The Mix Tape: Ep. 10 — The Importance of Diversity in Life Sciences Hiring

There's a difference between basic compliance and creating a diverse culture. Mix Talent's Amy Akillian takes this episode to talk to an expert in building diversity into businesses: Ryan MacLean. MacLean is the Executive Director and Head of HR for Commercial & Operations in Vertex Pharmaceuticals.

Transcription

Unison-

Welcome to The Mix Tape.

Natalie Taylor:

I’m Natalie.

Valerie McCandlish:

And I’m Valerie. If you can believe it, we have finally reached the last episode of our season.

Natalie Taylor:

It’s crazy.

Valerie McCandlish:

10 whole episodes. Season one has come to an end, but we have some very exciting news that we will be launching a season two of The Mix Tape.

Natalie Taylor:

What?

Valerie McCandlish:

Yeah.

Natalie Taylor:

Oh. I’m so excited, I’m learning this literally the same time that all of you are.

Valerie McCandlish:

Hot off the press. It’s very exciting.

Natalie Taylor:

Oh my gosh. I can’t wait.

Valerie McCandlish:

Yes. We will be bringing you awesome new topics. And if there’s anything that you all, as our audience, want to hear or learn more about or speakers you want to hear from, let us know. Send us a message on Instagram, on LinkedIn, reach out via our website. And we would love to hear your thoughts.

Natalie Taylor:

We will take all your suggestions.

Valerie McCandlish:

Yeah.

Natalie Taylor:

And we would love your feedback on how this first season has gone too, because we want to know how we can improve and do better and have even more of you continue to listen to our next season. I look back and we’ve covered such amazing topics so far with really incredible speakers. And today falls in really great company.

Valerie McCandlish:

Yes, I agree. The topic we’re going to be talking about today is the importance of diversity in life science hiring.

Natalie Taylor:

Today, we get to hear from one of our practice leaders, Amy Akillian, who runs our optimization vertical, and she brings our guest Ryan MacLean, who is the executive director and head of HR of commercial for Vertex Pharmaceuticals. He brings over 10 years of HR experience and he has dedicated his most recent time to really focusing on diversity, equity and inclusion. Amy and Ryan have developed a really amazing partnership over the last few years working together. And with that, we’ll kick it over to them for today’s episode. The importance of diversity in life sciences hiring.

Amy Akillian:

All right, so I will welcome everyone to The Mix Tape today, it’s Amy Akillian. I’m a practice leader in our optimization group here at Mixed Talent. And today I am with Ryan MacLean. He is the executive director of commercial HR at Vertex Pharmaceuticals. We are here to talk about the importance of diversity hiring in life sciences. So Ryan, why don’t I turn it over to you for a quick introduction and then we can dive in to all this great content we have.

Ryan MacLean:

Sounds good. Thanks Amy. Again, Ryan MacLean. I’m the head of HR over at commercial for Vertex Pharmaceuticals. I’ve worked with you, Amy in a recent workforce builds and have been working in the life sciences industry for almost a decade at this point, healthcare and life sciences. So I’ve been around the block, so to speak and have seen what organizations do well with regard to diversity hiring and retention of talent, and have seen the worst of it, where organizations have certainly needed to do a little bit better. So it’s a passion area of mine. I love enlisting the success and the energy of the full organization. And I’m looking forward to talking on the topic with you today.

Amy Akillian:

Excellent. And my background’s similar to yours, Ryan is a majority working on the corporate side and helping life sciences organizations develop and deploy diversity recruitment strategies. And really using those strategies as a competitive advantage in the market and a cultural advantage internally. So our goal today will really be to discuss some practical considerations and tips for how to build and infuse a diverse talent acquisition strategy into a company’s growth plan. I would really argue that the infusion of that strategy is important no matter what stage of growth you’re at Ryan. You’ve been in all sorts of different organizations, right?

Ryan MacLean:

The earlier the better.

Amy Akillian:

The earlier the better, right? So we’ll talk a little bit about how to get that ground work done. And think first, Ryan, folks speak about diversity, equity, inclusion quite a bit. I think for our purposes today we’re going to focus on how that helps inform your hiring strategy specifically. And when we say, what is diversity hiring? A lot of folks that I speak to say, “Well, I kind of have it in theory. I really want to understand how to do it.” But the goal really in my mind is not to just attract diverse talent for the sake of diversity, but rather to also reduce unconscious biases in sourcing and interviewing and assessing qualified and diverse talent. Do you have other thoughts on what comes to mind when you think about diversity hiring?

