By Celeste Warren, Vice President, Global Diversity & Inclusion Center of Excellence, Merck
My early childhood experiences shaped much of my life’s focus. I was born in a small, steel mill town in western Pennsylvania. My father was the first black teacher, principal and later superintendent in that part of the state. As a child, I watched him go through much adversity, which he met with steadfast dedication, commitment and devotion to his belief that we are all created equal and deserve equity in our personal and professional lives. I also watched my mother, who was a stay-at-home mom, support him, counsel him, and get angry with him—-and with such passionate strength. I guess you could say that my parents informed my fundamental belief system and instilled in me the determination to fight for equity.
My professional path included several positions, but my passion has always been working to advance equity across all the dimensions of diversity. Today, my current role as Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer at Merck means I am focused on my life’s work and it has empowered me to make a greater impact on the organization and its initiatives and efforts.
Within Merck, the unanticipated challenges of 2020 caused us to reflect, listen and learn not just from the events, but from our employees’ responses to the events. In many ways, the events of 2020 didn’t change our work—rather, it amplified our diversity and inclusion efforts both internally within the country and externally in our respective communities.
As we look at the work ahead, we face more challenges and opportunities. We have come a long way within the walls of our respective companies in terms of internal workforce representation and inclusion. However, we know that as many as we have reached, we have many more to enlighten—and we will continue to work to close the gap between those who have benefited from our efforts and those who still need our support to drive D&I across the organization.
We must focus on building inclusive leaders and managers who can foster resilient employees and agile organizations. They need new skills and capabilities in order to lead a much more diverse and dynamic workforce than in the past. They must be able to strengthen the link between their employee’s functional skills and capabilities and their cultural backgrounds and experiences. The leaders who are more capable of doing this will see enhanced performance because their employees will be able to share knowledge from their respective disciplines while leveraging their cultural experiences to better serve diverse patients who use our medicines and vaccines.
At Merck, when we look to our efforts externally, we know we have a responsibility to enhance the communities where we live and work, as well as the patients we serve. One thing last year taught us: If we don’t help everyone, we will all feel the impact. It is up to all of us to come together to find sustainable solutions—and I believe it is the act of coming together to find these solutions where advocates can apply their efforts and truly make a difference.
Perhaps, the largest opportunity for businesses to play an important role this year in diversity and inclusion is to reach outside of our organizations to help mend the divide in our communities. We work to help advance unity through economic inclusion initiatives, which are an important part of the solution to eliminate disparities in underrepresented communities all over the globe.
As leaders, we need to help our companies support this shift by building additional capabilities, such as knowledge of global and economic issues and the challenges impacting marginalized communities, in addition to workforce representation strategies. Only by understanding D&I in a much more holistic way—not only within our organizations but outside the organizations and how they operate as part of society—will we be able to help our organizations succeed in the future. It is through this transformation and journey that we will become the unapologetic ambassadors for change that our organizations and the world are calling for.