Black History Month 2021: Reflect and Reset

Feb 18, 2021

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

Given the string of events in 2020, this year’s Black History Month comes with a heightened level of reflection. It also gives us an opportunity to reset how we approach diversity and inclusion. With the arrivals of several COVID-19 vaccines (thanks to all of you!), the country is anxious to return to “normal”. However, if normal is associated with the barriers, inequities, and discrimination that were blatantly exposed in 2020, I have no desire to go back there – and neither should you.

We can’t keep doing the same things and expecting better results. In 2003, MIT professor Thomas Kochan noted in “The Effects of Diversity on Business Performance Report” that companies were spending an estimated $8 billion a year on diversity efforts and observed that “managers generally don’t think about diversity in the same analytic way that they think about investments in finance, new products, technologies, or even increasingly, human capital. As a result, companies often waste money on misguided initiatives that are useless or even worse. Their intentions are in the right direction, but they haven’t taken the next step of allocating their resources in the way that’s going to get the maximum payoff.”

It is ironic that in the 2017 McKinsey report, Focusing on What Works for Workplace Diversity, the $8 billion spent on diversity/unbiased training is still the same and the findings are very close to the 2003 Kochan study. We need to evolve from seeing ED&I as “activities and optional” and see it as being “strategic and expanding opportunities.”

At MassBio, we’re always looking for new opportunities to strategically address the lack of diversity in the life sciences. One area ripe for examination is the entrepreneurial ecosystem in Massachusetts. If we are serious about diversifying the pipeline of early-stage scientists, we can no longer only look within our networks or only within our state. If we are seriously committed to racial equity, we have to go where the talent is and make clear the opportunities in the Massachusetts life sciences cluster.

Already, MassBio is in early discussions about collaborating and partnering with Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) medical schools, starting with Morehouse School of Medicine (MSM). To start, we have two areas of focus:

  • Creating connection points for MSM’s cutting-edge early-stage scientists, STEM students, and alumnus to interact with those in Massachusetts life sciences whether it be a conversation focused on partnering with an established biopharma or a conversation about employment in Massachusetts.
  • Learning from the MSM Health Leadership Institute about their initiatives to eradicate the political detriments in health equities and how we may be able to apply their findings in Massachusetts.

There’s also an immediate connection point available between entrepreneurs, academics, and scientists from MSM and other HBCU’s with MassBio’s upcoming State ofPartnering week in May. Similar to our Partnering Week in January, anyone is invited to attend the opening sessions of each day to hear from the event’s biopharma sponsors about their areas of focus for partnership and external innovation. Stay tuned, more details to come!

Again, ED&I is not optional. For the life sciences industry, it is essential. It is directly linked to how we will expand our bio-entrepreneurial ecosystem, further diversify the STEM pipeline at all levels, and improve engagement for research. 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. Now is the time to make sure our ED&I programs and initiatives are aligned to take advantage of the innovative, competitive opportunities HBCU medical schools bring to the table.

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