Ryan MacLean:

Yeah. I think ultimately, it has to do with making sure that you’re thinking about your customer, or in our case, in the life sciences industry, our patient, keeping our patients in mind, understanding who benefits from and requires access to our therapies. And ensuring that the “why” beyond just the basic fundamentals of equity being fair and the right thing to do, helping people understand the business motivations for why it’s so important. So again, pulling in senior leadership all the way down to the frontline hiring manager and enlisting in building a coalition of sorts is going to be important.

Amy Akillian:

Good. And you just mentioned the “why”, right. “Why diversity hiring?” And I think two questions come to mind, who do you want to be as an organization, and who do you want to attract? I’ve got some interesting stats here from a couple of different places, but we think about how hard it is to find talent today. We’re all struggling through the great resign, right? People in human resources and talent acquisition, the data shows that millennials in particular are prioritizing diversity, even overcompensation, which is a huge shift, right? So according to LinkedIn, 86% of millennials would take a pay cut to work for an employer who shares their diversity values, which I thought was remarkable.

Ryan MacLean:

It is, yeah. It’s surprising on the surface, but then when you step back and think about it and consider the amount of articles and coverage and discussions at work, hopefully being driven by your employers, it’s not necessarily too surprising if you think about it. People value being considered for what they bring to the table. And since so many of us bring a collection of different experiences, lived, professional, personal experiences at the table, it’s important for us to know that our employer is going to leverage and really appreciate and ultimately compensate for those values in differences.

Amy Akillian:

Yeah. So another interesting statistic is that… Deloitte put this out, and they put it out back in 2013. So you can imagine how much it’s advanced even since then, but that diverse teams see a 60% improvement in decision making. And that innovation increases by 83% when employees feel they’re in an inclusive environment. Ryan, have you seen that in the organizations you’ve been part of?

Ryan MacLean:

Yeah. Again, to varying extents, I have seen this in practice. Again, the diversity of lived and professional experiences once sat around a table, especially when in a brainstorming session, sitting there and at the early formations of a project or a scope of work, if there’s a broad representation of people, of different back backgrounds and experiences and demographics sitting around the table, the odds are you’re going to generate more robust ideas. And again, now that being said, this is kind of where diversity and inclusion intersect again, but the inclusivity of those people of difference in the psychological safety for those individuals of difference to share their opinions, their perspectives, their ideas. I think that’s where the real magic happens when you see the innovation increase. And again, decision making ultimately leads to better decision making through, or as a consequence of the various increases in brainstorming and innovation.

Amy Akillian:

Excellent. So you and I had a really unique and amazing opportunity to sit shoulder to shoulder early on the front lines of a massive undertaking, and you were really, impressively, such a diversity talent champion when it came to the planning of how we were going to execute all this. I kind of met you at the front lines and we went right, but I’d love to hear some more about the background of how do you establish your company’s appetite for really formalizing a diversity strategy? And then what your role is in ensuring that the internal stakeholders really have a good understanding of the importance of this internally, but also in the talent market.

Ryan MacLean:

Absolutely. Yeah. So when you and I first met, I was actually the head of global diversity and inclusion for the company at the time. And I learned and got to do a lot of great work there. And when it came time to build, it was actually one of the biggest, if not the biggest workforce build in, in that organization’s history. I saw a real opportunity to become a part of it. When people often think, if you don’t have a chief diversity officer, diversity inclusion function, a lot of people believe that those functions own diversity and inclusion. When in fact there are really centers of excellence and expertise to really help enlist the whole organization to understand the importance of it, the strategy behind it, the tactics on how to do it well, the best practices, et cetera. So I saw the chance to really join the helm of HR for this particular workforce and see if there was a way to change the dynamic and try new things. And so jumped at the opportunity and was excited to work alongside you to do so. And brought some of my experiences both learned and lived to the table. To help them start to put together the strategy.

