Challenges to Diversity: Recruiting and Retaining Minorities - Pharmaceutical Executive


Challenges to Diversity: Recruiting and Retaining Minorities

PE Careers

The Value of Differences

The pharmaceutical industry has noted that lack and is actively pursuing a more diverse workforce. But the reason for doing so isn’t just to see more people of color occupying desks; it’s a business necessity. "There’s a growing realization that diversity is a bottom-line issue," says Edwin Martinez, head of diver-sity at AstraZeneca.

The advantages of having a variety of people in the workforce go beyond workplace demographics. Diversity is about bringing different perspectives to the company. Kathleen Donovan, vice-president of HR for US pharmaceuticals at Pfizer, agrees there’s a lot of brain power available that hasn’t been used to its full potential. Pfizer looked at the latest Census 2000 report and, after examining its $5 billion commitment alongside the growing Hispanic population in the United States, decided to build a purposeful strategy for recruiting Hispanics.

"It’s not a matter of color. It’s a matter of dollars and cents," ob-serves Rodney Smith, account representative at Inroads, which works with corporations to place African Americans and Hispanics as interns. Through his work there over the years, Smith has seen a mounting interest in diversity in the pharma industry. "As companies grow and merge, they’ll need a more diverse leadership," he says.

Demographic Shift

As the face of the United States changes, so do the patient and doctor communities. Pharma companies need to interact with the varied groups of people who use their products. "We know that to excel we need to understand the needs of different patient populations," observes Martinez.

He notes that a huge cultural shift in Miami, Florida, which now has a large number of Cubans—and Cuban doctors. "We must understand the needs of those physicians," he says. "It’s critical to comprehend the compliance with therapies by ethnic groups." A diverse employee base will have intrinsic insight into the background of the ethnic groups it represents.

The Talent War Builds

Even though the pharma industry as a whole realizes the need to reflect the general population, will it be able to recruit and retain minorities? The outlook isn’t rosy, especially considering the pipeline of people coming into pharma through academia. Although hiring of minorities continues at a good pace, the numbers aren’t enough.

Raymond Quock, chair of the department of pharmaceutical sciences at Washington State University, points to several reasons for the shortage. For one, pharma companies are posting a record number of positions at all levels because of recent huge scientific advances. Another is the tremendous emphasis on molecular biology. "The NIH awards many research grants in that area, and graduate students naturally gravitate toward faculty members who are funded," Quock says. He speculates that, as a result, fewer students come into the pharma workplace with classical drug-screening skills.

Bruce Hill, manager of branding and diversity at Eli Lilly, notices the same dearth of skilled employees coming into pharma. Although he doesn’t claim to speak for the industry as a whole, he notes a talent war raging across the board. Hiring is competitive because of the large number of specialists and generalists that pharma needs.

Most minority graduates with life science degrees tend to go on to medical school. "How do we encourage minorities to seek careers in the pharmaceutical and R&D framework versus taking that science aptitude on to medical school?" he asks. College graduates readily identify with careers in industries like consumer goods or insurance companies. When it comes to pharma, Hill says, many are un-aware of what’s available. "When you haven’t been close to a pharma company or haven’t experienced the products, you don’t recognize the opportunities throughout drug development," he explains.

Ronald Mitchell, managing director of Inroads in the Philadelphia area, agrees that minorities seeking careers after college overlook the pharma industry. Smith, who helps college students find internships, points out that high school and college career counselors usually don’t direct students to pharma companies. Mitchell says, if minorities do end up in pharma, it’s because they "fall into it."

Martinez brings up the theory that many people, including minorities, assume that getting into the industry requires a research PhD. Although that is true for several pharma career paths, minorities don’t realize that they can start in sales and move up. Martinez, who worked in the telecommunications industry before coming into pharma, contends that although high-tech companies have been promoting engineering in middle and high schools for years, pharma companies are just beginning to explore that route.

Recruiting Strategies

Dr. Moses L. Williams, director of Minority Access to Research (MARC), the career component of the Physician Scientist Training Program at Temple University, concurs that "pharmaceutical companies don’t promote themselves early enough." MARC accomplishes that by identifying promising minority talent as early as the seventh grade and involving those brilliant kids in science and the pharma industry, primarily in research. Applicants come from a national network of contacts and are mostly African Americans (74 percent) from the North (64 percent) and South (29 percent). Participants observe and practice hands-on research in academic, government, and pharma labs.

Martinez is enthusiastic about MARC. "Part of our strategy is to go to schools with large minority populations to tell the students about the opportunities in the pharma industry," he says. "In the last ten years, there’s been an effort to expose more minorities to this industry, but it takes time."

Hill talks about how the concept of branding relates to recruiting potential employees. "We take the brand that is established by Lilly and extend it to employment by focusing on what’s im-portant to the employee, such as the work –family balance or the opportunities for personal and professional growth. Part of our branding goal is to build a link between recruits’ priorities and our ability to address them. That moves us toward a sourcing strategy that lines up their skills and experience with our growth needs."

Hill observes that pharma recruiters appeal to people’s natural tendency to want to help. Having an impact on people’s lives through products that meet human medical needs appeals to potential employees.

In an employee values survey, Pfizer recently received a 90 percent favorable rating—largely because of its mission to improve the health and quality of people’s lives around the world. "It’s striking what motivational effect our company’s purpose has on our employees," says Donovan. "For that reason, both minorities and non-minorities are attracted to our company."

Through Others’ Eyes

Raised in Puerto Rico, Jesus M. Maldonado-Reyes started his chemical engineering career in the pharma industry because he was surrounded by pharma companies. But he didn’t stay. Today, he’s a consultant at Accenture and president of the New York chapter of the National Society of Hispanic MBAs.

