Investing in Diversity

At one point in my career, I was asked to join an advisory board for a nonprofit and nonpartisan organization that provides research and education dedicated to the advancement of effective, efficient, and equitable government in the state of Rhode Island. I agreed even though I felt unqualified for the role.

I felt even less qualified when I arrived for my first meeting in a red blazer, standing out in a sea of blue-suited, middle-aged men all from financial backgrounds. As the room began filling up, one of them even asked me to get him a coffee, because he assumed I was part of the support team. It was discouraging, but only for a moment. I took this as a challenge and dove right in by offering insightful advice that no one else had suggested yet. By the time I left that advisory board years later, I was considered a valued member of the group.

I call this my “red blazer moment,” and it reminds me to value every member of my team, and to invite everyone into the room, because they can likely open a world of possibilities that I never could have realized on my own.

That moment is also one of the main reasons I chose to join Genentech. Yes, there are top minds across a broad range of disciplines. Yes, the pipeline is inspiring for the future of medicine. And also, the company is truly committed to diversity. When I joined, I knew that commitment would be crucial to the kind of team I wanted to build to manage the 4,000 people employed by our global manufacturing operation. Having access to such a wealth of ideas is crucial in manufacturing, because at the same time that we’re maintaining our current processes, we’re also improving them and innovating.

For me, diversity is about more than ensuring that people from different backgrounds have a voice in the organization—though that’s a crucial first step. The next step is creating an organizational structure that brings out everyone’s ingenuity, creativity, and talent so that we can challenge ourselves to approach complex problems in different ways. The basic tenet is surprisingly simple: the job of a manager is to enable their team to do their work by removing obstacles and collaborating with others.

Prioritizing Patients

I never thought I’d end up here. When I graduated from the University of Washington with a microbiology degree, my goal was to go to medical school and become a cardiologist. The financial reality of medical school was challenging, so before I went back to school I took a job with a small biotech company to save up some money.

I was quickly inspired by the innovation and opportunity of the growing biotech industry, and became fascinated by the technical and operational aspects of manufacturing; I set a new goal—to take on the challenge of producing important medicines.

Several years later I was helping my mom restore her files after her computer crashed. While re-entering a list of the medications she took, I noticed that one of them was a red blood cell booster that my team had actually helped manufacture. I realized that although I hadn’t become a cardiologist, I was still making a positive impact in the lives of patients—including my mother.

Teamwork That Works

That responsibility to patients has inspired me to put together the best possible team to lead Genentech’s drug substance manufacturing. My team is diverse—in a male-dominated field, three of our seven site heads are now women. In fact, across all of Pharma Technical Operations (PT), 50 percent of our site heads are women— and they bring with them a multitude of backgrounds, experiences and ideas to the organization. And because of our global scale, we’re able to be more agile—when someone has a great idea, we share and optimize it across our sites.  

For example, we’ve embarked on a new strategy with our partners across PT, which will allow us to manufacture medicines in smaller-volume batches inside single-use containers. This means that we’ll be able to produce medicines more sustainably, effectively, and efficiently. This will be essential to our success as the shift toward personalized medicine leads to more specialized medicines targeting smaller patient populations.

Leading for Diversity

Genentech’s approach to diversity has made us a stronger organization, both scientifically and culturally, and I’m proud of what we’ve done so far. In the last decade, the percentage of female officers at Genentech has tripled from 15 percent to 45 percent, and we’re not done yet. In addition to raising that number, we’re also looking at the lessons we’ve learned in increasing gender parity to increase representation across both race and ethnicity. Doing this work makes my job as a leader more fulfilling. As I think about the future, I can’t help but reflect back on that early meeting I went to in Rhode Island, and look forward to a day where everyone is welcomed into the room and all of our voices are heard.