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Merck Celeste Warren

Empowering Employees to Save Lives: Merck Works to Achieve its Mission with the Help of its Diverse Workforce

For the 129-year-old global healthcare company and Consortium corporate partner Merck & Co., Inc., ensuring a diverse workforce is not just the right thing to do, it also happens to be good for business — not to mention, the world. With a workforce that represents its patient population, Merck gains invaluable insight into the healthcare-related challenges and decisions faced by diverse groups, helping the company achieve its mission to save and improve not just some but all lives.

Recruiting a diverse workforce, however, is only half the job.

Creating a welcoming and inclusive environment in which employees can bring their whole selves to work is key to ensuring they feel empowered to share and contribute, says Celeste Warren, vice president of the Global Diversity & Inclusion (GD&I) Center of Excellence.

“Part of being able to bring your authentic self to work is being able to incorporate different cultural perspectives into our business,” she says. “It’s not enough to have a diverse workforce; you have to make sure you’re ensuring accountability of leaders and people managers to drive an inclusive culture so that employees can feel empowered, engaged and enabled to drive our business.”

Facilitating this environment means making sure that diversity and inclusion are integrated throughout the entire company and everything it does. No small feat, ensuring a comprehensive and holistic diversity and inclusion strategy is challenging as with diversity comes a natural diversity of thought and perspectives.

“If you ask someone, ‘What’s your definition of or how do you think about diversity and inclusion?’, you can get as many answers as the number of people you ask,” Warren says. “So the challenge becomes getting everyone to think about it similarly. That’s not to say they necessarily have to see it one way.”

As one of the original signatories of the CEO Action for Diversity & Inclusion pledge — the largest CEO-driven business commitment to advance diversity and inclusion in the workplace — Merck has made clear its commitment to this cause. The responsibility for driving this work is entrusted to the company’s GD&I Center of Excellence, led by Warren.

With a focus on education and awareness, she leads a small team to integrate the company’s diversity and inclusion strategy into all practices as well as its culture. They do this by providing coaching, counseling, tools and resources to business leaders. “We’re basically here to compel a more globally diverse and inclusive workforce for our employees,” Warren says, “and that means creating an environment of belonging, engagement, equity and empowerment.”

Beginning with recruiting, the GD&I Center partners with Merck’s global talent acquisition team to discuss and determine strategies for bringing in diverse employees and managers.

Merck representatives at the 2019 OP

“We meet with them quarterly to talk about … opportunities where we can leverage some of our resources, external partners, to help in developing that pipeline of diverse talent,” says Warren. “We also work with them in ensuring that employees within global talent acquisition are building their skills around diversity and inclusion.” One way this is accomplished is by having them attend regular unconscious bias training, she notes. Additionally, diversity and inclusion are part of other Merck trainings, including its foundational managerial program and its leadership program.

Other efforts to integrate diversity and inclusion into the fabric of the company include ensuring that employees have opportunities for e-learning and professional development. This helps foster a sense of belonging among employees and aids in their advancement.

“We work with leaders in recruitment, learning and development and talent management to ensure we have a diverse workforce, ensure that people are able to develop themselves, ensure that they are getting the opportunities they need so that they’re able to reach their career aspirations, whatever they may be.” Warren says.

Attracting and retaining diverse employees also comes down to compensation and benefits, and the GD&I Center is focused on making sure Merck has the best policies in place to do this. According to Warren, this includes benefits that enable employees “to be able to optimize both their professional and personal lives.”

The GD&I Center of Excellence also collaborates with Merck’s global supplier diversity organization to ensure the company works with a diverse list of suppliers, including women-, minority- and LGBTQ-owned businesses.

Warren says this holistic approach ultimately benefits both the employees and Merck. “It’s all around building those diversity and inclusion capabilities so that people can take those into their roles and responsibilities throughout the organization, which will impact our drug discovery, development, manufacturing, marketing and sales processes,” she says.

It is important to Merck to also take the time to celebrate the diversity of its workforce. It does this every September during the center’s GD&I Experience Month; this year marks the fifth celebration. The event kicks off with a global webcast broadcasting from Merck’s Pennsylvania site and includes various activities and initiatives throughout the month across the company’s 120 locations worldwide. “The whole premise is to just pause and celebrate diversity and inclusion, and to provide education, awareness and an experience for our employees,” says Warren.

The nation’s second largest pharmaceutical company (and the seventh worldwide), Merck hopes that its efforts will empower employees to bring their whole and authentic selves to work — not just the skill set and competencies for which they were hired but their cultural insight as well. Marrying the two has the power to foster future innovation and reduce health disparities around the world.

Accomplishing such a task, however, requires all hands on deck. According to Mary Frantz, an HR team member at Merck, what makes all the difference is having a leader who is dedicated to this work. Fortunately for Merck, CEO Kenneth Frazier is a long-time, passionate advocate for diversity and inclusion.

“A lot of times, when I speak to students, and I ask them, ‘Why are you interested in coming to Merck?’, his name comes up more often than not,” says Frantz. “They really gravitate toward and appreciate the things that he is doing with us as a company, and I think that, in and of itself, speaks volumes.”

For Warren, all of the hard work and the time put in is worth it if it means they are able to have even greater impact for patients.

“We want an inclusive environment where everyone can thrive, and [with] the way that people come at it and the way that they have thought about it in the past, it takes a lot of education, it takes a lot of awareness, and it takes a lot of patience,” she says. “It also takes a lot of passion and energy because educating people, meeting people where they are, can be challenging, but it can also on the other hand be very, very rewarding.”

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