The Importance of DEI Programs at Service Driven Organizations

The Importance of DEI Programs at Service Driven Organizations

In this interview, Ritu Kaur Cooper sits down with John Mariano, SVP and General Counsel at Precision Medicine Group to talk about the great work that Precision is doing in the area of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion at their organization.

Podcast Participants

Ritu Kaur Cooper

Shareholder, Hall Render

John Mariano

Senior Vice President and General Counsel, Precision Medicine Group

Ritu Kaur Cooper: Welcome everyone. Today. I am talking to John Mariano, Senior Vice President and General Counsel at Precision Medicine Group. And we are talking about the great work that they’re doing in the diversity, inclusion and equity space. John, so before you start talking about all the great work you’re doing in DEI, I’d love for you to introduce yourself and Precision to our audience.

John Mariano: Thank you. And it’s really my pleasure to be here. It’s always a pleasure to see you, of course, but it’s my pleasure to be here and to speak about some of the initiatives that obviously have gained a tremendous amount of momentum in a little less than a year, particularly in Precision. Precision is a global life sciences service business that concentrates in accelerating the delivery of life-changing treatments and profoundly improving health outcomes. Precision has been around for 10 years now, we’re in our 11th year. We have approximately 2,500 employees worldwide, about 500 of those are in Europe, Canada, and Australia and the remaining 2,000 are in the United States. I’ve been general counsel of Precision since it started, in fact, I’ve been general counsel with the founders going back to 2003, and that was three companies ago we’re on our third business now and this is a very exciting one. And not just because we’re able to make, I think, a big impact on this diversity, inclusion initiative that we’ll discuss today.

Ritu Kaur Cooper: That’s great, John. So, and I’ll tell you I’m not just saying this, I thoroughly enjoy working with you and your team. You can tell that people love working at Precision and they do really love the atmosphere and the culture. I think that’s attributed to the tone that you all are setting at the top. So with that, John, why don’t you tell us about your DEI initiatives that you have at Precision?

John Mariano: Sure. Look as a service-driven organization, our greatest asset is our people. No doubt, that’s the bottom line. We felt after the events of last summer, that we wanted to really now develop a clear vision that respects and celebrates diversity within our organization and the communities we serve. Our vision is to recognize that diversity, promote equity, and elevate a culture of belonging. And we started with a variety of committees, employee-driven and executive-driven committees to try to develop a roadmap to build out these initiatives and we’ve landed on a three-year plan. The plan is largely modeled on the global diversity and inclusion maturity model. And that is kind of composed of four elements, purpose, strategy, initiatives and the fourth element is something that we have, which is our human relations guiding principles. And I’m going to start with the fourth one because that’s important for any organization, including a law firm like Hall Render or any organization.

John Mariano: When you have those guiding principles, I think all roads can lead back to them when you’re talking about your people, your assets, your initiatives like this. And our guiding principles are client service, purpose, accountability, mutual respect, and collaboration. So we want to take those guiding principles, apply them through our purpose in business, and then lay them out in the strategy that goes across three areas, talent, culture, and community. And then we have a number of initiatives under each of those three areas. For example, in talent, we have recruitment programs, talent development, talent, promotion, employer brand, talent metrics. In culture, we have D&I awareness and D&I training, employee committees, listen and learn circles, which I want to talk about a little later, that’s important, I think, and communications and messaging. And then finally in the community, we’re trying to develop philanthropic support in our communities, a sense of volunteerism amongst our employees, a commitment to that, and supplier diversity. For example, we just launched within the last two weeks, I think it was announced last week actually, that we now have a company-wide volunteer time off program, a VTO program, which, obviously aims to encourage and promote employee volunteerism within our communities.

John Mariano: So that we think, this three-year plan will be able to help us develop and sustain an immersive culture of diversity and inclusion and ensure that diversity and inclusion are demonstrated through tangible actions and align our corporate social responsibility to identify opportunities and partnerships that materially impact the industries and populations that we serve.

John Mariano: Finally, one quick note, which you know, is as a privately held company and as largely a service provider to pharmaceutical biotechnology companies, our client base is looking at us to ensure that we are following these D&I initiatives. That we have best practices, that we are really pushing out these kinds of initiatives across the organization. And we are almost always asked about what those initiatives are and what we’re doing by the clients when they do preparations for an RFP or incline audits as well.

Ritu Kaur Cooper: So goodness, John you’ve shared a lot. I mean, it’s incredible. I mean, you can tell that a lot of work has been put into that.

Ritu Kaur Cooper: So of these initiatives that you have, whether they’re recent or you’ve had them for a while, which ones of them do you feel are having the greatest impact on your organization?

