Asking Bigger Questions to Make Health Equity a Reality

What if we asked the bigger questions and really tackled the root causes of systemic inequities in healthcare?

Deep-rooted inequities pervade the healthcare system, spanning from unequal access to treatment and clinical trials to the underrepresentation of people of color in the scientific and medical workforce. We have the opportunity and responsibility to interrogate and address these unjust barriers to access and resources. And we believe that the greatest impact starts with challenges set by the boldest questions.

Through the Meyerhoff Graduate Fellows Program, and other initiatives that are building a more diverse healthcare industry from kindergarten to careers, we are working to strengthen the scientific workforce so that it reflects the diversity of the patients it serves. Meet the Genentech changemakers, leaders, and fellows who are helping us challenge the status quo, ask bigger questions, and contribute to a healthcare and clinical research system that is worthy of patients’ trust.

Why are Black scientists underrepresented at every level in STEM careers?

"There are certain problems you run into when you have one perspective. When you’ve added different mixtures of minds to your problem solving mechanism, solutions appear that you wouldn’t have thought of before."

- Alecia Dent, Drug Development Trainee

My family moved from Jamaica to the US when I was three. My first experiences with science in elementary school, in combination with my family's growing health concerns, ignited my passion for STEM. As I traversed through science education, I noticed there were fewer and fewer Black people pursuing STEM. I realized through my own experiences that this gap was not due to a lack of interest, but a reduction in support and resources. This inturn adds to the lack of representation. As a scientist, I am constantly entering spaces where I’m the only Black person, but I continue down this path because representation matters.

In everything I do, I bring my perspective of being an African-American woman who’s had mostly different experiences than my White counterparts. The hope is that my perspective and presence will contribute not only more cultural diversity, but also valuable collaboration. It has been proven that having a diverse workforce is beneficial to addressing the complex medical needs across diverse communities.

How can the healthcare system earn the trust of marginalized communities?

"We often hear about how minority communities are hesitant to seek medical care. Reflecting back on history, we know their fears are not unfounded. In order to regain the trust of minority communities, transparency is needed."

- Maki Negesse, Genentech Research and Early Development Summer 2022 Intern

I was born and raised in Ethiopia, and moved to the US in 2013. I was always interested in the sciences, but didn’t know how to go about looking for a research experience until my senior year of undergraduate studies. While pursuing my PhD, I was fortunate to be a Meyerhoff Graduate Program Fellow, which has given me a very supportive community where people learn from each other and talk openly about issues that are generally not discussed.

For example, we often hear about how minority communities are hesitant to seek medical care. Reflecting back on history, we know their fears are not unfounded. During the pandemic, I remember my family’s personal uncertainty about taking the COVID-19 vaccine. They expressed concerns about where the vaccine was coming from and how it was made, and luckily, I was able to share information with them and help ease some of their worries. Just having that discussion was very important. In order to promote more health equity, it is the responsibility of institutions to be more transparent and make scientific information more accessible and digestible.

In addition, a new fellowship partnership with Genentech has allowed me to pursue an internship this summer. It's nice to be among people at Genentech who are actively working to make real-world changes. I also like the company’s focus on helping patients – they don’t just say it, they mean it.

How can we build a workplace where everyone can thrive authentically?

"Microaggressions are obstacles that might limit one’s development. I want to push for Black women to not have to tone-watch and still progress."

- Ebehiremen Ayewoh, Drug Development Trainee

When my family came to the USA in the early 2000s, from Nigeria, my father got a job at the National Institute of Health, and brought my sisters and I to “Take Your Child to Work Day”, where kids could see what doctors and scientists do. That day inspired me to pursue science. During my Pharmaceutical Sciences PhD program at the University of Maryland, Baltimore, I learned about Genentech's Drug Development Training Program (DDTP). After many interviews, I got an offer and did not hesitate.

Despite the obstacles that Black scientists face, including lack of representation and retention in scientific roles, I am here to contribute my expertise and drive impactful drug development. I want to push for Black women to not have to tone-watch, to feel her initiative is taken as initiative and not impatience, to feel her ideas are valued, to be empowered to be her authentic self, and still progress. I want to be in a position where I can help my community, and be someone that others can look up to and trust. A Nigerian woman. A leader in science.

The work I’ve done as a Meyerhoff Scholar and Genentech scientist is just a start. It definitely contributes to greater D&I efforts, but we have to ask bolder questions and take bolder steps. In this climate, it is critical that we are aware of and embrace different perspectives. It is imperative that we remember that those differences are what drives discussion and ultimately discovery. Let’s come together to uplift everyone and not miss out on those who have the ideas and imagination to power discovery but don't have the exposure and opportunities that others may have.

How can we turn this moment
into a movement?

- Quita Highsmith, Vice President and Chief Diversity Officer

I learned early on the importance of not only being an ally, but being a changemaker, someone who will actively stand up and speak up for change. Growing up, my mother would also always say to me, “Of those to whom much is given, much is expected.” This has always resonated with me, and is one of the many reasons why I have always spoken up for change, and brought others along the journey.

Several years ago, I began to question “Why are so few communities of color being represented in clinical research studies?,” and even more importantly, as leaders in the biotech industry, “Are we doing the necessary work in our own house to dismantle these long standing inequities?” These questions led me to co-found Genentech’s enterprise-wide Advancing Inclusive Research® initiative in 2017 to address barriers to clinical research participation for underrepresented communities.

After the past few years one thing is clear: it is time to be bold. No more tiptoeing around the issue of racism, and the ongoing impacts of systemic injustices on the healthcare industry, the workplace, and society.

This has to be more than a moment; it has to be an inclusion movement.

Learn more about how we are examining some of the biggest questions in healthcare here.