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Denise Harnett

I’m Denise Harnett, Pfizer’s Senior Director, leading the UK Biopharmaceutical People Experience organisation and a member of the UK Board of Directors. I feel very lucky to have been part of this progressive, people-centric company for the last 18 years.

We’re defined by our purpose and our values.

Introduce yourself and tell us about your organisation  

I’m Denise Harnett, Pfizer’s Senior Director, leading the UK Biopharmaceutical People Experience organisation and a member of the UK Board of Directors. I feel very lucky to have been part of this progressive, people-centric company for the last 18 years.

Pfizer is one of the world’s premier bio-pharmaceutical companies. Our pioneering innovations come through combining transformational technology with cutting-edge science and passionate, purposeful, human endeavour. Every day, we open new worlds of medical possibilities to advance our purpose: Breakthroughs that change patients’ lives.

That purpose is at the heart of everything we do at Pfizer. In the UK we have around 2,400 colleagues working across our commercial business, research & development, and manufacturing, packaging, and distribution. Along with our values of courage, excellence, equity, and joy, our purpose guides every undertaking, across every role, at every level of our organisation.

We’re defined by our purpose and our values. We’re absolutely committed to working hard and providing a supportive, collaborative working environment that respects a healthy work life balance. And we’re very proud to deliver the skills, investment and employment opportunities that help to ensure that the UK’s life sciences economy thrives.

What do you think defines an organisation as a top employer today?  

This is the seventh year in a row that Pfizer has been recognised as a UK Top Employer. It’s an outstanding achievement and one that really matters to us, as it recognises our total commitment to giving every colleague the personalised opportunities and support they need to fulfil theirpotential and deliver our purpose. ​

Part of what defines us as a Top Employer is our workplace culture. We take collective responsibility for ensuring that all colleagues feel accepted, valued, and empowered to bring and to be their best at work, within a culture that is:

  • Flexible
  • Collaborative
  • Supportive
  • Inclusive
  • Defined by a clear purpose and strong values

This approach is amplified by clear workplace strategies that are designed to support all colleagues to flourish:

  • Our practices are people-led
  • Our policies are family-friendly
  • Colleagues are recognised for both leadership and performance, and have the time, space, and support to focus on their most meaningful work
  • We offer the training, mentoring, and stretch opportunities for both personal, and career growth

​By doing those things, we thrive, our business thrives, and we deliver breakthroughs that change patients’ lives. ​   ​ ​

Tell us about a recent initiative that you have instigated within your organisation that you are most proud of?  

We aim to build diversity, equity and inclusion into every level of our business, facilitating equitable access to colleague opportunities. One of our important areas of focus has been our work towards closing the gender pay gap. This work is driven by a five-point diversity, equity, and inclusion strategy designed to create long term change.

This strategy is a team effort, overseen by a Diversity, Equity & Inclusion lead. The gender pay gap is a standing item on the UK Board agenda and is reviewed on a quarterly basis to ensure we maintain our focus for change.

Our clear and measurable strategy focuses on five key areas, which are designed to benefit every colleague, increase diversity, and enhance inclusion. The areas are:

  • Recruitment diversity
  • Creating a trusting, flexible workplace
  • Providing returner support
  • Career progression support
  • Family friendly practices

Since starting work on this strategy we have seen our gender pay gap steadily reduce year-on-year. We are proud to say that it is now significantly lower than the industry average, and we intend to keep up that momentum.

What is the next objective in your organisation's journey to keep improving the employee experience?  

We are continuing to focus on all aspects of diversity, equity, and inclusion. As part of those activities we are now:

  • Continuing our efforts on closing the gender pay gap, along with a focus on the ethnicity pay gap.
  • Refining our digital onboarding experience. This is to ensure that the candidate and employee journey is fully supported during the hiring process. Our aim is for these improvements to be rolled out at the end of 2022.
  • Embracing ‘Lightspeed principles’. The phrase ‘Lightspeed’ was adopted during our response to the COVID-19 pandemic and is being taken up across the organisation. It reflects our fast-paced, transparent culture, and is characterised by our desire to:
  • Reduce bureaucracy – without compromising quality or integrity
  • Work at the ‘speed of science’
  • Trust in one another.

Our aim in adopting these Lightspeed principles is to further empower each and every colleague to focus on their most meaningful work, and to realise our purpose.

What is the biggest challenge facing your organisation today and how are you planning to overcome it?  

In the current climate there are several challenges facing us. Similar challenges exist across many industries, and include:

Wellbeing, health, and resilience.
The ongoing impact of the pandemic has affected colleagues’ wellbeing, mental health and resilience. It’s brought about a change in how we work and has seen many people assessing their priorities.

Our challenge as an organisation is to ensure that we continue to offer the right support and structures that allow colleagues to bring and to be their best. We have a variety of resources in place to do this, including our own trained Mental Health First Aiders.  We also provide support for volunteering activities, enabling colleagues to re-energise, while taking time to give back to a cause that matters to them.

The talent pipeline.
Our external and internal environment is evolving and changing, and this is changing what we need in terms of our colleagues’ skills and experience. Our challenge now is to:

1. Attract and retain the right talent.
2. Meet the expectations of the new generation of colleagues.
3. Keep our focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion, as well as early careers and social and environmental responsibility.

How will your organisation have to adapt to meet the changing future workplace?  

For most of us, working life has looked and felt quite different over the last couple of years. This has brought challenges but it has also led to beneficial innovation and adaptation. The need to approach things in a different way – utilising technology to stay connected and working with our teams and managers to be agile and flexible with our working hours – has accelerated a process we had begun before the pandemic: the move to flexible working practices and mindsets.

Going forward, we will continue to refine our flexible working model. Our ongoing goal is to blend the best of remote work and on-site collaboration to drive greater flexibility – either formally, or informally – for many of our colleagues. This includes when, where, and how colleagues work. Colleagues in flexible roles will be able to balance their on-site and remote work, in partnership with their managers, to maximise their productivity, collaboration and work-life balance.


This interviewee was kindly introduced to us by ‘Top Employers Institute’ – the global authority on certifying excellence in employee conditions.’ Their organisation is certified as a Top Employer.

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