John Mariano: I would say that there’s probably three or four. The employee-led committees that we formed early on were extremely powerful and had a great impact in developing the course of action we wanted to take. And it came right from our employees, we had volunteers, we had a number of committees set up, they all worked together collaboratively and created a roadmap that was ultimately developed into our three-year plan.

John Mariano: One other thing is we’ve established partnerships with several nonprofit organizations that we feel you will help us provide internships, sponsorship donations within the communities we serve, where our offices are located to create a bigger impact in that regard. And the third one actually is probably the volunteer time off, like I said, that was announced last week and it really had a great reception amongst the employees and I think it really shows, we’ll talk about this from the leadership standpoint, but that leadership is behind this initiative. That they’re supporting the workforce’s ability to take time away from work and contribute back to the communities and the volunteer causes that you may feel are important to you and that align with the D&I initiative. So those probably are the biggest ones so for.

John Mariano: The final one that I kind of want to mention, at least here, it wasn’t necessarily an initiative, but last summer when so many of our communities were turmoil, and many of us were personally at turmoil about what we were seeing and what had happened with George Floyd, kind of obviously there’s just so many other incidents that we could mention that proceeded that. We had a series of Zoom calls, you know our business lines and the Zoom calls were largely within the business lines. But as general counsel, I was able to kind of sit in on some of those in addition to the corporate call. And those calls were so powerful Ritu, I can’t even begin to describe the impact that they had on me. And I think the impact they had on propelling or turbocharging the momentum for these initiatives to be adopted and enacted. The emotion, the raw emotions from some of our employees who have experienced discrimination, injustice, inequality was eye-opening. I was on one call where a senior executive was literally in tears on the call hearing stories from some of our younger employees who face this every day, who confront this inequity in terms of it being singled out. One person said, “Walking while black.” You just can’t fully understand it, probably ever. But, when you hear it and see it and listen to it on a Zoom like that, obviously, the best we could do was a Zoom because of the pandemic. But, it had a tremendous amount of power. And the additional thing in that was a lot of the young mothers that worked for us or mothers with young kids, I should say, perhaps. They talked about the struggle of teaching their kids right and wrong.

John Mariano: Teaching their kids equality. Teaching their kids freedom. Teaching their kids about a non-racist society or a non-racist basis. And, literally, just getting smacked in the head over and over again when they see these events happen. And when they have to explain things like this to their kids. And the frustration that they had. That was really a very, very powerful initiative. It had a tremendous impact. If that’s something that an organization can do, I would strongly encourage that they do it. Because that’s the listening and learning that needs to happen to really see the impact that some of these initiatives can have in the real world.

Ritu Kaur Cooper: John, I couldn’t agree with you more. And actually, I’m getting probably a little emotional hearing you say that. But we did a similar thing, John. We did some town hall meetings. I was one of the facilitators. I did not expect to become emotional when I talked about myself and my family. Just thinking about it right now… I don’t know if you know John, but my husband is black. I’m married to a black man. I’m raising two black boys as well as Indian boys. They’re black and Indian. And I will be honest. I’ve always been a worrywart and never really felt totally comfortable until Tony has come home or he calls me when he gets to his location. But in the last few years, if I go four or five hours and not hear from him, I wonder. I do. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to…

John Mariano: No apologies necessary. You are reminding me exactly of the force of impact that those discussions had. To hear that really brings home the challenges that we have ahead of us. I can only say that from my standpoint, one of the things that I felt that came out of it best was, you know our chairman, Ethan Leader and our CEO, Mark Klein, they are our co-founders. Our ability to hear this, but then encourage these mothers, to tell them you have to stay strong, you have to continue to teach these pillars of equality, justice, diversity, inclusion, those kinds of things to your kids. Because that’s what we’re counting on.

John Mariano: It all happens at the ground level. It all happens. It takes a village. I think that helped some of these moms on the calls, to hear that coming from Ethan and Mark and Chad and me and some others, obviously that you know. I can say that it probably would be good if we moved on because your emotion is also getting me emotional, too. That’s exactly the way I felt. It was really, really powerful stuff.

Ritu Kaur Cooper: Then I’ll switch to a funny story. I don’t know if Tony and I are doing right or wrong. When all of these issues have been occurring in the last couple of years, we asked our older son, who is now seven. I think at the time he might’ve been five or six. We asked him, “Shaan, you know that you’re black and Indian, right? That makes you Blindian.” And he looked at me and he goes, “What mommy?” He said, “No, I’m not. I’m peach with cream on the inside.” And he’s looking at his hand as he’s saying that. And Tony and I look at each other like, oh my God, are we doing something wrong? I said, “No, you’re black and Indian because your daddy is black and your mommy is Indian.”

