Breaking Down Barriers to Career Advancement with the Directors Exchange

The Directors Exchange at Genentech aims to increase Black/African American and Hispanic/Latinx leadership.

We’re committed to doubling Black/African American and Hispanic/Latinx representation of directors and officers and extended leadership by 2025. Reaching that goal requires a purposeful approach throughout the organization to retain and recruit. “We’ve got to plug the drain, so people don’t want to leave, and we’ve also got to turn on the faucet, so we bring in more people,” says Dana Spencer, senior director, Therapeutic Area Training and co-founder and director of the Black Directors Exchange.

The Directors Exchange initiative is playing a crucial role in retaining, recruiting and elevating Black/African American and Hispanic/Latinx representation at Genentech. The Directors Exchange aims to break down barriers to career advancement for Black/African American and Hispanic/Latinx employees and encourages Genentech leaders to actively participate in mentoring. “The Directors Exchange is all about how we can work together as a community to really accelerate career progression and inclusion for our colleagues,” says Patricia Siguenza, vice president, BioAnalytical Sciences and a co-founder and co-director of the LatinXChange, the cohort for Hispanic/Latinx employees.

It’s about going out of our way to support one another, to ensure that our voices are heard and that we’re being seen throughout the organization.

- Sandra Milan, Vice President, Project Team Leadership, Molecular Oncology, Genentech Research and Early Development

The Impact of the Black Directors Exchange

The Black Directors Exchange, launched in 2019, has helped to make a difference for many Genentech employees throughout their leadership journey.

When TaSheena Braxton realized she wanted to get involved with professional development at Genentech as a leadership coach, she searched for training opportunities. She didn’t find any she was eligible for, and instead sought out — and paid out of her own pocket for — educational programs to build her coaching skills. Braxton believes Black/African American employees today have much more support, much of it coming from the Black Directors Exchange. “If the Directors Exchange had been around when I was doing this, it would have been so much easier,” she says.

For Braxton and other Black/African American employees, a highlight of the Directors Exchange is the mentorship and networking opportunities. The Directors Exchange includes an online portal with photos and contact information for Black/African American and Hispanic/Latinx members who are willing to serve as mentors, giving employees more insight into who the Black/African American and Hispanic/Latinx leaders are at Genentech. “When the Black Directors Exchange began, I realized there were a lot more Black/African American leaders than I thought there were,” Braxton says. “If people take advantage of the Black Directors Exchange, so many better things can happen for their careers. It can give them a leap to the next step instead of having to crawl.”

Fortunately for Dr. Lana Burrell, the Black Director’s Exchange was fully established when she joined Genentech two years ago. Throughout Dr. Burrell’s 20-plus-year career in the healthcare industry, she has left companies where barriers limited her career trajectory. “I’m not the traditional pharmaceutical vice president that you see, and that was something I had to navigate,” Burrell says. “After putting yourself out there and trying to remove those barriers, you just say, OK, this culture is not for me. Because if I’m going to put in 120%, I want to see that I’m moving the needle and advancing my career.”

Upon joining Genentech, Burrell was finally able to experience the career advancement she had been working for when she was put in touch with the Black Directors Exchange. LaVanya Hardin Wright, co-founder and director of the Black Directors Exchange, reached out to Burrell directly. While she couldn’t take Burrell out to a celebratory dinner due to COVID-19, Hardin Wright sent a dinner to her door as a welcoming gift. “I’ve never had that happen in my 23-year career,” Burrell says. “I have never felt so welcome.”

Hardin Wright and other members of the Black Directors Exchange have done more than welcome Burrell. Leaders in the group have alerted Burrell to opportunities within Genentech and put her on the radar of key leaders at the company. They also offered mentoring and guidance for Burrell as she prepared to interview for a new position as head of Contract Development & Manufacturing Organization — a job she started in December 2021.

At other companies where she’d worked, Burrell had difficulty getting access to executive leaders. At Genentech, it was a different story. She met several leaders during Black Directors Exchange events and reached out to each one in hopes of scheduling meetings. In each case, the answer was a resounding yes. It’s that kind of open access and intentional sponsorship that Burrell, in her new role as a Genentech officer, wants to continue to extend to others in the organization. “I was promoted, and so it’s even more important that I pay it forward,” she says. “So anytime someone asks to get on my calendar, they’ll get on my calendar.”

The LatinXChange

Following the creation of the Black Directors Exchange in 2019, 2020 saw the launch of the LatinXChange, our second Directors Exchange group. Quita Highsmith, chief diversity officer and the group’s sponsor, asked Sandra Milan, vice president, Project Team Leadership, Molecular Oncology, to lead the group along with Patricia Siguenza, vice president, BioAnalytical Sciences. “Quita knew that I was highly active in trying to make social change within the organization,” says Milan. “I’m doing incredibly exciting work in science, but I’m also passionate about programs that help create a better society.”

In addition to actively mentoring individuals in the Genentech Research and Early Development group (gRED), Milan also is one of the founders of gWISE, a program dedicated to promoting women in the sciences. Like gWISE, a focus of the LatinXChange is to provide a network of support and sponsorship that helps remove barriers to retain and advance current and future leaders. It’s work that has a special meaning to Milan, who credits the mentoring and leadership training she’s received to her 16-year career at Genentech, including a 2021 promotion to vice president. Says Milan: “It’s about going out of our way to support one another, to ensure that we’re promoted and that we have a voice, and that we’re being seen throughout the organization.”