Eminent thought leaders, changemakers, healthcare professionals, and advocates gathered in San Francisco on Thursday, February 29, for the inaugural Inclusive Leadership Symposium sponsored by California Life Sciences. The daylong event featured presentations and panel discussions centered around maintaining momentum on diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) in the life sciences and beyond. Among the participants was Candace Nortey, Slone Partners’ Managing Director of DEI.

Mike Guerra speaking

Mike Guerra, CLS President

“With all the backlash on DEI programs in colleges, Board rooms, and political circles, it was great to be a part of an event that brought together such an amazing group of business leaders, allies, and champions of the power of DEI in the workplace as a moral and business imperative. I’m here to state boldly that DEI is alive and well,” said Nortey.

The day began with a warm welcome from CLS President, Mike Guerra, in which he set the stage for attendees to lean in, ask questions, and be open to having impactful conversations.

Inclusive Leadership

Panelists discussion

Pictured from left to right: Candace Nortey, Slone Partners; Kelly Huang, Board Coach; Sarah Hassaine, ResMed; Dr. Paul Minifee, ion Learning, Robin Toft, ZRG Partners.

The first panel of the day explored the importance of inclusive leadership in building sustainable organizational diversity. Panelists amplified the message that inclusive leadership stands at the forefront of building sustainable organizational diversity, fostering environments where every voice is heard and valued. Central to this approach is

Emotional Intelligence (EI), enabling leaders to empathize, communicate, and connect with diverse team members on a deeper level.

“Coupled with psychological safety, where individuals feel safe to express themselves without fear of retribution, inclusive leaders create spaces conducive to collaboration and innovation,” said Nortey. “Moreover, advocacy for underrepresented groups and the demonstration of inclusive behaviors are crucial in dismantling systemic barriers and fostering a culture of belonging. By championing inclusive leadership practices, organizations not only attract diverse talent but also cultivate environments where individuals can thrive, driving long-term success and innovation.”

Health Equity Discussion

Panelists Discussion

Pictured from left to right: Kwamane Liddell, ThriveLink; Rhonda Smith, California Black Health Network

Following the cross-industry panel, attendees engaged in a lively discussion on health equity. The session shed light on the historical context of health disparities and explored ways in which health and health-adjacent organizations can contribute to advancing equity for underserved populations.

Two thought leaders – Kwamane Liddell and Rhonda Smith – spoke about the importance of building trust with communities that historically have not had much trust in the healthcare system. They emphasized that it is critical to build partnerships and not transactions and that this work must be a long-term commitment.

A networking lunch with house-made pasta provided attendees with the perfect pairing opportunity to connect with fellow summit participants, share ideas, and forge new relationships over a terrific meal.

Funding Diverse Entrepreneurs

Stanley Lewis and Robin Roberts

Pictured from left to right: Stanley Lewis, A28 Therapeutics; Robin Roberts, DatosX Digital Health Lab

The afternoon session focused on the challenges faced by diverse entrepreneurs in accessing capital and networks within the startup ecosystem. Panelists discussed strategies and processes to remove barriers to success for diverse startups. Stanley Lewis, Founder and CEO of A28 Therapeutics, ended this powerful session with these words: “I want my dreams funded, too. The world is missing out on all the great science. On all the great cures.”

Future State of DEI

Panelists on stage

Pictured from left to right: Stanley Lewis, A28 Therapeutics; Linea Johnson, The Thrive Shift, Karen Horning, ionis Pharmaceuticals, and Hooriya Hussain, i5 Bio Partners

The second panel of the day demystified current events and legislative changes related to diversity, equity, and inclusion. Participants spoke about envisioning a future where organizations prioritize equity and inclusivity as fundamental pillars of their operations. They emphasized the need for proactive measures to address systemic inequalities and advocate for policies and practices that promote diversity in all its forms. The speakers promoted the idea that fostering a culture of belonging and respect is essential for maximizing innovation and productivity.

Fireside Chat and Closing Remarks

Merline Saintil on stage

Merline Saintil, Rocket Lab

The summit concluded with a fireside chat moderated by Cynthia Burks, Board Director, advisor, and consultant for a variety of companies spanning across industries, and featuring Merline Saintil, a former software engineer turned Silicon Valley CEO and influential investor.

Saintil shared her insights on several key principles essential for personal and professional growth, stressing the significance of meaningful interactions, viewing each encounter as an opportunity for learning, and making a lasting impact. She also urged resilience in the face of challenges, emphasizing the importance of perseverance despite headwinds.

“Central to Merline’s message was the notion that effective leadership entails inclusivity and diversity, with great leaders fostering environments where everyone feels valued. Additionally, she advocated for surrounding oneself with a supportive tribe, encouraging collaboration and collective action within the community. Merline emphasized the inherent power within each individual, urging them to recognize their capabilities for effecting meaningful change,” Nortey said. “Finally, she underscored the imperative of taking action, emphasizing that inaction is not an option in the pursuit of a more equitable and inclusive world.”

With an agenda packed with insightful panels, discussions, and networking opportunities, attendees were treated to a day filled with meaningful conversations and actionable insights.

“The summit was a resounding success, thanks to the wide-ranging discussions, engaging speakers, and enthusiastic participation of attendees,” Nortey remarked. “I look forward with my peers to building on this momentum and continuing the important work of advancing inclusive leadership and fostering diversity, equity, and inclusion in our organizations and communities.”