Ritu Kaur Cooper: And he said, “Mommy, daddy’s not black. His skin is brown.” And then I repeated, “No, your father is black.” He’s like, “Do you mean because he’s wearing a black shirt?” Honestly, John, Tony, and I looked at each other and we’re like, oh no, either we’re doing something right or we’re not doing something right. You’re seeing the world through a five, six-year old’s eyes. For him, we’re very, very fortunate to have a very mixed group of friends and family. In our culture, we call anyone who is your parents’ friends, auntie, and uncle. They call someone who is white auntie. They call someone who’s white uncle. They call somebody who’s black auntie. Asian, Indian. For them, once we tell them that they’re part of our extended family, that’s their response. I’m hoping that you’re right, that if we’re teaching that to these children and that when they see everyone, they notice that they’re different. I don’t want them not to notice the differences. But, that they all look at them and they all look at everyone as equal.

John Mariano: I think the younger generation, I’m a little more senior than you. I have a 26-year-old, a 24-year-old, and a 22-year-old. And the extent to which their interactions are colorblind, amaze me. This is my own personal viewpoint. But, there has been a seismic shift in that from a generational standpoint. I’m hoping that that is also a foundation for our ability to move on past some of these things that have really been a drag on the country, our culture, and so many other things. I’m optimistic in that regard. I really am. When you hear stories like that from you, when you hear stories from the moms with young kids and how they teach these kids and how they’re committed to teaching them about equality, justice, right and wrong. And then you see it when they get a little older like mine and how it translates into the real world and their lives. It’s pretty powerful stuff. Yeah. It’s pretty good.

Ritu Kaur Cooper: Well, that’s great. But John also, that’s a tribute to you and your wife. Raising them. It’s not just to their world, but it’s also to what you see at home because kids repeat what they hear at home also.

John Mariano: And that’s really one of the big takeaways. Not just the listening and learning and the eye-opening aspect of hearing these stories directly from some of our people. But, that created an opportunity for us to encourage those same people to continue those kinds of lessons and molding and building of your kids. And it is. It’s vitally important.

Ritu Kaur Cooper: That’s amazing. With the initiative that you have, John, how are you capturing any of your DEI metrics or ensuring that they’re working or evaluating them?

John Mariano: Probably no different than you guys would. In an analytical world, as we get more and more into metrics, controlling everything we do. Again, we have three elements here. The first is engagement. We wanted to engage our employees in these kinds of things. We created interactive presentations on our intranet, as well as we have something called Precision Pulse, which is a newsletter that goes out every week. For example, one of the early things we did was we launched a company-wide voluntary training.

John Mariano: We went out and licensed a video called the History of Race in America by Jeffrey Robinson. And we built that into an initial, internal DNI curriculum. If you can get your hands on it, it was relatively inexpensive, the license arrangement. In fact, they were thrilled that it was being used for this purpose. that’s a great and powerful presentation that we launched early on. And that attracted people in to make them understand what we needed to do here. The second element would be the metrics, the numbers. We hired a consultant, like most businesses would, in an area that we want to learn about and understand and get ideas in terms of how to address, no different than a law firm getting a Management Consultant or a consultant on how to run the business or a consultant on how to train your associates, or whatever the topic may be, how to train your partners maybe even. That consultant helped us map out the kind of industry-wide benchmarks that we needed to look at. Now, coming back to three’s here, but three aspects there were total US workforce percentages, our industry, biotech, and then our company and how our numbers matched up to see where we need to improve and where we need to target further inclusion and diversity.

John Mariano: We were fairly pleased, at least at first glance. We exceed the biotech industries metrics for percentage of employees that are black and Hispanic, so we were happy to see that. Without the framework of the initiative that we have going on now, we had at least created a workforce that we felt was balanced and moving towards more diversity and inclusion. We were surprised we were very low on Asian employees. We were well below the biotech industry percentages, but we were well above the overall US workforce. So we’ve got some work to do there, but that was great to kind of look at a roadmap basically, kind of a map of everything that we can figure out where we needed to put some attention to.

John Mariano: And finally, again something else that is just recent, we have hired a Head of Diversity Inclusion in Corporate Social Responsibility. Her name is Temi Adonja. We were able to steal her from Price Waterhouse, which we were very happy about. She just started about a month ago and she’s obviously on a listening and learning tour now to kind of absorb a little bit more about what we want to do, understand our plan better and we are all really really excited about that that’s for sure.

