Successful DEI Initiatives Seek Culture Shifts, Not Punitive Policies and Procedures

Sep 23, 2021

By Warner Santiago, Senior Director of DEI and Workforce Development, MassBio

I came to MassBio from Harvard Law School (HLS), where I was the Associate Director for Diversity, Inclusion, and Title IX. In this role, I worked closely with leaders across HLS including staff, students, and alumni, to extend and support their efforts to ensure the rights, dignity, and differences of all were both respected and celebrated. I also served as the point person in researching, assessing, developing, and advising on the implementation of leading diversity, belonging, equal opportunity initiatives for staff, and Title IX programming for the HLS community. To do this, I successfully developed a fact-based diagnostic assessment on (HLS) current position versus global Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) best practices, developed policies and monitored metrics related to DEI, and developed and implemented a supportive program of retention strategies for students, and faculty and staff from underrepresented groups through mentorship and professional development. Additionally, as the LGBTQ+ Liaison, I supported employees seeking specific LGBTQ+ resources while taking a leading role in building a vital link between the HLS senior and executive administration and the LGBTQ+ community.

Before my time at HLS, I worked for the Seattle Public Schools (SPS), where I served as the Civil Rights Investigations Manager & District Title IX Coordinator. At SPS, I led the recruitment and establishment of the DEI Committee (composed of staff, students, and parents) and provided guidance to the Leadership Team and the broader organization on topics related to Civil Rights and DEI. I also had the opportunity to develop the “Professional Learning Communities” series, where I provided training, consultation, and facilitation to administrators, central office staff, counselors, classroom teachers, and parents to help them understand the district’s complaint process and non-discrimination policies.

Prior to my service at the Seattle Public Schools, I was a Legal Counsel for the Women, Business, and the Law project at the World Bank Group in Washington, DC, where I led international human rights litigation processes and diplomacy efforts to advance gender equity in 116 countries. Moreover, I analyzed and assessed indicators on a country-by-country basis- to better develop and implement best practices for effectively measuring the learning impact across the complexities surrounding trauma and gender inequity. Ultimately, this led me to produce a report reflecting the findings for the data collection cycle and presented it at the United Nations General Assembly, where it was eventually accepted as the epicenter of all the gender equity initiatives across the UN. 

With that said, as a lawyer deeply passionate about social justice and equity, I have always had a profound desire to defend and protect the rights of those who seek individual liberty and dignity. However, my professional journey has taught me that, in most instances, DEI policies and procedures are mostly, if not exclusively, punitive. This reactive rather than proactive approach to oppression and discrimination feels intrinsically limited, as it focuses on post-violation solutions, not on prevention or on the promotion of true equity. Indeed, a change in culture is needed. Author and human rights activist Charlotte Bunch brilliantly stated that “Sexual, racial, gender violence and other forms of discrimination and violence in a culture cannot be eliminated without changing culture.” Hence, proactive DEI must be the backbone of company policy from the top-down and reflected in executive culture, recruitment, retention, and advancement strategies, and it must be sustainable and accountable.

Thus, through my role at MassBio, I seek to help our members develop more efficient and less punitive modalities to achieve equity. I am specifically driven to assist our member companies launch, grow, and strengthen their internal DEI initiatives as part of MassBio’s commitment to improve DEI across the life sciences, develop a more diverse talent pipeline, make our members more successful, and better align with patient populations.

I am very excited to learn from our outstanding members, as well as from the talented colleagues and peers at MassBio. I will draw on my discipline, passion, and determination to rise to the challenge. 

To learn more about MassBio’s DEI initiative and our work to help our members launch and scale their own DEI work, please visit or email Warner directly at

See all MassBio News