Emergent BioSolutions Executive Vice President, Human Resources and Corporate Communications and Chief Human Resources Officer Katy Strei answers questions about how Emergent has opened the aperture in thinking creatively and broadly about diversity and inclusion.
What do inclusion and diversity mean to Emergent as they relate to the organization’s culture?
Our success depends on our ability to solve complex problems, deliver innovative products, and build strong relationships with our customers and partners. All of those things benefit from a team that has many different skills, talents and perspectives.
Great talent exists everywhere and we’re focused on finding, recruiting and creating great opportunities for strong talent. Diversity means having people of different backgrounds represented across our company at all levels, functions, and locations. This includes the traditional ways that diversity is defined – race, gender, ethnicity, orientation, different abilities. We certainly think in those terms, but diversity is also ways of thinking and life experience. Diversity is table stakes; inclusion is what makes the difference. We are continuously working to create an environment where our people have the experience at Emergent where their perspectives are valued, where they feel a sense of belonging, and they can see the impact that their contribution makes to our company.
How do diversity and inclusion shape the culture at Emergent?
We welcome and showcase difference in big and small ways. For example, we have a company-wide innovation speaker series and we’ve showcased a wide range of speakers. For the inaugural event we featured Cady Coleman, former U.S. Air Force officer and NASA astronaut who spent 180 days in space, including on the International Space Station. Just this year, we learned from Jennifer Doudna, a leading figure in what is referred to as the “CRISPR revolution” for her fundamental work and leadership in developing CRISPR-mediated genome editing and most recently Scott Burrows, a paraplegic who inspired us with the lessons of his life experience with a talk on “Vision, Mindset and Grit: How to Stand up to Any Challenge.”
We work to bridge connections across our team. We hosted an international potluck lunch at our headquarters in Gaithersburg, Maryland. Over 100 employees attended and they made food from their heritage, wore traditional clothing, and talked about their experiences. As a result, people were able to connect on a more personal level through the exchange of recipes and conversations about family and culture. We see these connections informally, and they are brought to bear to deliver against business challenges and to execute strategy.
What benefits have you seen as a result of building a diverse and inclusive workplace?
We’ve seen collaboration across our functions, sites, and business units which is key to innovation and in improving ways of doing things. There are benefits to employee engagement when we’re connecting to and creating a positive work experience for all our people. We’ve strengthened our organization by ensuring that our investments in leadership development are inclusive of our diverse employee population. Most importantly, we operate in a global environment with diverse customers and partners and bringing that diversity into our company and ensuring we make it a great environment is key to our sustained business success.
Give us some insight into a few tools and/or initiatives that have worked well for Emergent.
We’ve employed a number of different tools and initiatives. We’re intentional about talent management – from recruitment to succession. For example, we’re committed to ensuring we have diverse candidate slates for key roles which converts into increased diversity hiring. We’ve partnered externally with organizations like Women In Bio to provide tools and resources to our employees. We teach our managers and leaders ways of thinking and skills to ensure they are effective at leading a diverse team. We invite role models and speakers who challenge our way of thinking and spark conversation and develop new skills. We are bringing data and analytics to our board of directors, so they understand, and we hold ourselves accountable.
What advice would you give other companies that are trying to achieve a diverse and inclusive workplace?
Diversity and inclusion are business mandates, not HR initiatives so progress depends on business leader commitment. Engaging business leaders with the assumption of positive intent is essential to building a partnership where progress can be made. Something like the potluck lunch is productive, but it doesn’t substitute for ensuring your organization has the diversity representation and that those voices are heard. This is a long game; it doesn’t change instantly and requires persistence and perseverance.