America faces a watershed moment. The nationwide protests and heartfelt debates prompted by the tragic deaths of several young Black men and women underscore the intrinsic systemic racial injustices that continue to plague our country. Like many people, I have been deeply moved by the level of anguish that is evident in the messages articulated by the protesters, many of whom hold signs reading “I can’t breathe” to underscore the horrendous consequences of George Floyd’s death as well as the suffocating realities of everyday life for many Black Americans.
Now is the time for all of us to acknowledge and triple down on our efforts to address this horrific long-standing problem. It is no longer okay to stand on the sidelines because failure is not an option. Nothing less than the future of our country is at stake.
The life sciences industry cannot solve this problem, but it must do its part by ensuring that people of color are actively recruited and supported for high-level careers in all life science verticals and functional areas. Only by building a diverse workforce can we elevate the role models who will in turn create even more opportunities for young people from minority communities. It is no longer enough to just “cast a wide net”; it is absolutely imperative that we make real inroads in the complexion of our workforces and leadership teams. With that objective, I am committing my company and encouraging others to move immediately on these fronts:
- Increasing the development and support of mentorship programs for high school and college-age students from underserved communities to expose them to exciting life science fields and provide them with valuable on-the-job experience.
- Expanding the depth and impact of our company workforce development programs to ensure that young employees of color are fully supported from day one and are properly equipped to move up the ranks, and to serve in leadership positions which will help perpetuate longer-term positive change within organizations.
- Working diligently with our client partners to ensure they are well aware of the need to plan ahead to allow for the time necessary to recruit diverse candidate pools. Job searches that move too quickly with a “pants on fire” approach tend not to produce the desired results. The process must be deliberate and thoughtful. That takes time.
- Ensuring that diversity is one of the essential core values of the company culture so that it becomes synonymous with the company brand. Brands strongly associated with diversity will necessarily attract more diverse candidates.
- Reexamining all HR operations to ensure that all recruitment functions are truly colorblind and promote diversity and inclusion.
- More diligently targeting our charitable efforts and resources toward organizations and initiatives that support young people of color, and that encourage their interest in STEM and the life sciences.
At this intense moment of self-reflection in America, all of us in the life sciences and supporting sectors have the obligation to promote social justice and equal opportunity in accordance with our conscience, and aligned with our core values. The words of Martin Luther King Jr., delivered during his “I have a dream” speech in August 1963, still resonate loud and clear today: “This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy… Now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood.”
We stand today at a similar moment, with the challenge before us to build a more fair, equitable, and inclusive society. Only through our collective action can we succeed in that effort.
Leslie Loveless is the CEO of Slone Partners, a nationwide life sciences executive search firm.