Ritu Kaur Cooper: That’s incredible. John, quick question because you mentioned US-based and you guys are global, do you have initiatives outside of the US and if so, are they different? What do they look like?

John Mariano: We have included Canada and Europe in these initiates and they’re not very different at all. The interesting thing from the European standpoint is the challenge there was translating the initiative out of a stereotypical understanding of America and racism, frankly, and into cultures that actually very very open to diversity. Many of our European, notwithstanding the rivalries within European countries or nationalities, many of them were all like, “Well, that’s what we do here. We don’t look at people as black or Indian or Asian or white. It’s the person.” And so, they were very receptive to all these initiatives, and I think uniquely interested to see how they could participate alongside an American company to help improve diversity and inclusion. So that’s been a big plus. We have HR Directors in Europe who help work with that and Temi will help be a global enterprise-wide leader of the diversity and inclusion initiative, too.

Ritu Kaur Cooper: That’s great. I definitely would love to connect with her in six or nine months to see what she’s learned. I think that would be a really great perspective. It’s like you said right now her job is to just listen and to learn and then assess. Well, congratulations on that. That’s a big deal. That’s a really big deal. We’re trying to walk the walk. Exactly.

John Mariano: We can talk all about it all you want, but until you start dedicating resources and time and talent to this initiative, that’s all it is, just talk of the talk. We’re really excited about Temi coming on board. I think it’s a huge addition. Again, supported at the highest levels of the company. This has been a priority for Mark and Ethan from day one. My hats off to them because it starts at the top. You’ve got to set that tone at the top. Like any service organization like or anywhere, you need it to come from the top.

John Mariano: You know Mark Klein a little bit. He tends to look at of our leadership and our dynamic duo, Mark tends to look at the bottom line a little more so it’s a big accomplishment to get him to dedicate the resources, anything beyond the basics here. I think that speaks volumes as to how important it is, and even he recognizes that, too.

Ritu Kaur Cooper: Absolutely. I think you’re touching right now on my next thought, which is leadership. Obviously, you’ve put the resources in, you’ve hired someone to be the global head of diversity for your organization. You’ve put all these other new initiatives or reinvigorated old initiatives throughout the organization. Tell me from your perspective, why is it so important for that tone at the top, to have leadership understand the diversity and inclusion initiatives?

John Mariano: It should not be as glib as walking the walk or as glib as it starts at the top, but let’s face it, it does. Leadership is critical in effecting real change. When leadership cultivates a culture of respect, education, and dialogue we know that our teams will do the rest. When you tie that into our guiding principles and having a common theme that leadership can embrace and then push down within the context of a DNI initiative like this it has tremendous importance and impact on our people. We have phenomenal people. You’re kind enough to say how much you like working with us and our teams. We really have phenomenal people. When they were offered the opportunity to identify challenges and encouraged to design the solutions we got progress. We put those employee committees together and that was really a big big step in the right direction early, an important step in the right direction.

John Mariano: Now, leaderships role is really, we’ve got to insure that we’re offering support, constantly supporting these initiatives. Whatever the forms are, developing the right forms so that we advance diversity and inclusion and advance it within our culture of the guiding principles I mentioned earlier. That’s really important. Like I said, it’s been embraced by our chairman and our CEO and I don’t know if I mentioned this to you before, but my little sacrifice as a somewhat of a leader was that my assistant Donnea McClinton who has been with me for quite awhile and is really invaluable to me, asked that she be given a new opportunity to expand her professional career and to be a leader and work hand in hand with Temi, our new Diversity and Inclusion Officer, to help push out and roll out these initiates across precision.

John Mariano: I had to give up Donnea to something much more important than my daily whims and eccentricities and whatever else you would call them, but that I think shows how there are all kinds of little opportunities to help someone really grow professionally within this kind of diversity and inclusion model. Donnea is black, she’s African American and she has embraced this new role and it’s just really really satisfying for me to see her want to do that and then to start on a path of success for that. You talk about getting emotional before, that gets me a little emotional now. I’m really proud of her. So that’s kind of the support. That’s kind of a real-world example. You got to get out of your comfort zone. I got to make my Zoom calls now and I got to do some calendaring on my own and things like that, but it’s all for the better. It’s for the better for someone like Donnea and it’s for the better for the organization.

Ritu Kaur Cooper: That is a huge sacrifice, John. Since I’ve known you, Donnea has always been there and is incredible. I think she knows what you’re doing before you know what you’re doing. But just like you said, that is amazing to recognize. I actually think it’s amazing that she felt comfortable to ask, which also then goes to your organization being a place that is supportive open because she could have been in an organization where she would have felt reluctant to even ask, to want to pursue and expand her professional prowess. So I think that’s … Kudos on both sides, but oh my goodness. I am so sorry.

