Diversity: What Is It, And How Do You Get There?


With Moderator GERRIE DRESSER, CEO/Unique Impact; Executive / Personal Brand Coach

Our Panel of Experts:



Design & Product Transfer Engineer, Abbott Point of Care



Pharmacovigilance Officer, Janssen Scientific Affairs, LLC



President, Peloton Coaching and Consulting



VP Human Resources, AbelsonTaylor



GPHR, SHRM-SCP, Senior Director, Diversity and Talent, AstraZeneca


GERRIE DRESSER: As soon as we decided to take on this topic for a roundtable, we realized it was much broader, deeper and more detailed than we would be able to cover in any comprehensive way. So consider this a conversation starter, a view into the complexity of a topic that is central to our performance as a global industry.

Why this is important should be obvious, but isn’t. We tend to look across the table at our colleagues and orient toward those who are most “like us.” This is a natural human reaction, but not a smart business decision. It doesn’t mean we’re prejudiced, but that we have a common “unconscious bias” or promote “micro-inequitiesi


Diversity and inclusion (two related but separate issuesii ) are not just the right thing to do in societal terms. They are the right thing to do in commercial terms as well. Companies that are conscious of the need to have people, at every level, of different ethnic, religious, gender, age, national and other backgrounds are companies that do better in the marketplace. There are numerous reasons for this. A mix of viewpoints challenges a stultified “insider” mentality. It makes us all more informed and sophisticated. It opens doors to our external dealings with companies and people of all types. It represents us as aware and intelligent.

Somewhere in your company’s universe you deal with African-American doctors, Brazilian suppliers, LGBT patients, and other people of varying types and physical and mental abilities. When they note that you are an inclusive company, you expand your aptitude for dealing with them.

Below is a conversation with some people who have been involved in diversity issues in their own companies. We welcome their participation and insights, and hope that their answers provoke discussions at your workplace.

How do you think our industry is doing in terms of creating more diversity in the workplace?

ARWA KASSAMALI : I believe the healthcare industry has taken tremendous steps in increasing diversity in the workplace as can be seen by the leading women, flexible workplace changes and professional and cultural programs. With this though, there’s still more to be done! These programs and achievements need to filter to all levels of the workplace, there needs to be more equality in salaries of men and women and definitely more women and diverse men CEO’s.

MICHAEL O’BRIEN : We have much more progress to make in terms of leadership diversity. Women today account for a vast majority of medical student graduates and most serve as the Chief Medical Officer for their families. However, when we review the top 20 paid executives in pharma, only two are female. There’s only one African-American. Many companies have established programs to promote more diversity within middle management. This is a good start, but we can’t settle for just “good-enough.” More needs to be done to build on our progress and establish greater diversity at senior levels.

MICHAEL KEATLEY : The pharmaceutical sector does well, compared to other industries, especially if you look at ranking of diversity from various publications. Companies like Johnson & Johnson, Novartis, Merck, and Eli Lilly are frequently cited as top companies in having diverse workforces. Here at Johnson &

Johnson, diversity and inclusion is something we continue to raise the bar on because we recognize it is a driver of innovation and growth for the business.

LINDA PHILLIPS : I believe creative agencies rank high in terms of race/ethnicity, gender and sexual orientation relating to diversity and inclusion. We still, however, have a reputation for being a younger industry and with what I perceive to be a shrinking of the workforce, need to be more open-minded concerning age and generational differences. Without employees possessing historical knowledge and experience in key areas to balance out staffing models, corporate cultures need to have a blend of ages and experience to mirror those clients we are serving. We also seem to be sorely lacking a representation of individuals with disabilities.

What are the particular diversity challenges in the sales workforce? Is there a sense that we have to adapt our gender/ethnicity/ability mix according to our audience? Or is this just a natural change occurring because of the growing awareness about diversity?

GLORIA SINCLAIR MILLER : I think our industry is starting to make progress, but I do think we have a long way to go as it relates to diversity in the workplace. Given that our industry touches our customer base, I don’t think within our leadership ranks we always look like our customers. As most of our companies are dealing in therapeutic areas where the population is changing on a daily basis, we really need to think about what our leadership teams look like in our space. I think from a pharma perspective we do a great job at what we look like as it relates to representatives, but even then there is still opportunity as it relates to ethnic diversity vs. gender diversity.

MICHAEL O’BRIEN : The growing awareness about diversity and many company programs has helped improve diversity among our sales forces. But progress is still needed within our leadership, specialty, and oncology sales teams. In my opinion, one of biggest challenges is stress. It’s well documented that our sales forces have gone through dramatic change during the last decade. Our teams are leaner and our goals are aspirational. This creates stress. I understand that stress goes hand-in-hand with sales, but when excessively stressed our vision, figuratively and literally, narrows and we like to gather with people who seem similar to us. It’s basic biology.

