If three words could sum up the last decade, they would be diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I). As companies navigate business uncertainties due to COVID-19 and the global financial situation, it might be tempting to deprioritize DE&I initiatives. But research shows that fostering DE&I in the workplace remains as crucial as ever, with data continuing to build a compelling case for diversity and inclusion. In other words, the concept of DE&I is not only a matter of the past but a potential driver of business in the future. But what do DE&I really mean for an organization? And why are they important?

The power of DE&I

Diversity refers to the inherent differences between people, the characteristics that make us unique, and, indeed, the reason we are referred to as individuals. For organizations, embracing diversity in all its forms—demographic and cognitive—spurs the development of high-performing teams. By bringing together people from different backgrounds, organizations gain varied perspectives that in turn fuel innovation and creativity.

Yet, the power of diversity cannot be harnessed without inclusion. In an inclusive environment, people feel empowered, valued, respected, and unafraid to be their authentic self. In a study by Google, psychological safety was identified as the number one factor impacting team effectiveness. Teams in which members felt safe to take risks and be vulnerable in front of each other were the most effective.

Together, diversity and inclusion encompass the recognition and appreciation of differences, as well as the promotion of inclusiveness and respect for all individuals, regardless of their background.

Equity simply refers to fairness. In an equitable workplace, barriers to equality and fairness are acknowledged and proactive steps are taken to ensure that all employees, regardless of their diversity, feel included and have access to the same opportunities.

The combination of DE&I is powerful in both generating favorable business outcomes and delivering far-reaching positive effects on employee well-being, motivation, and commitment.

Learning (and un-learning) ways to practice DE&I

Understanding the meaning of DE&I is one thing; truly practicing this concept is quite another. Companies that have made real strides in DE&I are those that have recognized it as much more than simply ticking a box in a checklist.

Practicing DE&I may require a fair amount of un-learning of our own biases and understanding how they translate into our behavior. A real commitment to DE&I involves taking actions to create and maintain a workplace culture that respects and values the differences among employees and promotes equal treatment and opportunities for all. This includes implementing policies and programs that address bias and discrimination, promoting a culture of inclusiveness and respect, providing diversity and cultural competency training, and actively seeking out diverse perspectives and experiences in hiring and decision-making processes.

The goal of DE&I is to create a workplace where all employees feel valued and supported, regardless of their background. And as with most culture changes, that starts at the top. In a Harvard Business Review article, the authors advocate for a change that begins at the leadership level. Leaders must show an openness to displaying vulnerability, accepting feedback, and learning about systems of oppression. They should actively try to understand implicit behaviors that propagate discrimination or subordination. In this way, they can steer powerful, meaningful change that trickles down to the entire organization.

DE&I in life sciences

The value of DE&I is increasingly being recognized in the life sciences industry. In the US, pharma companies have stepped up to tackle racial inequalities in the wake of recent cases of injustice. By promoting diversity in hiring, including encouraging diversity in leadership positions and decision-making processes, providing cultural competency and sensitivity training to employees, and creating opportunities for employee engagement and support, pharma has taken notable steps to achieve the true purpose of DE&I.

Realizing the full potential of DE&I, however, requires a multi-faceted approach. Increasing diversity and representation in clinical trials, removing barriers to healthcare equity, and improving access to life-saving medicines—the industry has its work cut out in ensuring that equitable outcomes are delivered to patients across the globe.

The community of medical publication and communication professionals, in which Cactus Life Sciences is deeply involved, can also contribute to the industry movement in terms of DE&I. Cactus Life Sciences recognizes the real, tangible, and long-lasting benefits that DE&I provide to all stakeholders. Our efforts work in tandem with organizations such as The International Society for Medical Publication Professionals (ISMPP), which has outlined a roadmap that covers a wide range of initiatives, from advocating for diversity in clinical trials and promoting diversity in authorship, to improving data accessibility and transparency and hiring and supporting peers from diverse backgrounds. DE&I principles have also been emphasized in the most recent update of the Good Publication Practice guidelines (GPP 2022).

Achieving success by partnering with DE&I-focused organizations

Partnering with DE&I-focused organizations to disseminate medical research can help life science companies strengthen their overall position on DE&I. For example, Cactus Life Sciences has helped global pharmaceutical companies take considerable strides in contributing to and achieving DE&I. Being an Equal Opportunity Employer, DE&I are embedded in our culture. We believe that innovation thrives in a safe, ethical, and inclusive work environment that includes a diverse range of employees, perspectives, and experiences. Inclusion is a part of our ethos, be it supporting gender-neutral language; being LGBTQ+ allies; or ensuring our employees feel valued, respected, and free to bring forward their most authentic self.

As a remote-first company, our work-from-anywhere policy gives us access to a diverse talent pool unhindered by geography, currently spread across 8 countries. In India, CACTUS incorporated flexible remote-working policies long before the pandemic, allowing for inclusion of more women into the workforce and in leadership positions. Today, 56% of our employees are women, with 18% of them occupying leadership positions.

Partnering with a DE&I-focused organization like CACTUS allows the industry to benefit from increased creativity and innovation, and a diverse workforce that can understand and meet the needs of different customer groups, leading to improved customer satisfaction and loyalty. Improved employee morale and engagement allows for increased productivity and quality outputs. Working with companies like ours who share these values may also improve customer reputation and distinguish them from competitors.

In summary, DE&I are here to stay. Our commitment to practicing DE&I allows us to better understand our clients and their unique requirements and challenges, and deliver high-quality work that fulfils our ultimate goal—positively impacting patient lives. To find out more about how we can help you with DE&I as the principles fit into your larger business objectives, contact us today.

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About the author

Shobana Ganesan and Sam Mathew
Shobana Ganesan
+ posts

Shobana Ganesan is Senior Manager, Quality and Training, Cactus Life Sciences.

Shobana Ganesan and Sam Mathew
Sam Mathew
+ posts

Sam Mathew is Senior Director, Medical Affairs, Cactus Life Sciences.