Jerry Cary, an African American, came into the pharma business through a circuitous route of consulting and semiconductors. Once in it, he stayed. "I came to the conclusion that it’s a great industry, not only in terms of the products we deliver to the end-user customer but also because of the great opportunities for career growth," he says.

Graduating with a management degree, Cary got his start in HR at a consulting firm and then transferred to work with semiconductors. From there, he joined a pharma company, working as a sales manager. Currently, he is AstraZeneca’s human resources director for finance, legal, and public affairs.

He is also a spokesperson for attracting people of color to the pharma industry. "Our company leaders take career development very seriously," he says. "Employees are encouraged to enhance the skill sets in their field or in other areas within the company."

Asked about what the pharma industry needs to do to attract minorities, Cary cites the mistaken perception that there are few entry-level jobs. "To bring people of color into our industry, we need to go to schools and talk about what we have to offer," he suggests. "We have to build programs to accommodate people coming from college."

As for retention, Cary says it’s a challenge, particularly if com-panies make a big effort to hire people of color but then drop the ball. "Once you bring minorities in, you have to provide support systems and ways for them to develop their careers," he says. He explains that minority employees often want to advance within the company. If they’re capable of moving up to the next level, they need to be encouraged to do so.

That’s exactly what made Maldonado-Reyes look outside the pharma industry for career advancement. "I didn’t see a progression," he says. "There was a lack of mentoring and support within the company."

His advice about retaining minorities is to allow them the opportunity to move into positions in which they have some control and feel empowered. "If you’re continually in operations and production positions, you think you’ll never be able to get out," he explains.


Cary remembers the ‘80s when such issues were only talked about. "That was a start in terms of getting the topic of diversity onto the table," he says. Since then, corporate diversity has become more complicated and more critical. "Diversity includes style, culture, and the way you think, which makes it much more difficult to lead. There are so many different needs. You have to be savvy enough and trained well enough to understand those sensitivities."

As for his own experiences in the corporate world, Cary reflects that he’s been fortunate not to encounter any roadblocks except those that were self-imposed. Because he was often the only minority employee, he was at first reluctant to voice his opinion. But after he gained confidence, he realized that he had a lot to offer. "Once I broke through that mode of thinking, things opened up for me," he recalls.

The next challenge for the pharma industry is to improve diversity at higher levels. Once that perspective is in place, there will be more mentors and role models creating a win–win situation for both individual employees and the corporation as a whole.

Building Relationships

College graduates offer one source of potential hires, but many pharma companies also look to build relationships with minority organizations. Inroads is one of them. Drawing interns from 38 states, Inroads has placed some 7,000 students of color in approximately 900 sponsoring companies from a wide variety of industries. Martinez reports that AstraZeneca has brought several Inroads interns into all aspects of the company —sales, public relations, and human resources, in addition to the sciences. "The intern program is an area we want to get involved in and take advantage of," Martinez says.

Inroads provides training in business basics and matches talented minority college students with corporations. Ideally, after graduation and a period of internship, the company will offer the students jobs. Mitchell reports that when he first approached pharma companies, they were looking primarily for PhDs. But when Inroads offered interns who were capable of taking jobs in marketing, human resources, and other areas, the response grew.

Two years ago, the organization began placing biology, chemistry, and physical science majors in internships. Pharma companies soon realized the advantage of nurturing interns early in their academic careers—resulting in the eventual hire of talentedpeople of color. Smith says, "AstraZeneca has a group of 15 students who are making an impact. The company is very happy with their performance."

Similarly, Pfizer is working with the Hispanic Scholarship Fund in an innovative program that awards two-year scholarships to promising Hispanic graduate students and gives them paid summer internships. "We draw them from many areas, such as research and development, finance, and public health," says Donovan. "This investment objective is ultimately to recruit those students."

Pfizer started its aggressive program because of an interest in the talent the Hispanic population offers. In addition, Pfizer works with Inroads and focuses on internships within its sales organization. Second-year college students have the opportunity to go through Pfizer’s sales training program and get hands-on experience with Pfizer sales reps.

"They’re obviously not calling on doctors," says Donovan, "but they are getting exposure to pharmaceutical sales in addition to working on customer problems with us." It’s a win–win opportunity for both. Pfizer invests in the students, and they get a real understanding of the industry through its sales.

Hill reports that Lilly supports educational programs in conjunction with the National Organization for the Professional Advancement of Black Chemists and Chemical Engineers. The organization’s goal is to encourage students to stay with science and engineering. They work with companies who offer scholarships to their members, reports Winifred Burks-Houck, president of the organization.

Ayoka Blandford, communications manager for the National Society for Black Engineers (NSBE), notes the organization’s name may be misleading because its membership has expanded to include the natural sciences, in-formation technology, computer science, and math. She says they work closely with corporate members—some from the pharma industry—to increase and facilitate diversity.

"A lot of our corporate members sponsor scholarships and offer internships," she says. In fact, she’s noticed an increase in pharmaceutical sponsors joining up with NSBE, which she believes signifies that they’re beginning to see the impact minority engineering, science, and math graduates have. "Companies need this type of talent," she comments. NSBE also has a pre-college initiative that encourages junior high and high school students to study math and science.

Pharma companies aren’t just going outside the parameters of their industry to raise awareness about diversity issues. Martinez reports that the Pharmaceutical Diversity Group meets quarterly to discuss diversity initiatives in their respective companies. At the forefront of the discussions is the premise that although pharma still has much to accomplish in attracting more minorities to its ranks, it’s starting to make progress. Says Martinez, "It varies by company, but in general, we’re doing a better job."


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