We can counter this reaction by promoting an attitude of abundance. As an example, encouraging more female leadership doesn’t mean male leadership needs to lose. We’re an industry of innovators. If one can innovate, stay relevant, and produce, then, regardless of gender, the industry has provided career opportunity and growth. When the diversity value is promoted by executives and trusted peers, progress is possible.

ARWA KASSAMALI : The diversity challenges in the sales workforce are around stereotypes of a) what sales people do and what they look like, and b) not being inclusive of the local and international customers. Companies have to adapt their staff to understand different customers, genders, and really be able to mix with the environment.

MICHAEL KEATLEY : As the U.S. (and the world) becomes ever more diverse it become imperative for sales forces to have a deep understanding of the needs, concerns and preferences of all their customers. This imperative is not unique to sales forces but to businesses as a whole. To gain this understanding requires a dual approach. First we must strive for increased diverse representation within the salesforce so it reflects our audiences. As importantly, we need to find ways to identify and share insights of these audiences from other parts of our companies and from external research and thought leadership.

What about on the marketing side? In addition to diversity in your internal staff, what has changed in the way you portray diversity in your marketing materials?

MICHAEL O’BRIEN : As with sales, at senior levels we still can do more to promote greater diversity in marketing leadership. However, I have seen greater diversity in terms of marketing materials during my industry tenure.

GLORIA SINCLAIR MILLER : I think we still have a great opportunity to market to diverse groups. Within our company we have recently taken on better marketing to the Latino population, and that was driven through our Employee

Resource Groups. I think we still have opportunities with other ethnic groups.

MICHAEL KEATLEY : The D&I challenge in marketing is the same as for sales forces. A workforce that resembles the market has a deeper understanding of it and provides insights that drive innovation and results. The impact of this diverse workforce goes beyond diverse representation in marketing and advertising – as important as that is. The insights gained provide invaluable information on how to create culturally-relevant and unique ways to reach our diverse customer base.

ARWA KASSAMALI : Marketing is the first, customer facing organization; the challenge they have is mingling internal focus and product development thoughts to external customers and their usability. They have to develop tools, and have materials that can go beyond language changes, but can assess and understand different educational levels, ethnicities, ages. One example is to engage local customers directly through the sales force when creating marketing materials – get the true perspective!

Where do you think we’re ahead or behind – in ethnic, gender, nationality, ability or other kinds of diversity?

MICHAEL O’BRIEN : In my opinion we can do more in overall diversity. Although we are currently behind the ideal, I’m optimistic that the industry can be a shining example for others.

GLORIA SINCLAIR MILLER : As an organization I think we have made strides as it relates to gender diversity, but again, this would be at our lower ranks and not at the top ranks of our organization where there still is an opportunity. Within ethnic diversity I think we still have a huge opportunity across the board whether at the junior or senior ranks. As it relates to nationality as a global company, I think we are starting to really have our arms around this. As it relates to other diversity I do think we are behind and this is one of the focus areas of my role.

ARWA KASSAMALI : I believe we’re headed forward in a variety of these diversity topics, except for salary. Recently published facts truly show a gap in salary difference as individuals rise in their career. Median salary of women executives was 20% lower than that of male colleagues with the same education and experience.

MICHAEL KEATLEY : Our concept of “diversity” has rightly expanded, but this does not indicate that we have “solved” diversity for any of these groups. For example, every industry from pharmaceuticals to finance to tech has problems in recruiting and retaining African Americans and Latinos in the United States. In addition, from a global perspective, all industries need to find and retain senior women. Leading companies like J&J are reexamining D&I efforts and sharing learnings to better achieve goals across the enterprise – whether it be increasing representation of diverse groups, retaining them, or promoting them. In addition, as our understanding of diversity has grown, so has the importance of inclusion – the “I” in D&I. This is why so many companies are also focused on concepts such as inclusive leadership – which enables us to better leverage the diversity we have towards the success of our companies.

What difficulties are presented by the need to have a more diverse marketing staff or sales force? Do you feel you have to create a specific balance?

GLORIA SINCLAIR MILLER : Within our organization I think our difficulties are presented as it relates to resources. It is around changing the culture of our organization and some practices that have been in place for a while. As the organization got smaller many of the resources that were available to help us to create a more diverse strategy as it relates to recruiting are no longer there. This means that responsibility falls on our managers in addition to other priorities that they have. I know that this is top of mind for our senior level managers, but in the middle of our organization I don’t think we have struck the right balance.

