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Diversity

Making DEI a Multi-Dimensional Transformation

Percival Barretto-Ko, SF ’11

“Leading for diversity, equity, and inclusion requires a broader framework than might apply to other company initiatives,” notes Percival Barretto-Ko, SF ’11. President and CEO of the targeted protein degradation (TPD) company Plexium, Barretto-Ko spent much of his career at the helm of industry giant Astellas Pharma. “The most successful efforts I’ve been  part of in the pharmaceutical industry employed a three-pronged approach—some of which involves familiar behaviors coming from the top and some that’s bottom-up and thus potentially outside an organization’s existing comfort zone.”

Regardless of sector, Barretto-Ko believes the tone from the top must be strong and unambiguous. “The leadership within an organization must be vocal, consistent, and persistent about DEI objectives to encourage and motivate everyone in the company to do their part. That includes communicating your intentions and efforts clearly to the outside world. Letting everyone know that the success of your business depends on recruiting, promoting, and retaining a diverse and multidimensional workforce is key to the success of any specific initiatives.”

Putting employees in the driver’s seat

Tapping into the creativity, drive, and lived experience of employees is also essential to effective and sustainable DEI programs, according to Barretto-Ko. “You must provide employees with the time, resources, and decision-making power to shape and participate in your company’s efforts. In my experience, employee resource groups have been instrumental in making a dent in our DEI objectives.”

In addition to the direct contributions, resource groups make to productive policymaking, consciousness-raising, and behavioral change within a company, those groups also create substantive leadership opportunities for staff who might not have such responsibilities in their day-to-day duties. “When you give real power to people with a passion for expanding DEI,” says Barretto-Ko, “they are more inspired to add value to the business in other ways. Those employees also become credible representatives for recruiting similarly diverse talent from their wider personal networks.”

Standing by your metrics

Although many high-profile global businesses have widely publicized their good intentions related to DEI, the reality hasn’t always lived up to the hype. “What gets measured gets done,” Barretto-Ko says. “It’s essential to establish clear organizational metrics for each initiative you launch. Everyone involved must understand the goals and know what success looks like.”

He’s also an advocate for transparency in reporting progress (or lack of progress) in a company’s DEI activities. “Your efforts have much more credibility when your employees know where the company is headed, be it forward, backward, or standing in place. Being willing to frequently revisit your metrics and adapt your approach not only increases the chances of meeting your goals, it helps you attract and retain more diverse talent, in my experience.”

Breaking ground on new partnerships

Barretto-Ko also recommends moving beyond business as usual, including building non-traditional collaborations to achieve a company’s DEI objectives. “If you really want to move the needle on recruitment, you must invest in partnerships with larger-scale external organizations,” he says. “Robust networks are already out there, provided you are willing to look beyond your traditional talent pipelines.”

As the beneficiary of an early management recruitment initiative in the pharmaceutical industry, Barretto-Ko knows the potential of such programs to transform careers and lives. He is also optimistic about recent shifts in DEI efforts more broadly. “Momentum is growing to make diversity, equity, and inclusion less of a box-ticking exercise. Studies demonstrate time and again that DEI creates better long-term outcomes and strengthens the bottom line. I think it’s only a matter of time before diversity becomes a standard business priority in addition to being a people priority.”