Keep the Conversation Going Series – 2023 Philly SHRM Symposium

During the 2023 Philly SHRM Symposium a session on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion: Driving Sustaining Change was conducted by Celeste Warren, VP, Global Diversity & Inclusion Center of Excellence at Merck.

The pandemic changed the world in how we work. As an example, it shifted points of view that employees must be present in the office in order to be successful and drive outcomes needed to drive business. Leaders were forced to contemplate how to help employees with their career aspirations when they are not in-person.

It has also changed the way leaders have thought about the workplace in that it has called for a more inclusive and empathetic leader. Through Covid-19, employees were dealing with many personal issues, and leaders had to embrace the well-being of their workers as much as embracing the business bottom line.

Embedding DE&I into the Organization’s Lifeline

Warren spoke on the idea that we are living in a world post-pandemic, where DE&I are at the forefront – this includes economic, social, and political factors. In the presentation, it was suggested to take a comprehensive approach when considering DE&I efforts and really taking the time to embed it into the lifeline of the organization.

Prior to the pandemic, Warren, as head of DE&I at a major pharmaceutical company, was never invited to attend investor calls. Present day, she is included often. These efforts are no longer just a ‘nice to do.’ As Warren stated, “Every company is just one tweet away from their share price dropping.”

Looking at a pharmaceutical company, Warren often asks these questions to leaders: How are we running the business? Are our patients diverse? Are there certain disease states affecting certain minorities? In healthcare, there has been a lack of trust amongst the Black communities so these companies must build trust as part of the business strategy.

DE&I efforts should also be integrated into every part of the lifecycle of an employee from recruitment, onboarding, development, knowledge sharing, and transition. Potential employees (and investors) look for certain company values and culture when searching for new opportunities.

Recruitment with a Diverse Sourcing Strategy

In recruitment efforts, there should be a diverse sourcing strategy and cultivating of that talent. It is important to involve leaders in this strategy and treat candidates as the customer. Warren suggested, as HR professionals, we look at analytics where the diverse candidates may have fallen out during the process asking ourselves, ‘where is the pain point?’ This can eliminate some of that unconscious bias that many companies experience.

Feeling Embedded During Onboarding

In onboarding, companies must provide a consistent experience amongst all new hires so that their inside experience matches the outside. If available, new hires should be linked with appropriate employee resource groups in order to feel embedded in their new company.

Development and Fairness

Managers need to have authentic development conversations. There is so much bias that can occur throughout the assessment and performance processes. Human Resources professionals need to audit performance reviews and make sure documentation reflects fairness. In an organization, information and knowledge should be shared across the organization with different viewpoints reflected.

Remembering the Transition and Offboarding Process

Lastly, transition and offboarding tends to be forgotten in DE&I efforts. Establishing an effective offboarding process will allow leaders to identify opportunities to evaluate and improve company culture in order to retain employees – specifically those of diverse backgrounds. Having happy alumni so that they are speaking positively in the labor market is key for successful attracting and retaining.

If all these efforts are kept top of mind, Warren affirms companies will see the benefits across the organization giving companies a competitive advantage in the marketplace.

DE&I progress can create disruption in the workplace, but it is imperative to focus on to ensure a strong future where equality is widespread.

Striving for Equity

However, Warren acknowledged equality is not enough – companies must provide equity to their employees. Providing additional resources to diverse potential and current employees puts all individuals on a level playing field. Warren gave the attendees an example regarding a short, average, and tall person all looking over a fence. Providing them all with the same crates to stand on creates equality but providing them all different crate heights so they are all the same height creates equity. This is a much larger discussion, but put simply, organizations need to strive for equity.


In conclusion, organizations cannot have DE&I efforts as a ‘check the box’ any longer. It needs to be an effort that is continuous and long lived. We must encourage our own organizations to lead the way in these progressive efforts.


About the Author

Rebecca Deering leads the talent function at Taiho Oncology, Inc., based in Princeton, NJ. She has extensive experience in talent acquisition and talent management working in the pharmaceutical and retail industries. Rebecca holds a BA from James Madison University and MBA from Temple University, with a concentration in Human Resources. Rebecca is also a member of Philly SHRM’s Thought Leadership Team.

Author’s Disclaimer: The content and opinions expressed in the article above are my own, and do not necessarily reflect those of my employer.