Diversity, equity and inclusion are not just buzzwords. In the current work climate, they must be the foundation of every organization’s culture. It is far more efficient to build a culture based on inclusivity. From the start rather than amending it later due to a lack of early attention, especially in emerging life science organizations.

As part of a recent webcast series with CCC designed to provide emerging R&D-intensive organizations with best practices, I had the pleasure of speaking with leading DEI consultants Allison V. Manswell, CPTD and Founder & Chief Results Officer of Path Forward Consulting, and Jasmine Montañez, Senior Consultant for The Impact Seat. Here are some helpful insights from our discussion on how to make the most of your time and financial resources to build an inclusive company culture.

Before a company can launch effective and sustainable DEI initiatives, employees must first have a solid understanding what the D, E and I terms represent and how very different they are from one another. According to Jasmine Montañez, Diversity is really thinking about variety among a group, Equity is thinking about fairness, and Inclusion is thinking about belonging.

Allison V. Manswell credits one of her mentors, Netflix’s VP of Inclusion Strategy Vernā Myers, with this analogy:

“Diversity is being asked to the party. Inclusion is being asked to dance.”

Allison goes one step further to add that Equity is having space on the dance floor for everyone and Belonging is when they play your song.

The common question for most small or emerging companies is then, “where do you start?”

Allison Manswell believes that the sensible place for smaller companies to begin is with a focus on inclusion. To do so, she identifies three main challenges startups must work to overcome when building their DEI roadmap:

  • Startups sometimes experience what is referred to as “the Founder effect,” where most policies and processes of the company tend to take on the characteristics of its founder. It is important to look beyond that. She recommends that a company start by first assessing what abilities and resources it currently has, and then intentionally seeking out resources and people who fill the gaps, such as intellectual, technical, or professional experience.
  • She also stresses the importance of making time and dedicating the resources for DEI, especially in a new organization where the main priority is often revenue generation. Looking at how the income is generated is just as important as how much income is generated and will position the company for better revenue growth over time.
  • It can also be difficult for startups to get Board or senior executive leadership support if they lack the shared experiences to understand DEI challenges.

Jasmine Montañez agrees that inclusion is a critical place to start because diversity and equity are both difficult without it. More established, mid-sized and often high-growth organizations tend to have a particular area of need – diversity, equity or inclusion, and sometimes have to undo already established practices. However, the startup space provides an exciting opportunity for companies to define their commitment to DEI and build inclusion from the very beginning. Then as the company grows and develops processes, in HR or Finance, for example, it can embed its DEI values right into all aspects of the organization. She recommends these tips for starting the DEI journey in organizations with limited resources.

  • Recognize that the existing organization may not be fully equipped to manage the DEI process and an outside consultant may be needed.
  • Identify cost-free measures that can be taken from the start such as re-examining or creating an employee handbook, establishing more diverse hiring practices and what that means to the organization, conducting a review of the existing website for diversity, etc.
  • When the idea of establishing a DEI strategy feels overwhelming, work to identify more short-term wins – what can be done immediately, or in the next few months, and build from there.

For emerging life sciences companies, a major challenge is diversifying their hiring when the candidate pool is not diverse to being with. To address this, it is recommended before promoting more broadly to the public, a company focus on creating inclusion and belonging with the more diverse employees already in the company and work to become the kind of organization they want to recommend to others. Again, speaking to executive leadership, it is also essential to establish a level of commitment to DEI from the top, so that it resonates throughout the organization and beyond.

Learn more about the initial DEI steps your organization can take by viewing the full webcast recording and others from my Optimizing Culture and Information Management webcast series for emerging R&D organizations here.

You may also enjoy Building a Culture of Success from the Start: Focus on Management Excellence.

Visit CCC’s solutions page for emerging life science organizations and also learn how to reduce the time-consuming article retrieval process, facilitate collaboration across teams, maximize the value of content investments and simplify copyright compliance.


Author: Joanne Kamens

Dr. Kamens received her PhD from Harvard Medical School in Genetics. She is a Senior Consultant at The Impact Seat, a consulting firm that helps organizations develop and maintain equitable and inclusive cultures that are rich in diversity. Dr. Kamens has had a varied career in academia, pharma, biotech and nonprofit. For a decade she was Executive Director of the nonprofit biotech, Addgene and was Interim Executive Director of the Bentley University Center for Women and Business. She has been advancing diversity and inclusion for decades including as founder of the Boston chapter of the Association for Women in Science (MASS AWIS) and currently serves on the AWIS National Board of Directors. She consults and speaks widely on topics such as Science Careers, Culture Roadmaps for Start-ups, Implicit Bias, Management Excellence, and Making the most of Mentoring Relationships. You can find her @jkamens on Twitter or on LinkedIn.
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