John Mariano: Yeah. So far, so good. She’s been keeping an eye on me. I’m just really, really proud of her that she want to expand, obviously her professional career, but at the same time she wanted to play a leadership role in this initiative. She saw it as something important to Precision, and in her role as my executive assistant, or I’m not quite sure what her official title was, but my right hand basically, she’s a gatekeeper. She sees so many people interact with the legal department across the entire organization, across the entire world. And I think that she was able to take this broad-based knowledge of the organization and say, “Hey, this is something I can help with. I know these people, I know the players, I know people all across the organization. I know how they operate.” And it’s really just a great opportunity for her. It was a no-brainer. It was a no-brainer.

Ritu Kaur Cooper: That’s great. Well look, John, I could probably talk to you for hours. I do. I absolutely love talking to you. So I know I could.

John Mariano: The feeling is mutual.

Ritu Kaur Cooper: But our audience may not want to talk to us or hear us talk all day. So could you give our audience just maybe some best practices or lessons learned or something, just as a parting thought for them to think about as people go about their initiatives that they’re doing for their own organizations?

John Mariano: I’m afraid this is going to be a little repetitive, but I still love this whole idea of empowering your employees to create a structure to how this should move ahead, how an initiative like this should move ahead. That’s number one. And number two really, I think were these town halls, these Zooms. I learned so much. The lessons I learned in that were so powerful personally, professionally. I know we had internal meetings amongst the executive management group afterwards, after sitting through all of these. We had a number of meetings. And we were all blown away at the power of these stories, of these personal challenges that people have. You just get so comfortable in that work mode.

John Mariano: You are a longtime friend of a young lawyer who has worked with me for almost 20 years now. And I know her in this work context, but I don’t know those challenges she’s dealing with, with her kids at home and what they confronted and what they see and how it impacts her personal life. And to have this 360-degree view and to really understand the challenges that mothers with young children are dealing with and the challenges that some of our younger members of the workforce are dealing with. Again, eye-popping. That had an incredible impact on all of us in the leadership group, as well as you just learned a lot of lessons about how challenging it is to raise kids, as you noted, the challenges that you yourself personally deal with. To hear that just creates a whole new perspective, I think.

John Mariano: One other thing was really interesting, which I guess maybe a simplistic way of looking at where we are in the arc of time in this challenge that our country’s had. So many of our minority younger employees, when they would tell stories about being picked out, being pulled over by police over and over again, by being afraid to walk home because if they’re walking through a white neighborhood or something, I mean, just all kinds of stories that they told us. It came back to something that I think is really driving a lot of this today in our culture and in our country. And it’s very simple, enough is enough. Enough is enough. And to hear this from some of these younger kids, that had a big impact on me too. They’ve seen it with the parents. They’ve probably seen it with their grandparents, and now they’re living it. And their viewpoint is enough is enough.

John Mariano: And I think that really, we took away from that saying, it’s now or never. We can’t just let this float along or just let this slide. We need to take concrete action to put in place a real diversity and inclusion program for Precision that really works. And I think that was a big, big lesson that we learned to help propel us to that point. So we rolled into these town halls, whatever you want to call them, in June and July, and they were a really great way to let people talk, let people hear, listen, understand and learn. And it was really, really helpful.

Ritu Kaur Cooper: And because you love threes, if you want to say a third, I’m okay with it.

John Mariano: No, I think I’ll stick with two on that one.

Ritu Kaur Cooper: All right. No problem at all. Well John, thank you so much for sitting with me today, and if it is okay, I would love to be able to check in on you guys in six to nine months, and to see the work that Temi and Donnea are doing, and to see maybe where your program is.

John Mariano: That would be great. I’d love to do that.

Ritu Kaur Cooper: Awesome.

John Mariano: It’s always good to see you and get to do something fun like this. I almost feel like this is a kind of a Francesca Mariano podcast. That’s an inside joke for our audience, but Ritu can tell you if you want to ask about it.

Ritu Kaur Cooper: Well, hopefully, she approves.

John Mariano: Yeah, it’s not as much fun as she’s having right now talking about the Oscars last night, I’m sure, but this is still a really important topic. I am so pleased you asked me to share this with Hall Render and your colleagues. It’s been a great relationship that we’ve built over the last five years or so as a client of the firm’s. You guys have done great work, and I’m looking forward to a little up on this too. It’ll be interesting.

Ritu Kaur Cooper: Well, great. Thank you. Thank you, thank you. And I hope you have a great day. And to our audience, thank you so much for tuning in.

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