Amy Akillian:

Excellent. Yeah, absolutely. And you mentioned something interesting, which is in the role you were in prior to jumping in with both feet to the project, you were a center of excellence, right? For D and I. So in the organizations, I’ve had the opportunity to really flesh out and use a pretty robust diversity hiring strategy. There are a lot of different centers that have to participate. If you think about a crew boat and everyone’s lined up and everyone’s rowing in the same direction. I think of, obviously talent acquisition, I think about any of the L and OD teams that might help put together tools or assessments, to reduce biases. I think about total rewards, the executives, huge. You and I were able to engage some of the top level executives to really showcase what the opportunity was internally, outwardly, to the talent market. Any organizations you’ve worked with, or do you think about this, a bunch in your newest endeavor, of other folks you bring in, or the criticality of having all those folks being willing to have a seat at the table.

Ryan MacLean:

Yeah. I mean, beyond the executives, you really need to bring in, for obvious reasons, the hiring managers, the talent acquisition partners. And what I found, given the fact that there’s an upswell and a lot of diversity and inclusion initiatives are grassroots in nature, really enlisting the help of colleagues and individual contributors across the organization. Again, when you’re talking about spans of control of one manager to eight to 10 employees or so, and listing those eight to 10 employees really helps to drive accountability at the hiring team level. Ensuring that they’re a part of the talent acquisition execution, whether they be a part of interview teams or hiring panels or part of the referral pattern, to get talent into the pipeline, it really involves in listing everybody in the hierarchy of the workforce that you’re building. Of course, to your point also, alongside those HR COEs compensation, benefits, learning and development onboarding the entire team.

Amy Akillian:

Yeah, absolutely. So a lot of the clients that I end up having the opportunity to work with, when I sit down at the table for that first discussion, what are your challenges, what are you trying to achieve here? A diversity comes up, right? They may say, “Well, in our medical affairs team, we have an identified gap. It’s X, and how are we going to approach that?” So I guess a lot of times that’s coming to me as a talent acquisition person from an HR person. Who’s been writing shotgun with the business and has helped to identify that gap. So I guess as you sit down with your groups, especially when you’re meeting them for the first time, what is your role in identifying those gaps, or trying to identify those gaps, and then who are the first folks you dial back to try and create change.

Ryan MacLean:

Yeah, absolutely. I think a lot of times, and it’s great because it wasn’t necessarily part of the conversation… It’s increased of course, over the past decade or so, but a lot of times I’ll sit down and meet with the executives and they’ll say, “We need to focus on diversity.” And yes we do, but they often don’t know necessarily what specifically they need to focus on. They just know that they need to focus on it and want to focus on it. They understand the “why”, they understand that it’s an important topic. And they understand the benefits of it. But, my role in working with talent acquisition is to sit down and help them further refine the “why”, Further refine what representation, appropriate representation, proportionate, and representative representation looks like.

Ryan MacLean:

And so in the case of life sciences, I kind of already mentioned it earlier, but it’s sitting down and understanding what’s the landscape of your patient. For Alzheimer’s disease for example, understanding that two times the African American population suffers from Alzheimer’s disease. I think it’s 1.7 times the Latinx population suffers from Alzheimer’s disease versus Caucasian populations. Understanding that women generally suffer, develop Alzheimer’s disease at a greater rate than men, and recognizing the benefit of having those populations in your workforce. So it’s kind of connecting the customer, or the patient, to the workforce and the strategy. Because again, lived experiences are very important in understanding the consumer and/or the patient behavior when it comes to making healthcare decisions for example. Do patients typically go to massive health centers, big institutions, or are they more likely to be going to community centers and community practices. And understanding and bringing in a work force that understands those healthcare decision making dynamics for different populations is important.

Ryan MacLean:

And speaking as a LGBT white male, I’m not necessarily experienced, I certainly have no lived experience of navigating a health system as a woman. So I have to ensure that I’m bringing people in who have these lived experiences. And so helping connect the executives to that thought process, and then really looking internally at your organization and saying, “Okay, what do we look like today?” “What does good look like?” “What’s a baseline goal we want to set?” “What’s a stretch goal?” Obviously we want to look like our patient population as much as we can. Recognizing that diversity’s not that strong, it is improving, but it’s not that great in the industry. You may not be able to reach that stretch goal of looking 100% like your patient population, but it’s something that you can strive towards certainly.

Amy Akillian:

Yeah, absolutely. All of that is wonderful. So we’ve been talking, I always say there’s two C’s in diversity talent strategy. We’ve been talking a lot about the cultural piece, back to the, “Who do you want to be as a company, and who do you want to attract?” I want to talk just quickly about the other C, the C that everyone worries about which is the compliance side of all of this. Different organizations at different stages and different industries. And we’re speaking about life sciences today, have different compliance requirements. And so, what, if any role, do you feel compliance plays in HR, in life sciences that may or may not help fuel some of the investment needed to really invest in or flesh out? I should say a diversity strategy.

