Conversations around diversity and inclusion were central to this year's Biotech Week Boston, no more so than during a panel discussion on the opening night.
Edie Stringfellow, Mass Bio's first ever Director of Diversity and Inclusion, and VisionSpring co-founder Erica Colonero were two of the panelists and spoke exclusively to us about some of the key issues.
Erica Colonero: I think that any time we can have a conversation about diversity and inclusion, it's important. To see this topic be included in this event is a really powerful testament to the event as a whole. And just bringing people together, and talking about the industry and how as an industry, we can advance diversity and inclusion.
Edie Stringfellow: MassBio is a life science cluster of the world. We have over 1,100 members that represent over a quarter of a million employees. But here in the Mass state, it's about 65,000 employees. And what we're hearing from our members is that everyone is excited about diversity and inclusion, but they all have questions.
The questions range from: How am I doing compared to other companies along where we are? What is going on? What are you hearing? What is trending? How do we get started?
EC: My business partner and I, we started VisionSpring about 12 years ago. We're based in Massachusetts. We're a women-owned and certified diversity and inclusion consulting firm. So we work with our clients on diversity and inclusion strategy, as well as develop training.
ES: I do think that we are making strides, but we also have an uphill battle that we need to address. If you take a look, our Hispanic population is about 18 percent in the United States; however, represents less than two percent in decision-making roles within the biotech industry.
Where are our CEOs, our board members, that have disabilities, physical challenges, neuro challenges, emotional challenges? We still don't see them as visible. And I think that they need to have members from underrepresented groups in those positions so that people from those groups see them as role models and think "that can be me too."
EC: For most companies, they understand the business case for diversity and inclusion. It's really about, how does diversity and inclusion become the fabric of their being? Part of everything an organization does.
So when they're making decisions about work force, they're recruiting diverse talent, they're creating inclusive work environments where people feel comfortable bringing their whole selves to work. They can contribute no matter their dimension of diversity. So it's really arming leaders with the skills and tools they need.
ES: Companies that are not sold on diversity and inclusion initiatives, I would advise them, if they're not working on a equity strategy that they need to work on a exit strategy. Because they are not going to be able to recruit the best talent.
They are not going to be able to have their current employees focus because they have no idea if this is a fair company. Am I getting paid well? What else is going on the marketplace at this time?
And if you're not advancing your science, because you don't have the right teams in place, you're not going to have more investments. So you have to do one or you're going to end up being forced to do the other. You will become irrelevant and someone else will take that talent and develop their science with the people that should have been at your company.
EC: I think for diversity and inclusion practitioners, their resources, their departments tend to be small; their budgets tend to be small. They're pulled in several different directions. So I think it's just having those adequate resources and tools to be able to execute their strategy.
ES: Diversity and inclusion, for me, is at the intersection of purpose and passion. And I know that we need the best minds and the most creative mixes in the table discussing every opportunity or option that we have to advance science so that we can get more cures and therapies, med device, to the patient population faster.
EC: The people who work in this space are looking at the greater good of all organizations. And at the end of the day we're trying to help people be better leaders, to get the most out of their employees; to have engaged work forces that can deliver the best results.
ES: And I think that life science is the last place where you need to be exclusive. We need everybody involved. We need everybody at the table.
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