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We aren’t looking for perfection. We are looking for progress. 

SPOTLIGHT ON

Quita Highsmith

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You can raise your hand from any seat 

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What you tolerate is what you stand for

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Marketing allows you to make your audience feel valuable

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How to approach diversity and inclusion in your organization

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Diversity and inclusion is everyone’s job. The future depends on it 

Who is Quita?

Quita's career has often placed her in the role of "fixer," whether it was as a sales leader innovating to drastically improve team performance (a feat she has achieved more than once), or in her current position as Vice President and Chief Diversity Officer at a major biotech company, advocating for more diverse representation in leadership, clinical research, and more. While she advocates for balance, often saying  "your job won't hug you at night," Quita is passionate about making change through her career and says if she could give her younger self a piece of advice it would be to take more risks.

 

Here she shares what three decades in the pharma and biotech industry have taught her about making your voice heard, the importance of self awareness, the value of marketing, how to approach diversity and inclusion in your organization, and where we go from here.

When you are early in your career you think, “I need the money, I'm not going to rock the boat", but if you have ideas and see things that need to change, you should feel empowered to speak up to leadership. As you grow in your career and find yourself with the opportunity to sit at the table with leaders, it's because your presence has a reason. Be part of the conversation, not in the background. Once there, have confidence in your expertise and be willing to take calculated risks.

 

A time when Quita took her own advice occurred while organizing a summit for patients where they could not find a single patient who identified as a Person of Color. At the time she was told to stand down because she lacked clinical development experience. Although she didn't have a background in development, she understood the immense importance of diverse representation and spoke out to promote change. When COVID struck a few years later in 2020, her organization was prepared to reach these underrepresented communities and produced a study where Patients of Color represented 85% of the cohort.

 

The takeaway? You can raise your hand from any seat, and make transformational changes when you speak up.

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You can raise your hand from any seat

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You can make transformational changes when you speak up.

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What you tolerate is what you stand for

To be a leader, self-awareness is critical. You must believe your actions will have an impact. What you tolerate determines what you stand for, so use this foundation to be intentional about what you say "yes" to and who you invest your time with.

 

While still being deliberate, it's also important to remember that sometimes you must go horizontally in your career to obtain the right experience to move vertically. We are conditioned to think vertical is the only way that you can grow and that's simply not the case - be willing to acknowledge what you don't know and do what it takes to learn.

If you are marketing correctly, you will understand what's motivating people. This allows you to speak to them in a way they will hear you. Marketing creates an opportunity for your audience to better engage with you; to feel like they are part of something; and see themselves in the work. It also sets the tone for your brand, and even your organization. When you think about it, every role can be connected to marketing because a company's success is directly tied to the buy-in and engagement of their consumers and key stakeholders.

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Marketing allows you to make your audience feel valuable

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...be willing to know what you don’t know and do what it takes to learn.

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How to approach diversity and inclusion in your organization

For the first time, corporate America is having real discussions about race in the workplace, and in order to be a change agent, you must place diversity and inclusion front and center. Even on a startup timeline when you are crunched for time and money, there's no excuse not to prioritize inclusion. Hire someone who understands that. Engaging Communities of Color in science is essential and startups have to start thinking differently about who they are bringing in.

 

Be thoughtful about vendors and partnerships, too. Let your partners know upfront that diversity and inclusion is important to your organization and that you want to work with people who prioritize these same values. Ask your suppliers and partners about their commitments and investments in diversity and inclusion. These seemingly small questions show your company is thinking differently and about the future. In biotech, it's the companies that are proactively asking these questions that are earning the trust of underrepresented communities. By asking bigger questions you will learn more about these communities' wants and needs which is the first step toward earning their trust.

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...in order to be a change agent, you must place diversity and inclusion
front and center. 

One of the most critical things any of us can do is to remove barriers for the next generation. Quita works tirelessly to ensure future generations, especially those who have been historically underrepresented in STEM, have education and career opportunities available to them to become leaders and have successful careers in science and medicine. As an industry we need to start considering: Do these students have funding available? Do they have equitable access to these opportunities?

 

These are hard conversations and there are no easy answers. We aren't looking for perfection, we are looking for progress. We all have to be intentional about challenging the status quo and be bold in our efforts to ensure the future of science is more diverse, inclusive and equitable.

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Diversity and inclusion is everyone’s job. The future depends on it 

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