ARWA KASSAMALI : It’s funny that after years of debate between sales and marketing, this is still a strong topic. You don’t have to create a specific balance in marketing and sales force. You have to create the balance throughout the organization. The difficulties are in introducing new behaviors and open conversations that can drive different work styles, which will eventually reach the customer.

MICHAEL O’BRIEN : There are few, if any, difficulties in having a more diverse marketing or sales force. The only difficulties come when we approach hiring and promoting with limiting beliefs or incorrect assumptions. Rather, I see it as pure opportunity because diversity gives teams the opportunity to relate better to their customers, patients, and employees. A sales leadership team’s diversity profile should be similar to their field force mix.

Have there been discussions about this at your company? What are the most important topics?

LINDA PHILLIPS : Yes – some lively discussions! We’ve always been a woman-friendly company, and currently women make up 59% of our staff, with 28% holding positions in creative leadership. We’re also proud of the fact that we have four generations working together successfully under one roof. Progressive agencies thrive on diversity because it brings richness and strength to their organizations and to their work. We want clients to see for themselves that we value diversity.

GLORIA SINCLAIR MILLER : My role was created in the last year because the subject became the priority of our organization to recruit and promote a more diverse workforce. The definition of diversity is different in the U.S. vs. what we talk about globally. We have focused on messaging, training, and re-igniting our employee resource groups as resources for us to start to actively pull forward our diversity strategy.

ARWA KASSAMALI : The most important topics are “awareness” and “authenticity.” Being diverse means being aware of your products, customers, markets globally. This is how companies grow loyalty and can have better portfolio management.

MICHAEL KEATLEY : D&I has been a major topic of discussion at J&J. This focus comes from the very top, with our CEO Alex Gorsky speaking about the importance of D&I and its impact on our ability to innovate and grow. We are looking at ways to better identify and share best practices and insights about our diverse customer base across the enterprise. We are also looking at how to better drive accountability and ownership for D&I outcomes and objectives to all our leaders. Finally, the concept of inclusion and inclusive leadership is important, as we endeavor to benefit from the thinking of all our employees.

To what do you ascribe the fact that we seem to have much more international diversity than many other industries, and have for many years?

MICHAEL KEATLEY : Globalization is a prominent trend influencing business today. For the healthcare industry, the challenges we are facing are rife with complexity. For J&J to succeed we look for the best science, the best scientific minds, wherever they may be. Bringing them together, across borders allows us to create the innovative solutions to some of the greatest medical challenges out there. Since pharmaceutical companies require a highly educated workforce, it often means looking to foreign workers who have come to the U.S. looking for work. As a result companies have to think of the needs of workers who were born or educated outside of the U.S. Many companies have been successful in creating Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) that cater to the need for connection and familiarity with culturally distinct groups. This trend will continue to grow. This “international diversity” also points to the need for us to have a globally relevant definition of D&I, while making room for locally relevant approaches and solutions to arise organically within the organization.

What companies have done a particularly good job at encouraging diversity, and how?

GLORIA SINCLAIR MILLER : Wells Fargo and Prudential come to mind and they are doing a really good job around encouraging diversity.

MICHAEL O’BRIEN : Companies like Genetech, J&J and Novartis come to mind. They are cutting edge companies and understand the value of a diverse work force.

ARWA KASSMALI : Abbott & J&J are among many that have raised the bar in encouraging diversity.

LINDA PHILLIPS : Banks, hospitals, universities and government offices tend to have affirmative action programs in place, which result in a very diverse workforce that encompasses people of wide-ranging ages, genders, religions, races, ethnicities and national origin, as well as people with disabilities and differences in sexual orientation, life choices and marital and parental status. I recently saw a video that was done by Deloitte around diversity and inclusion, so I think everyone is trying. The more we can share best practices this is the better way to go forward.

MICHAEL KEATLEY : Janssen Pharmaceuticals continues to promote a diverse workforce in several ways. These include making diversity the responsibility of all levels of management, creating local D&I councils to promote the principles of diversity and inclusion within each organization, developing training programs and toolkits that help managers and supervisors create a diverse and inclusive environment, and supporting Employee Resource Groups that celebrate diversity and encourage expression of the varied backgrounds that make up our company.


Do you know of any studies that show diversity is actually healthy for a workplace?

GLORIA SINCLAIR MILLER : Most of the research I have read has talked about not only diversity being healthy, but diversity and inclusion, and having inclusion being a critical part of that is definitely healthy for the workplace. People need to know that they can be appreciated for their differences, as well as being their selves at work.

