To Be or To Belong?


Words by Michaila Byrne

As humans, it is in our nature to strive for a sense of belonging within a tribe. With social distancing measures in place to prevent us from mixing with our families, attending events, and working alongside colleagues, we have been forced to consider what it means to truly belong. Diversity and inclusion (D&I) has become a core focus for the pharmaceutical industry within the HR function and beyond; but it is merely a starting point in a series of considerations on the road to cultivating an environment where people feel a sense of belonging.


The focus on DI&B needs to be prioritised by the CEO and executive team

Diversity is a fact of existence, inclusion is a choice, but belonging is a feeling. “One of the biggest trends driving HR today is all about a power shift from D&I to the big picture goal of belonging. Belonging is the most important; it is a pact that people make with each other to help appreciate and amplify one another’s uniqueness,” says Uzair Qadeer, Chief Diversity Officer, Alexion. At the very heart of diversity, inclusion, and belonging (DI&B) is valuing others for the qualities that make them different, not in spite of them. Colleen Schuller, Vice President, US Head of Inclusion and Diversity, GSK, explains: “Many organisations have aspirations to build a more diverse workforce, one that reflects the communities in which we live and work. However, you won’t see the real benefits of diversity unless there is an inclusive culture… it’s about actions matching words and having a culture where people feel safe to bring their full and authentic self to work every day.” It is a conscious mentality that needs to be adopted at every level, as Stacey Minton, Senior Vice President, Head of Corporate Affairs, Kyowa Kirin International, points out: “We’ve also moved past that era where DI&B is something that sits solely within the HR function. It needs to be embraced and embedded across the whole organisation.”


You won’t see the real benefits of diversity unless there is an inclusive culture

So why do even the best of intentions often fall short? Schuller suspects: “Some common pitfalls include not being an active listener, not being educated or informed on diversity and inclusion topics, not being willing to be vulnerable, not understanding your own biases, and not being an advocate for underrepresented groups.” Particularly with more established companies, culture is the summation of long-standing practices and approaches that have become so ingrained to the point in which their presence is not questioned.


Another challenge of belonging is that ‘a feeling’ is not easily quantifiable, so how can companies hope to evolve as they seek to improve their culture going forward? As Schuller says: “The focus on DI&B needs to be prioritised by the CEO and executive team and there should be tangible accountability measures underpinning it.” What is equally as important is addressing things on a deeper, more personal level: “Ensuring leaders are equipped to create a psychologically safe environment and build diverse and inclusive teams,” she adds.


Jeremy Morgan, Senior Vice President, Commercial, Kyowa Kirin International, reiterates that the maintaining and building of DI&B is not only beneficial for culture but it also makes real business sense: “From a broader business perspective, our job is to put patients first. We cannot do that authentically if we cannot understand the heterogeneity of our patients and customers, and we cannot do that if our team is homogeneous.”


If a sense of belonging can be effectively nurtured in the corporate arena, it means that employees will not feel the need to dim their authentic selves. Instead, as Qadeer puts it: “They can reach for the very dial of who they are, turn the dial all the way to 10, bring their authentic selves to work, and spur innovation.”