2021 Predictions: Time to Reinforce, Revive, and Revolutionize

Jan 28, 2021

By Edie Stringfellow, Senior Director, Equity, Diversity, Inclusion, MassBio

Last year was a new beginning. Not only did it bring into sharp focus the injustices and inequalities that exist in society, but also an extraordinary shift in expectations from organizations. Through this altered lens, companies are realizing that sustainable and committed change to equity, diversity, and inclusion (ED&I) is not only necessary, but an explicit necessity.

A new year is always a time for introspection and rumination, and for many of us, this year in particular feels full of opportunities. 2020 was a year of reckoning. And 2021 will be the year to hold companies and leaders accountable to their pledges and statements on eradicating intolerances, inequities, and disparities.

Here are some of my predictions for 2021:

Pay gap and promotion reporting will become a priority

Even though it’s not yet a requirement, the mounting pressure from employers to live up to pledges and statements about transparency will lead companies to make pay gap and promotion reporting part of their annual goals. The increased attention and monitoring will obligate organizations to state what measures they will implement to address their issues, ensuring that they will be a priority.

Women will continue to have primary responsibility for home and family matters

When COVID-19 closed schools and child-care centers, American women shouldered the extra burdens of household work, parenting, and remote learning. Too many women were faced with painfully deciding whether to send their children to school and potentially get them sick or keep them home and quit their job. The departure from the workplace will reduce women’s lifetime earning potential and exacerbate the existing structural inequities surrounding their advancement and abilities to succeed in the workforce.

Women leaving the workforce will affect research, phases of development, and potentially transformative medicine. This will decrease patient outcomes. This will interrupt our continuous effort to improve the quality, efficacy, and cost of care. Our companies are stepping up and are adding more flexibility into the workweek; open to a remote/in-person hybrid future; increasing reimbursement amounts for childcare and adult care. Companies are becoming more mommy-centric and adaptive to their needs. However, unfortunately, I don’t see a shift in the heavy lifting at home anytime soon.

CXOs skill requirements will have to include empathy and authenticity

Between the inclusion revolution, the pandemic, the recession, and increased political partisanship, employees feel that their companies and leaders need to be part of the solution. Leaders can no longer participate in corporate theater with simple condemnation, thoughts, and/or prayers. They can no longer stand on the sideline or ‘both sides’ everything.

They can no longer unsee or unhear the voices and experiences of diverse employees who are expecting them to make a difference in the places where the company does business and minimize the pain that marginalized and under-resourced populations are going through. C-Suite executives’ authenticity, strength, resilience, and personal character will be everything. There is no turning back and expectations will be higher to have greater impact in our environment, education, and communities. The most successful leaders and companies will foster healthier, transparent, and more inclusive cultures, increasing employee engagement. These skills will be critical to navigating future disruptions and crises. And, there will be more accountability of ED&I at the CXO level.

Inclusive procurement will increase

The lack of access to capital for diverse suppliers will continue to be a challenge. However, as an industry, if we increase our supplier diversity programs, we will unlock the power of innovation as well as agility. Some diverse suppliers are smaller, making them nimbler. And working with these companies not only meets a tenet of the MassBio CEO pledge to racial equity it also aligns with corporate social responsibility (CSR) goals. These companies pivoted their business models to meet our needs that were created by the pandemic. In turn, means that they can provide the new services or products for current and future demand; and that is how they will add value to your organization.  Corporate commitments will translate into tangible growth that will focus on expanding the ecosystem of businesses of color. 

There will be more investment with minority-serving institutions and external affinity organizations

It will take an inclusive multi-stakeholder approach to overcoming critical participant barriers in clinical trials as well as lowering the cost for biomedical research. And, if the ultimate goal is to help commercialize innovations, so they reach patients in need, then we must increase opportunities for inclusive partnerships and collaborations so that we can reflect the patient population in executive leadership and funding roles.

We will benefit from more collaborations and partnerships with Historically Black Colleges & Universities (HBCUs), Tribal Colleges & Universities (TCUs), Hispanic Serving Institutions (HSIs), and external affinity organizations. There will be an increase of diversity in the bio-entrepreneurial ecosystem, broadening our talent pipelines and Boards through their networks, and awareness expansion of the innovation economy and opportunities in the life sciences within disenfranchised populations.

Top talent wants to be inspired by their environment and their leaders. It is important how you communicate your vision, mission, and values. Strategic and sustainable change succeed when leadership commitment and actions support equity and inclusion. It is time for ED&I to be a core part of who they are personally and how they drive the business. It will mean making strategic and systemic changes to how they operate. It is crucial that we remember there were positive and significant strides made last year. I anxiously anticipate the positive steps companies will make that will contribute to a better future for patients and a super engaged workforce!

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