I invited them to be mentors and then women started to say all these wonderful things about these male leaders.

DW:What are some challenges with creating global DEI initiatives?

AS: Different cultures have different norms and different stereotypes on what a woman should be. For example, there are cultures like Norway and Germany where women have reached higher levels, and countries that are having hard times around gender, like Switzerland, Japan, and Saudi Arabia.

A second challenge is that there are many countries where it’s illegal to ask someone their ethnicity. In the US, we’re supposed to ask because we need to do EEOC reports for the government. So I have the numbers for the US, but I can’t get the numbers describing ethnicity for other regions.

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