How Diversity and Inclusion Initiatives Can Improve Patient Inequities, Workforce Culture

Through an organizational commitment to diversity and inclusion initiatives, the biopharmaceutical industry can better serve historically underserved populations and cultivate a more diverse workforce and inclusive culture.

Through an organizational commitment to diversity and inclusion initiatives, the biopharmaceutical industry can better serve historically underserved populations and cultivate a more diverse workforce and inclusive culture, said Percival Barretto-Ko, MBA, MSc, president of Astellas Pharma.


AJMC®: Hello, I'm Matthew Gavidia. Today on the MJH Life Sciences’ Medical World News, The American Journal of Managed Care® is pleased to welcome Percival Barretto-Ko, president of Astellas Pharma.

Great to have you on, Percival, can you just introduce yourself and tell us a little bit about your work?

Barretto-Ko: Certainly. Well, first off, thank you Matthew for the invitation. I'm Percival Barretto-Ko, president of Astellas Pharma. We are a global biopharmaceutical organization headquartered in Tokyo with locations in over 50 countries around the world.

AJMC®: Can you speak about the significance of cultivating a diverse and inclusive workforce, as well as progress you have seen in pursuing this over the past few years?

Barretto-Ko: Well, thanks for that question, Matthew. Without a doubt, 2020 was a year of reckoning for us all. I think on one hand, we have a public health crisis in our hands that has staggeringly taken the lives of over a quarter million Americans and highlighted also racial inequalities that are quite systemic in our society. But on the other hand, we witnessed a series of tragic events that created a firestorm surrounding racial inequality and social injustice.

Earlier on when our country found itself thrust into social strife following the murders of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and others, and shone a spotlight on broader issues of racial injustice and inequality, it was critically important that for us at Astellas that we did not turn a blind eye to what was happening. And also, the impact of those events on our employees. Simply we could not not speak up.

So, therefore, we took a stand publicly by speaking out in opposition to all forms of discrimination and prejudice, but also I'm proud of what our employee impact groups (EIG) have done to continue to enhance our strong culture of dialogue and openness. I'll give you an example, early on are African-American EIG led an all company forum where employees spoke from the heart, sharing stories of discrimination and microaggressions.

As young adults, as families, and even as professionals, it was all incredibly raw and powerful. Looking back, our considerable long-term track record and focus on employee diversity and cultural inclusion (D&I) took on a different, yet heightened sense of importance, not because it was popular, but because in terms of access to health care and workforce unity, it was critical.

From a moral and ethical perspective, we've taken a look at how D&I truly is the right thing to do. But from a business perspective, we also believe strongly that the more D&I in our workplace, the better position we would be to deliver meaningful value to patients, our employees, and the communities where we operate.

I think that all said in closing it's important to emphasize that this didn't just happen overnight. It's a result of years of prioritizing D&Is as an organizational commitment, a strategic priority, and finally ensuring that resources were put in place and devoted to creating a diverse workforce and inclusive culture.

AJMC®: Speaking further on some of the points you just discussed, at Astellas Pharma, you have placed a distinct long-term focus on D&I initiatives, consisting of a top-down commitment. Can you discuss implications of this approach, and how it can be leveraged among US employers not currently well equipped to address issues of race and diversity?

Barretto-Ko: Our focus and commitment to D&Is started about a decade ago now and accelerated truly in the last 3 years. Our philosophy emphasizes both a top-down commitment, but also a sustained bottom-up engagement, including actionable activities that can be implemented by organizations in all industries and all verticals and of all sizes.

This includes, for example, expanding our diverse workforce and continuing to build an inclusive culture that merits the communities where we live and where we work. But also training programs were launched that address topics like inclusive leadership and implicit bias training and hiring, but also implementing new approaches to recruiting and building new partnerships with diverse professional and collegiate organizations.

Then, finally, most recently, we launched quite an ambitious 3-year people strategy, which creates 3 employee-led teams to integrate best-in-class strategies that will increase our ability to attract, develop, and retain top talent across our Astellas network. I believe strongly it's only by having an organization committed at every level of the company can we hope to achieve the kind of progress that's needed to truly make a difference.

AJMC®: How can the health care industry work collectively to address ongoing concerns of racial and socioeconomic disparity, particularly in access to innovative therapies for at-risk communities?

Barretto-Ko: I am so proud right now to be part of an industry at a time when we're not only at the frontlines of addressing the largest health crisis that we've certainly faced in generations, but also for the industry taking a public stand and speaking up for racial equity and justice, and in recognizing, acknowledging, and acting on systemic changes that are needed to better meet the needs of historically underserved communities.

As you may know, I'm a board member of our Trade Association PhRMA, and I'm proud of the pledges and actions we have made so far as an industry. Recently, as you may know, pharma unveiled a series of new commitments to diversity, equity, and inclusion. Also, we recently published our first ever industry wide principles on clinical trial diversity.

At the core of these new principles is the need for our industry to better serve historically underserved populations and set forth broader policies that support improved medical care access and affordability in high-need communities. In addition, as you may know, more recently, I was also proud to join 1400 other leaders from across different industries in signing the CEO [chief executive officer] action for D&I pledge.

It's the largest CEO-driven business commitment to advance workplace D&I. Taking a step back, Matthew, the biopharmaceutical industry continues to make strides, I think in the right direction. But while our work is certainly far from complete, I'm certainly hopeful of what's to come.

AJMC®: To learn more, visit our website at I’m Matthew Gavidia, thanks for joining us!

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