Meet Changemakers in Biotech Working to Make Health Equity a Reality

by savoystaff

Deep-rooted inequities pervade the healthcare system, spanning from unequal access to treatment and clinical trials to the underrepresentation of people of color in the scientific and medical workforce.

These disparities in access, opportunity, and outcomes have very real costs. A recent study found that Black communities in the U.S. experienced a staggering 1.6 million excess deaths compared to the White population during the past two decades. These racial and ethnic health disparities contribute to a $451 billion annual cost to the U.S economy, a toll that could balloon to over $1 trillion annually by 2040, according to Deloitte.

South San Francisco-based biotech company, Genentech, believes that the healthcare industry has a responsibility to address these barriers. In addition to investing nearly $200M in equity- focused giving since 2017, they are supporting efforts that aim to tackle disparities in the healthcare and education systems, advance diversity in STEM, and support the needs of underserved communities. Meet the changemakers at all levels of the company who are driving this transformative work.

Quita Highsmith, Vice President and Chief Diversity Officer, Genentech

“I learned early on the importance of not only being an ally, but being a changemaker, someone who will actively stand up and speak up for change. Growing up, my mother would also always say to me, ‘Of those to whom much is given, much is expected.’ This has always resonated with me, and is one of the many reasons why I have always spoken up for change, and brought others along the journey.

Several years ago, I began to question, ‘Why are so few communities of color being represented in clinical research studies?,’ and even more importantly, as leaders in the biotech industry,’ Are we doing the necessary work in our own house to dismantle these long standing inequities? “These questions led me to co-found Genentech’s enterprise-wide Advancing Inclusive Research® initiative in 2017 to address barriers to clinical research participation for underrepresented communities.

After the past few years one thing is clear: it is time to be bold. No more tiptoeing around the issue of racism, and the ongoing impacts of systemic injustices on the healthcare industry, the workplace, and society.

This has to be more than a moment; it has to be an inclusion movement.”

Alecia Dent, Senior Scientist, Drug Development Training Program, Genentech

Alecia Dent, Senior Scientist, Drug Development Training Program, Genentech

“My family moved from Jamaica to the US when I was three. My first experiences with science in elementary school, in combination with my family’s growing health concerns, ignited my passion for STEM. As I traversed through science education, I noticed there were fewer and fewer Black people pursuing STEM. I realized through my own experiences that this gap was not due to a lack of interest, but a reduction in support and resources. This inturn adds to the lack of representation. As I progress in my career, I hope to lay a path for aspiring Black scientists because seeing someone achieve who looks like you can be impactful.

In everything I do, I bring my perspective of being a Jamaican- American woman who’s had mostly different experiences than my White counterparts. The hope is that my perspective and presence will contribute not only more cultural diversity, but also valuable collaboration. It has been proven that having a diverse workforce is beneficial to addressing the complex medical needs across diverse communities.”

Ebehiremen Ayewoh, Senior Scientist, Drug Development Training Program, Genentech

Ebehiremen Ayewoh, Senior Scientist, Drug Development Training Program, Genentech

“After my family moved to the USA in the early 2000s from Nigeria, my father received a job offer at the National Institute of Health. One day, he brought my sisters and I to “Take Your Child to Work Day”, where kids could see what doctors and scientists do. I was also able to see the few scientists and employees at NIH that looked like me and that inspired me to learn more about science. During my Pharmaceutical Sciences PhD program at the University of Maryland, Baltimore, I learned about Genentech’s Drug Development Training Program (DDTP). After many interviews, I got an offer and did not hesitate to accept an amazing opportunity to enter the drug development space.

Despite the obstacles that Black scientists face, including lack of representation and retention in scientific roles, I am here to contribute my expertise and drive impactful drug development. I want to push for Black women to not have to tone-watch, to feel her initiative is taken as initiative and not impatience, to feel her ideas are valued, to be empowered to be her authentic self, and still progress.  I want to be in a position where I can help my community, and be someone that others can look up to and trust. A Nigerian woman. A leader in service.”

Learn more about how Genentech is examining and addressing some of the biggest questions in healthcare at

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