Advancing women's leadership at Biogen

By 2025, Biogen aims to achieve gender parity in roles at the Director level and above. Senior leaders like Hani Houshyar are an example of the progress already made – with women currently holding 47.4% of those roles. 

Hani’s journey to becoming a senior leader at Biogen started early in life. Her family immigrated to the United States from Iran when she was 13.  “I couldn't speak English, but I could do math,” Hani recalls. “Math was just numbers. That was a pivotal point in my life – that’s when I fell in love with math and science. It helped me to integrate into school and find a community.” 

True inspiration came after Hani’s first internship at Upjohn (now part of Pfizer), where she realized her passion for discovering and developing medicines to improve people’s lives, which drove her to obtain a doctorate in pharmacology.

Hani excelled in math and science as a child and used this talent to help her integrate after her family moved to the United States from Iran.

When Hani joined Biogen in 2015, she was firmly established in the pharmaceutical field and seeking opportunities to further her career. She joined the Research & Development (R&D) group as the early-stage program leader for the amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) portfolio. Meanwhile, an internal program called the Women’s Leadership Program (WLP) was being developed at Biogen to help address the unique challenges faced by female leaders with the goal of increasing their influence and impact. Hani was selected to join one of the first cohorts.

"WLP was an outstanding opportunity for me and really important to my growth,” she says.

- Hani Houshyar, Head of Global Product Development and Commercialization for zuranolone

"WLP was an outstanding opportunity for me and really important to my growth,” she says. “It opened my eyes further to the work that happens outside of R&D, encouraging me to lean into those opportunities that would stretch me and helping me to appreciate and build on my strengths as a leader.” The program, as well as exposure to her peers from other departments throughout the company, taught her the importance of creating a network of strong female leaders – a network that she still leans on to this day to remain resilient in the face of challenges.

She is now the Head of Global Product Development and Commercialization for zuranolone, a potential treatment for major depressive disorder (MDD) and postpartum depression (PPD) that is being developed in collaboration with Sage Therapeutics. “My job is to lead a cross-functional team to bring the program forward to launch across the globe for PPD, MDD and other potential neuropsychiatric indications,” she says.

Hani Houshyar, Head of Global Product Development and Commercialization for zuranolone, attributes her professional growth at Biogen to the company’s WLP.

After WLP ended, Hani convened a monthly lunch group to continue the networking and support begun in WLP. Nearly five years later, this cohort of women continues to assist each other professionally and personally to overcome adversity and reach new opportunities. 

With her breadth of experience, Hani has thoughtful advice for women at all stages of their careers. For women just starting out, she recommends mastering their work, asking for feedback, advocating for themselves and seeking out a mentor to help advise and guide their professional development. And for women who are more established in the workplace, Hani suggests that they lean into opportunities that will stretch them to grow, learn and continue to have greater impact. Additionally, she encourages more experienced women to serve as mentors to other women, which she feels leads to mutual growth and learning. 

Ultimately, Hani says gender parity is best achieved through diversity across the spectrum.  “It’s about our organization reflecting the communities that we live in and the communities that we serve, making it a place where we can all thrive.”

Biogen’s journey to gender parity (from 2016)

The power of development programs

There is strong evidence that development programs, like the WLP, produce results, including higher promotion rates, higher retention, increased sponsorship, broader networks, increased knowledge and confidence, and better understanding of organizational structure and processes. Our progress toward gender parity helps to underscore the power of that work.

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