Talent Development

Everwise Learning Series: Diversity & Inclusion in Life Sciences

By Sarah AlexanderAugust 10, 2017

Regardless of industry, diversity is no longer a nice to have. It is a strategic necessity. In the ever-growing life science sector (which includes pharma, biotech, and medical device companies), there is significant deficiency when it comes to diversity and inclusion (D&I). As an example, new research has revealed the severity of the gender gap in the boardroom and C-suite in Life Sciences as compared to other industries.

That said, this is becoming an increasingly important focus for Life Science companies. Ernst & Young has found that 96 percent of leaders in life sciences overwhelmingly believe that their organizations need to improve their diversity in order to compete in the sector. With this in mind, Everwise recently sat down with two leaders in the space: Carol Peccarelli, a Diversity & Inclusion Human Resources Leader at Johnson & Johnson, and Linda Fitzpatrick , Senior Human Resources Advisor for Sutro Biopharma.

Both Peccarelli and Fitzpatrick agreed that they have seen a stronger commitment from leadership on hiring, retaining, developing and advancing women and minorities. They noted that their companies’ research has found that while there is often focus on the “we’re different” side of D&I, there are actually a lot more similarities than differences. So while increasing diversity is important, there needs to be just as much emphasis placed on inclusion. As Fitzpatrick noted, everyone ultimately wants “to be the very best athletes we can for the company… We want to put Sutro first, and in doing that, we want to support one another,” regardless of your gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, etc.

Read on to learn the specific D&I efforts underway in each of their respective companies.

Sutro Biopharma: Embracing a Holistic Approach to D&I

Linda Fitzpatrick has been with Sutro Biopharma since it had 4 employees, so she has been able to integrate a general emphasis on D&I into Sutro’s culture as the company has developed. While she and her colleagues have implemented a number of specific programs to ensure that their employees are diverse and practice inclusivity, she noted that they truly strive to “build that into our operating behaviors.”

At Sutro, the process begins with understanding cultural dynamics. Fitzpatrick notes that there are three critical audiences to think about: the customer, employees, and senior management. She and her team begin by looking at what is important to the business’ customers; from there, they look at what the company’s employees value and what senior management views as important for the business to succeed. While this is a bottom-up process, it becomes top-down as well in that Sutro’s leadership strives to model key behaviors, thus creating the inclusive environment that everyone involved agrees they would like to achieve.

Sutro’s CEO runs the board at the California Life Sciences Institute, which is very actively involved in policy and good business practices in life sciences. Having this commitment at the top, with senior leadership walking the walk, drives inclusive behavior from a day-to-day perspective. As Fitzpatrick noted that this is particularly powerful because, “You can have all of the most lovely diversity and inclusion policies and statements in the world, but if people don’t feel like that’s being lived, it really sort of loses its cache.”

In terms of specific D&I efforts, Sutro has taken advantage of its newness and small size to approach D&I as a whole philosophy intertwined with its learning and development efforts. The company has a vast offering of in-house programs aimed at skillset and behavior development as well as collaboration. It has an internal mentoring program where each member of senior management spends a rotational period of time with each of the company’s high potential team members. The program is open to all employees but focuses on connecting underrepresented minorities with leadership in order to bridge the gap. Fitzpatrick reflects, “We really, from day one, had that program in place. It has been a terrific way to not have that sort of divide, that level divide, that inclusion divide, between senior leadership and mid-level leadership.”

Additionally, Sutro is embarking with its first Everwise program with five high-potential women, in order to take advantage of external resources to enhance emerging leaders’ experiences. Fitzpatrick notes, “While it’s terrific that we have some internal things around leadership development and our internal mentoring program, it’s really important to get an external perspective as well.”

With all these efforts underway, Fitzpatrick and her team look at promotions, retention, and recruiting success in order to measure what is working and what is not. However, in a smaller company, Fitzpatrick also has the privilege of speaking with every employee about how things are going. When she has these conversations, she focuses on asking “How would you assess ?” as opposed to “What did you think?” She has found that across the company, this approach has caught on as a way to avoid inserting personal opinions and biases and creating an overarching awareness about how people approach their co-workers and work situations.