Ryan MacLean:

Yeah. I think of compliance as I mentioned, there’s a baseline and then there’s a stretch or an aspiration. And I see compliance as more on the baseline under the spectrum for some organizations, particularly those that are further behind, compliance may actually be aspirational. Unfortunately, I have not been a part of those organizations, although it’s safe to say that there are many of those out there. There is a legal landscape that has developed and evolved over time to ensure equity and accountability of employers, both public and private, to more inclusive and representative hiring and in employment practices. So there is that baseline, and compliance is often a saber that HR kind of rattles in cases to almost force diversity and inclusion, it’s probably more the diversity than the inclusion, it’s one means, but it’s really not the ideal means because it doesn’t really articulate the “why”, it doesn’t help people understand why it’s important. They just understand that it’s important or else. It’s a little bit more consequential than it is truly educational.

Amy Akillian:

Yeah. And what’s interesting is even in some organizations I work with, there seems to be such a awareness of why the why, like why it’s important, but when it comes down to allocating budget dollars for things across the organization, and there are a million different initiatives in every company, sometimes it does take that sort of fear factor of, “Hey guys, as an organization of your stage or your size, or whatever you have ahead of you for the next year, here are the things you’re required to do.” “Oh, by the way, these things will also help further the things you wanted to do.” Which are the cultural side of things. But to your point, really don’t want to be leading from that perspective, more using it as the baseline.

Ryan MacLean:

Exactly. Yeah. It’s obviously critical to train and coach managers on the do’s and don’ts around that, particularly when it comes to interviews. And it’s not relevant, which particular school you went to, to make sure that it’s the same one I went to, and there’s certain things that go into interview and hiring practices that training is required still to avoid these legal potholes and the natural risk that comes with it. But it’s always important to do that stuff alongside the cultural aspects of it, the social aspects of it. And ultimately, the life sciences, the patient aspects of it.

Amy Akillian:

Absolutely. So I’ve got two more questions for you. So one is when I ask everybody, when I’m talking really about any topic, right? Whether you want to optimize your infrastructure, or you want to recruit a hundred people, and today we’re talking about diversity. In your role in your organization, if somebody gave you a blank check and said, all yours, do with it what you will. And it has to be spent in the world of diversity hiring, what are the one or two, or maybe even three things that you say, “Great, I don’t care how much it costs, these things have to go in place.”

Ryan MacLean:

Great question. I think the best kind of learning, above all other trainings and different things you can do in an organization, the best kind of learning is really lived experience. So if I could, If I had an unlimited check, I’d take my workforce to visit various areas of the country or the world, to help them see and understand the dynamics in which people live, lower socioeconomic status. So areas that are impoverished, or places where there’s vast depths of diversity, and then maybe go from one of those places to a place where it’s really homogenous in terms of demographics, just so they can live and really see and understand, wow, things are very different around the country and around the world. And in the life sciences space, maybe take them to different healthcare institutions that treat patients in different ways, or understanding how those patients can and can’t maybe afford medicine and different things like that. And again, that would certainly be a very expensive training, but opening eyes for people to learn. Because I do believe fundamentally it is possible to learn, but I think lived experiences are far more impactful than clicking through an e-module in your HR learning system.

Amy Akillian:

Absolutely. Hands on, very expensive process, but well worth it. High level of return on investment there, I would say. So this has been great, Ryan, I can’t tell you how much I appreciate you joining, if there’s anything else you would like to add, please do. And if not, I’ll end with my putting you on the spot last final question.

Ryan MacLean:

Sure. The only thing that I would add is sprinkled throughout all of the talking points and discussion that we’ve had so far, is really a focus on additional transparency. So just a best practice in everything. Don’t be afraid to talk numbers and what your workforce currently looks like in goals that you want to set and things you want to strive toward. I think oftentimes people will obfuscate data or be afraid to talk data because they think it might make them look bad. I’ll challenge any organization out there to share this data, be proud of your advancements and accomplishments, but also acknowledge your warts. Every organization has them and I think of it in relation to, or analogous to the sunshine act, prior to the sunshine act being in existence, there wasn’t much light, so to speak shown on payments and things that occurred behind closed doors of organizations in hospitals and healthcare providers.

