Diversity and Inclusion: It’s Good for Business

When we look at the pharmaceutical and biologics industry, we know that there are parts of the world where patients are becoming more empowered.  They have more access to data and technology, and they are becoming more knowledgeable, confident and inquisitive around their health decisions.

But in addition to this, there are segments of the patient population who are experiencing disparities in knowledge, access and healthcare options.  As the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic unfolds, a light is being shed on health disparities that marginalized groups face across the globe. 

In order for us to be able to meet the needs of all of our patients, our employees need to reflect the vast diversity of our patient base around the world.

With a diverse employee base, our employees can reflect on their own cultures & communities and bring that knowledge to the organization and we can learn what some of the barriers and obstacles are to patients not reaching their optimal health outcomes.  

Our company’s purpose as it relates to diversity and inclusion is to compel a more globally diverse and more inclusive workforce for our employees by creating an environment of belonging, engagement, equity, and empowerment so that we can ensure patients experience ultimate health outcomes.

When we think about diversity and inclusion within our company, the focus is on our employees.  There is a “ripple effect” which occurs that benefits the organization and the external environment we impact when we focus on our employees.

For example, with the employees in the center, we need to make sure that we are surrounding our employees with an inclusive environment enriched with psychological safety, empowerment, belonging and empathy where they feel valued and respected.

Once our leaders and managers provide that environment for our employees, the ripple effect occurs where the organization experiences strong and innovative strategies which help to drive our business performance.   We have enhanced practices throughout the drug discovery, development, supply, sales and marketing of our products.  

Finally, we see the ripple effect continued externally through increasing our shareholder and market value and patient outcomes and fulfilling unmet medical needs.  We are impacting global policies and increasing social and economic impact.   We become the employer of choice and enhance our reputation and brand.

By focusing on our employees, the ripple effect occurs because of the substantial positive impact on our business, our customers, our patients and the external environment as a whole.

Our strategic framework, driving diversity and inclusion throughout our company and beyond, involves four primary areas.  

The first area involves strengthening the foundational elements of diversity and inclusion.  As I stated earlier, we need an employee population that reflects the vast diversity of our patients all over the world.   This is at the basic foundation of our strategy.  

The second area involves ensuring accountability to drive an inclusive culture.  It’s not enough to have diverse employees in the organization, but we must ensure that we are building an inclusive work environment around our employees so they can be productive, innovative and empowered to contribute to our mission of saving and improving lives.

The third area of our strategic framework involves continuing to leverage diversity and inclusion to ensure business value.  We know that at the intersection of diversity and inclusion and business performance, you create a competitive advantage for the organization.  Our employees have functional skills and capabilities in their respective disciplines, and we can leverage the different cultures and communities to help us drive our business.  

Getting diverse patients through our clinical trials, applying social and economic factors to our business strategies, ensuring our marketing and commercial strategies are relevant to our diverse patients around the globe are a few examples of how diversity and inclusion should be integrated into our day to day business.

Lastly, the fourth area of our strategic framework involves transforming the environment, culture, and business landscape.  It’s not enough for us to do those things we should be doing around diversity and inclusion within the four walls of our company, but we need to be looking externally as well.   We need to be looking outside of the organization to learn from and be a role model to others so we can contribute to transforming the environment, culture and the overall business landscape

Within our company, we take a holistic approach to global diversity and inclusion – going beyond numbers to embedding it throughout the organization.  We understand the importance of ensuring diversity and inclusion is integrated into the many facets of our business, so it reflects our company’s values and standards.

In order to achieve our diversity and inclusion goals, there has to be a shift in mindsets within our company.  In order to shift mindsets, you have to change behaviors.   You have to shift the focus from a narrow view of diversity and inclusion as only a compliance matter, focused only on numbers to an understanding that it is a part of the business and should be embedded in the day to day operations of the company.    

There has to be a complete understanding that leaders and managers must hold themselves and their employees accountable for creating an inclusive environment.  Management has to recognize the business benefits of diversity and inclusion.  The impact on business performance has to be clear and it has to be viewed as creating a competitive advantage for the organization. 

As a company, we understand the important role we play in elevating our voice to drive change across the globe by adhering to our values and standards as it pertains to diversity and inclusion through challenging times. 

There is no question that 2020 has been an unanticipated time of volatility, extreme change and adjustments, as well as emotional and physical challenges.   The world has struggled with the staggering losses caused the COVID 19 pandemic.  This is a pandemic that has impacted everyone across the globe in one way or another, affecting us on both a personal and professional level.

We have also been horrified by the events surrounding the killing of George Floyd in the United States and the eruption of feelings of frustration and protests around the world over continuing racial injustices and disparities. 

These events have had an enormous impact on diversity and inclusion.   As the pandemic engulfed the globe and then with the protests taking place, the need for strong diversity and inclusion has been amplified both in the private and public sectors in countries all over the world.

Leaders need to be prepared to lead in an environment of volatility, fear, unrest and uncertainty.  People managers need to learn more than ever how to lead inclusively with their employees moving to working remotely.  As employees find their voices over the social unrest there is a sharp increase in employee engagement, dialogue and the demand for empowerment of the workforce

With most individuals working from home and integrating their personal and professional lives, the intersection of community, economic and political views with workplace ideals have become even more intertwined.  

The pandemic and the protests around the civil injustices have served as an unmistakable call to action.   Leaders have taken this time to study, learn from and strategize as to how these events will shape the future success of corporations.

They have learned several things that will shape the future success within the organizations:

They know that capabilities that made leaders successful in the past may not be the capabilities that will make them successful in the future with the changing dynamics of the workforce.  The impact of 2020 has taken its toll on the health and wellness of employees both physically and mentally and will need to be address in order to maintain and grow a productive workforce.  Also, the impact of the pandemic and working virtually has really caused leaders to examine where employees can be productive and what that workforce can look like and achieve.   Bricks and mortar may not be needed as much as a strong IT infrastructure. 

As our employees work from home with 24-hour news channels at their disposal, their knowledge of current events impacting their lives, and their livelihood have enhanced and hastened their “awakening.”  This employee awakening contributes to a more empowered workforce, which will need strong and authentic leaders.  

Global Diversity & Inclusion is an on-going journey for all employees within the company.   Along this journey, we would like employees to have greater opportunities to be an integral part of our diverse and inclusive culture.  We want them to feel they are empowered to bring their authentic selves to work so they can focus on contributing to the organization, and very importantly, we need them to do whatever they must do to hold themselves and others accountable for driving diversity and inclusion throughout the company.

Everyone plays a role in creating the diverse and inclusive environment that we want to see within the organization.


About the author

Celeste Warren

Celeste Warren

Merck, Vice President Global Diversity & Inclusion COE

As the leader for Merck’s Global Diversity and Inclusion Center of Excellence, she is responsible for working with Merck’s global leaders to advance and embed diversity and inclusion as a strategic approach to maximize business performance and create a competitive advantage.

Ms. Warren joined Merck in 1997 and has held numerous positions of increasing responsibility within its global organization.

Prior to joining Merck in 1997, Celeste worked for nine years in Human Resources at Kraft Foods, Inc. and General Foods.

She has been honored with many awards, including Black Enterprise’s “Top Executives in Global Diversity and Inclusion”, Savoy Magazine’s “Most Influential Women in Corporate America”,  “21 Leaders for the 21st Century” and Diversity Global’s “Influential Women in Global Diversity.” 

Celeste attended the University of Kentucky where she earned her B.S. degree. She received her Masters Degree from Carnegie Mellon University. 

She is the wife of John Warren and the mother of two children, Christina-Celeste and John Steven, Jr.