Johnson & Johnson: Starting Small to Go Global

Johnson & Johnson is a global company with 126,000 employees operating across three segments: pharmaceuticals, medical devices, and consumer products. J&J’s size and highly matrixed structure present many variables and a high level of complexity to grapple with when addressing D&I across the organization. While J&J has been working in the D&I space since the 19070s, it has all been happening within separate businesses and sectors until a few years ago. Since then Carol Peccarelli and her team have sought to align the organization under one global enterprise D&I strategy.

In order to do this, J&J had to better understand its employees across 33 countries. It used focus groups, one-on-ones, and surveys where people could voice their opinions anonymously. Peccarelli’s team compiled this data and drew insights in several different areas: talent management, culture of inclusion, innovation, leadership, and employee behaviors. They then used these insights to create a global D&I strategy based on three pillars: advancing a culture of inclusion and innovation; building a diverse work force for the future; and enhancing business performance and reputation.

Being such a large company as compared to Sutro, Peccarellinoted that her team had to engage leadership to get alignment and buy-in across the organization while simultaneously taking a bottom-up approach that engages each and every employee. While J&J’s leadership is committed to D&I, they required quantitative data to invest in it. Peccarelli’s team provided data broken down by race, gender, ethnicity, and age brackets as well as employee quotes to “hit people with their head and their heart. If you can hit both, you’ll get people to really understand and want to proactively move the needle.” To balance these two extremes, J&J has created 13 employee research groups as well as regional D&I advisory councils that collaborate to avoid each business implementing programs separately.

Similar to Sutro, J&J provides leadership development programs for high potentials with a focus on women and people of color as well as a formal sponsorship program that gives high potential minorities visibility, feedback, and the chance to advance their careers at an accelerated rate. It also participates in external programs leveraging outside resources like The Hispanic Association on Corporate Responsibility, as an example.

When developing these programs, Peccarelli noted that they have been prioritizing on quality over quantity – focusing on fewer things around the world in order to truly understand what’s working and what’s not: “We start small and go big typically. The same time that we start small, we need to make sure whatever we’re creating is scalable right from the get-go, and sometimes that’s not the easiest thing to do.” Peccarelli’s team monitors quantitative metrics, qualitative metrics, and feedback from individuals across the company in order to ensure each program is seeing results and adding value.

Because J&J’s goal is to improve hiring, retention, and promotion rates, it tracks these metrics actively in addition to fielding surveys that include questions about diversity in the company. The goal of these measurement tools is “to make sure that at the highest level, diversity and inclusion are in company, business, and function goals and objections for the organization. And then at the individual level, we actually see that playing out in individual business goals and leadership commitments…[Chief Diversity Officer] Wanda Hope is all about outcomes, not activity. She’s focused on outcomes, so that’s what we’ll be measuring around the world.”

From an inclusion standpoint, J&J is seeking to create a deep sense of belonging and has developed e-learning in partnership with Harvard University faculty to increase awareness among all employees. As Peccarelli notes, “If we can change each person to think differently, act differently, do thing differently, the impact will be huge.”

D&I: At the Core of the Life Science Industry’s Mission

While these two companies have taken vastly different approaches to D&I, their view of D&I in Life Sciences, is at its core the same. Fitzpatrick commented, “ This is an industry in my view that’s different than any other industry. Life sciences really is a leader in so many ways that it is just absolutely important that we continue to lead as we think about diversity and inclusion.”

Peccarelli echoed this view of the life sciences industry: “A lot of people are in this business because they care. They care about the patient, the consumer, and it touches everybody’s life. ” This desire to help people live healthier lives doesn’t just apply to customers. As Peccarelli continues, “For me, for us… we want our employees to be healthy and have healthy careers…. Being healthy is feeling like you belong and adding value and contributing and achieving the goals that you set out for yourself, whatever they might be. So it’s critically important for us to lead the way.”

Sarah Alexander

Sarah Alexander

Author & Contributor

About the Author

Sarah is an elite triathlete and independent strategy consultant with an MBA from Chicago Booth. She is passionate about empowering others to achieve excellence.

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