MICHAEL KEATLEY : Numerous recent studies demonstrate the positive impact that diversity has on businesses. Some look at diversity overall, while others look at the impact within specific diverse groups. In general this research has moved closer to showing direct links between D&I and performance, innovation and growth. McKinsey’s Why Diversity Matters 2015 showed that companies with diverse leadership teams (meaning gender and ethnic diversity) outperform their industry average (this was a global study). Diverse teams are 50% more likely to make better decisions than non-diverse teams, and come up with 15% more new ideas than homogeneous teams according to another study at Kellogg School of Business. (“Better Decisions through Diversity” in Kellogg Insights based on the research of Katherine W. Phillips, Katie A. Liljenquist and Margaret A. Neale). CEB Corporate Leadership Council found that the impact of D&I on people had a 57% increase in performance against goals; 24% greater retention; 21% more emotional commitment to colleagues; and an 11% lift in discretionary effort.

Do you have any personal experiences with promoting diversity or experiencing its value?

MICHAEL KEATLEY : I recently promoted unconscious bias training in my organization that focused on understanding the role of micro-inequities and their effect on engagement. Prior to this there was little organizational understanding of what unconscious bias and micro-inequities were, and even less understanding of their effect. The training started a dialogue about the impact that they had upon employee engagement which is a marker of diversity. The value that it brought was instrumental in creating a business environment where everyone was respected and valued without hindering open and honest communication. This contributed to increased employee engagement scores across the organization and was mentioned specifically in feedback on engagement. So promotion of a diverse and inclusive environment has business impact that can be empirically measured and felt in the atmosphere of the office.

MICHAEL O’BRIEN : Early in my career as a Vice President, Sales I inherited a team with a gender and racial diversity challenge. Although 53% of my representatives were female and 15% were African-American, their leadership team didn’t reflect these percentages. Our district manager make-up was less than 25% female and 10% African-American. The percentages at the director level were equally dim. In concert with human resources, we made a dedicated effort to infuse more diversity into the sales leadership team to better align with the team members they were leading. In less than 18 months, we were able to increase our female leadership representation to 40% and 50% at the manager and director level, respectively. Additionally, our ethnic diversity improved to 18% at the manager level and 38% at director level. The net benefits included enhanced field to manager trust, faster problem solving, close to an 80% engagement rate, and top-line success during a time of dramatic change.

ARWA KASSAMALI : My personal experience in changing and promoting diversity is having led and implemented employee network groups throughout the organization that are formed around topics of gender, ethnicity, flexible work programs. I have also led and participated in mentorships and mentoring circles to drive different conversations and awareness.

LINDA PHILLIPS : Yes, most definitely. As part of my HR responsibilities, I ensure that our Employee Handbook speaks to diversity and that our managers receive annual training in diversity and inclusion. And each year when compiling our EEO1 report, I’m able to analyze the representation of various demographics from a gender and ethnicity standpoint and track promotions according to gender and age. I’ve provided department heads and supervisors with specific education concerning dealing with millennials, as they’re an important part of our workforce now and managing them effectively is critical to attracting and retaining them. Team events, time for volunteerism, and recognition programs have become part of our culture since the arrival of millennials. And through our Employee Referral Rewards program, we’re often able to attract friends of current employees representing the LBGT community. Lastly, seven years ago one of our employees underwent a gender reassignment. I called together department heads, informed them that one of our employees was in transition, and asked for their welcoming support. Everyone was amazing – I’m proud to work with such fantastic professionals. •

i Micro-inequities are the ways in which individuals are singled out, overlooked, ignored, or otherwise discounted based on characteristics like race or gender; they’re subtle, often unconscious, messages that impair workplace performance.

i i Diversity is the act of respecting differences; inclusion is about focusing on the needs of every individual and ensuring the right conditions are in place for each person to achieve his or her full potential.


GERRIE DRESSER CEO/Unique Impact; Executive / Personal Brand Coach

Gerrie Dresser is a nationally recognized Executive l Personal Brand Coach who helps courageous leaders and innovative companies maximize their distinctive value to stand out and thrive in a world of ever-accelerating change. Through the proven success of her proprietary coaching model, Leadership Impact™, her firm has helped over 1,000 high achieving leaders and pivotal leadership teams to leverage their unique capabilities and deliver strategic, high value contributions through an engaged team effort. Gerrie has over 20 years of corporate experience, leading innovative company-wide change initiatives with high-performance senior leadership teams. She has held leadership roles in Fortune 500 corporations in healthcare, information technology, and financial services, and developed her business perspective through positions in customer service, field operations, human resources and marketing.


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