"We need to create an equitable experience for all"
Updated: Feb 11, 2022
Interview with Tamika Jean-Baptiste
Tamika Jean-Baptiste is the Vice President and Chief Diversity Officer, Amgen. She speaks to GOLD about her decision to leave sales and marketing to work full time in diversity, inclusion, equity & belonging; her personal journey with confidence and self-belief; and how leaders can transform their organisations to be more inclusive.
What drove your decision to join the pharmaceutical industry?
I didn’t find the pharmaceutical industry, it found me. I was heading down a completely different route in sales and marketing, then I received a call from my college counsellor who said a large pharma company was building a new sales force in my area. I went to the interview and the manager offered me the job on my drive home. I went in saying, ‘I’ll do this for a little while and then get back on my actual career path’, but I later discovered that all the things I wanted to do in a different industry I could do in pharma. I also found a deep sense of purpose. I’ll never forget the moments where patients have spoken to me about how the medicines we develop change their lives. I joined the industry over 25 years ago, and I’m glad I answered that call.
What have been highlights and challenges of climbing the ranks to a leadership role?
When I think about highlights, they’re all centred around helping others find their authentic voice and professional purpose because it took me some time to find those for myself. My first training session at another company sticks in my mind: we were role-playing and the gentleman playing the doctor told me I did great but that I seemed too relaxed. The female trainer then said she didn’t agree, and she encouraged all of us to have uniqueness in our approach to establishing relationships with customers. It was allyship in action. One of the challenges was assuming my work and established track record would get me to the next opportunity. My parents were of an era of ‘work hard, do your best and reward will come’, yet others with less-established track records were being offered opportunities and I wasn’t being considered. But great female and male mentors conveyed the importance of asking for what you want. Asking for it doesn’t mean you get it all the time, but it increases your odds to at least be a part of the discussion.
Stay engaged with the needs of your workforce and what they value
How do you support fellow women in your organisation to succeed?
I am fortunate to be in a role that affords me the opportunity to not only support women but also to create systemic changes. We are dependent on women across our business to advance our mission to serve patients, so we need to create an equitable experience for all. For us to do that, we must understand the needs of our diverse female workforce. One of the areas we have sought to elevate is addressing the specific needs of women of colour. Our employee resource groups (ERGs) have grown considerably over the last two years, and we use ERGs to help with mentorship, particularly for women of colour. It is also important to shape the future talent pipeline. There are young girls who may not consider a career in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM); biotech; or pharma as they’ve never seen someone they can identify with in such a role. I consider it not only a privilege but my responsibility to be someone that they can identify with.
How has the industry’s attitude to diversity, inclusion, equity & belonging evolved because of the pandemic?
Before even discussing attitudes, we must ground ourselves on the current realities that we are facing. Under-represented populations and women have been hardest hit by the pandemic. Women have dropped out of the workforce at alarming rates, and rates of female employment are at their lowest point since the 1980s.
Caring is where it starts and where it ends for me
This highlights the importance of diversity, inclusion, equity and belonging in the workplace. Mental health and wellbeing are now at the forefront, which has lessened the negative stigma that has been associated with speaking up. Companies are also shifting their paradigms and thinking about the way they work. We believe we can provide flexibility without having to sacrifice innovation, productivity and effectiveness. This also opens up an opportunity for us to reach a more diverse talent pool around the globe. We’ve been confined to our four walls within a site or headquarters, but now we can cast wider nets for diverse talent through our recruitment efforts. This is an opportunity for the industry to cultivate our workforce of the future.
What is your advice for industry leaders looking to create a diversity, inclusion, equity & belonging strategy that resonates with their workforce and leads to tangible change?
My advice would be to integrate diversity, inclusion, equity and belonging into your business strategy. At Amgen, we believe that ‘our differences lead to better science’. Diversity, inclusion, equity and belonging aren’t just the right things to do; they’re important for business growth and they enhance your corporate brand. Stay engaged with the needs of your workforce and what they value. This requires a lot of listening. I would encourage companies to really understand what this looks like and look for opportunities. It’s not a check in the box. Last but not least, with the rise to prominence of environmental, social and corporate governance (ESG), many companies are adapting to the landscape of ESG and recognising that the shift is good for the planet. It’s also important to know that potential customers, investors and employees are assessing our impact on the world. How can you support local and global communities? Look for opportunities to promote a more just and equitable society that aligns with who you are as an organisation.
Looking to the future, what would you like your legacy at Amgen to be?
If I had to choose a tagline for my legacy, it would be an empathetic transformational leader. But ultimately, I want to be known as someone who cared for myself and for family, and that includes my Amgen family – my professional family. If we don’t care, we don’t value things, we don’t work hard and we definitely don’t dedicate ourselves to doing something about it. So caring is where it starts and where it ends for me. For me, that’s my motivation.