Ryan MacLean:

But when you start to shine a light on that, everyone can kind of work towards the same goal. So share and celebrate and give updates on progress to where you are in terms of talent acquisition, what’s your candidate pool looking like. Let’s try something to increase our latinx applicant pool. Okay, great. You’ve gone out and done it. This is where we’re at. This is the percentage we’ve seen increase thanks to your efforts. And so when people feel that they’re actually making a progress and making an impact because you’re helping them see the data behind that, there’s something real powerful about that because I think not only is it the right thing to do to be transparent, but it also, goals, there’s a sense of intrinsic accomplishment when people feel that they’re actually a part of something that’s so important and that is getting such appropriate international and national attention.

Amy Akillian:

Absolutely. Awesome stuff, Ryan. Okay. My final question, put you on the spot here, in the spirit of the series being called The Mix Tape series, I’m going to ask you for your absolute top favorite song so we can add it to our list.

Ryan MacLean:

Let’s see here, lately it’s been inspired a lot by Adele. Who’s made her return of course, since you and I last spoke. And so I would say, although her new stuff hasn’t quite made my favorite list, I think Adele Water Under the Bridge is fresh in my mind, and also a favorite of hers.

Amy Akillian:

Water Under the Bridge added to the mix tape playlist. Thank you so much, Ryan, for that. Thank you for your time. I’m so happy to connect with someone I respect so much and also consider a dear friend.

Ryan MacLean:

Same here. I appreciate you.

Amy Akillian:

Thank you for your time. All right. Have a wonderful day.

Ryan MacLean:

Take care.

Valerie McCandlish:

Many thanks to Amy and Ryan for highlighting such an important topic, probably the most important topic as of late in the talent acquisition and recruiting space. I know we’ve mentioned this in a previous episode, how much of a focus it is for us here at Mix to be equitable and inclusive in our hiring and to make clear representation a focus when we are partnering with our clients. But it’s been really wonderful to hear from two experts in this space as well that there aren’t a lot of answers, but there’s still a lot of work to be done to reach the goals that we all have.

Natalie Taylor:

I agree, Val, I really enjoyed listening to this episode and learning from it. I think what they were talking about in terms of keeping the patient in mind as the end goal was really interesting to me. When Ryan was talking about lived experiences and how important they are in understanding consumer and patient behavior, I thought that was really interesting because I hadn’t really thought about it that way before in terms of working in the life sciences and thinking about how to represent your patient is really important when you’re thinking about who to hire for your team.

Valerie McCandlish:

Right Natalie, I think that Ryan’s answer provides such a unique response to Amy’s question that she loves to ask people. I’m sure she gets plenty of answers that suggests that they would love to hire the expert in this field or a consultant or expand this department. But with his suggestion that he would love to take this entire team and send them elsewhere, you gain so much perspective on how the world outside of what you consider to be your little bubble works. And personally that’s been the biggest area of growth for me is when I’ve taken the time to spend outside of my own world and learn other perspectives, other experiences, because there’s so much more than what’s just around me, and that I think gets to the real root of why it’s important to be hiring teams that reflect the greater world. Not just those around you.

Natalie Taylor:

I agree Val, I think that’s really well said, and I can attest to that too. My experience, although it was very small, I was lucky enough to be able to study abroad in college and that alone even gave me some great perspective of other cultures, how other people live, respecting their beliefs and their values. Whatever experience you’re lucky enough to have, it can teach you things and help you grow personally and in your career.

Valerie McCandlish:

Yeah, that was perfectly said, Natalie, and couldn’t highlight better the importance of why I think we all should take that time to live through other experiences.

Natalie Taylor:

Living and learning.

Valerie McCandlish:

Living, and learning.

Natalie Taylor:

I would also like to highlight Ryan’s song choice. I am totally loving Adele right now. She’s great. I love her. She’s killing it right now. And I think his song is a wonderful addition to the mix tape. So I would just like to remind you all to check out the mix tape playlist on Spotify, and this wraps up our first season. So stay tuned for more information on season two, follow us on LinkedIn and Instagram, that will be our first place that we’ll share the announcement of when season two will be launching. And we’re so thankful for all of you, for listening and subscribing. We would love for you to share our episodes with your colleagues, your family, your friends, there’s something in here for everybody. So hopefully you’ve all enjoyed it. So thank you so much for being in the mix.

Unison-

We’ll see you next season.

 

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