Genome Medical stands in solidarity with the Asian American community during this tremendous time of need. We have been working diligently and we are eager to share an update on our progress in our Force for Good initiative. However, we still have much work to do. As Genome Medical Co-founder and CEO, Lisa Alderson indicates, "We don't want this to be a rallying cry at one moment in time, but rather we recognize that this will take sustained effort to change the hearts and minds of, unfortunately, millions of people to have a meaningful impact."
In this fireside chat, Amy Raimundo, Managing Director at Kaiser Permanente Ventures, discusses leadership, diversity and what it means to be a "Force for Good" with Alderson. Learn more about the initiatives Genome Medical is taking to combat systemic racism and build sustained commitments to diversity and inclusion.
Amy: When you think about diversity and inclusion, what does sustained effort mean to you? Obviously, there has been a lot over this past year, but moving to sustained effort is where we need to go.
Lisa: That’s exactly it. It’s not just one moment in time. We created a core team that we call our Force For Good effort, and the intent of that was first to break down inequities in access to healthcare and in patient outcomes. We’re also using it as a vehicle to really denounce racism and to take a more active approach in how we dismantle systemic racism. It’s such a huge and massive issue that we view as not just one moment in time, but rather a sustained commitment over years. We’ve really used this as a way to rally our workforce for people who feel passionate about the subject. In fact, we’ve committed around five different pillars that start with educating ourselves and educating our team members. This started for us a year ago at the time of George Floyd’s murder. It was such an important point that it felt like it really needed leadership with compassion and empathy for our team. We wanted to give that commitment at a leadership level -- not only is this an important issue in society, but also for our team mates and the members of our family. In addition to the education pillar, we also are really committed around access -- how do we break down disparities in access, particularly in the area we focus on in Genetics and Genomics, for patients all around the country. Then we look at how we can amplify diversity in research initiatives. Genomic data sets are very underrepresented in communities of color and historically underrepresented minorities. That’s an important area because it helps drive precision medicine. Lastly, we’ve amplified our commitments around diversity in hiring and how we authentically commit to addressing issues of unconscious bias. We want to ensure we are getting in front of the right groups of people to maintain a diverse workforce, which ultimately is a workforce people prefer to work in.
A: Absolutely. I’m struck by the importance of diversity and inclusion in the genomics space. It’s central to the point of precision health. You need to represent. It’s such an interesting backdrop. How do you see your role as CEO and your role in a company like that? The two things separate, but both important. How do you see your role in that?
L: I think it’s about being a champion and leading at the senior levels of the organization so that each individual team member understands how important this is to the culture of our company. Over the past year in particular, it felt like we’re all dealing with so much between the global pandemic, a stay-at-home shelter-in-place order, and all the stress and anxiety. When you magnify that with the growing hate crimes, most recently against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders… these are tragic events, and it’s frustrating to me quite frankly. It’s sad that, in 2021, there seems to be a debate around equality of our fellow humans. It seems like that shouldn’t be. I think that means leading with empathy and making it okay to not be okay. We have open forums, town halls, dialogue, and discussions where people can come together and honestly and authentically share their feelings. It’s important to have a support network, especially for people who may be, for example, in a studio apartment on their own. Where do they go to get that dialogue and exchange? We want to be there for our employees to help navigate through, understand, and share those emotional feelings.
A: One thing that I’ve seen companies and groups struggle with is how to make concrete change out of those emotions and frustrations. What are the efforts within Force For Good that you are excited about, or that other groups can do / have an opportunity to do?
L: We started in the pillar of education, and one of the things we really wanted to do was educate ourselves -- in particular about the inequities in healthcare. We have a five part blog series that one of my coworkers, Erica Ramos, has led that really drills into a lot of the inequities in outcomes. For example, Black women die at an alarmingly higher rate from childbirth than their Caucasian counterparts. So how do we dig in and understand some of that? The open, honest, transparent communication, which we’ve published for others, is a good place to start. Without that understanding, it’s hard to know what to address. The second thing we’ve done is tried to build in accountability. We didn’t want this to be a rallying cry at one moment in time, but rather we recognize that this will take sustained effort to change the hearts and minds of, unfortunately, millions of people to have a meaningful impact. We seek ways to collaborate with other like-minded organizations so that we can together do more work and have an amplifying effect. We would be happy to share our resources in education and other things that may have value for other organizations. I’m excited about an upcoming speaker we have that’s going to speak about how we address unconscious bias, which I think is important for everyone to be aware of.
A: Given that it’s Women’s History Month, we all sit on our own biases and sometimes it’s targeted at ourselves. Are there assumptions about women leaders that you would like to change?
L: That’s a good question. The stats are that women outnumber their male counterparts in both college admissions and graduation, and yet women only account for 25% of senior leadership roles. It’s a key question: what’s behind that? Obviously, some women choose to exit the workforce to have and support their families. There’s an aspect of how you maintain that work life balance in a way that allows a woman to really have a senior leadership role. A lot of the positions that allow for more flexibility are often not at the most senior levels of an organization. It’s a challenge that we all need to think through and address. With an increase of remote work, in some ways, it makes it more feasible for some women to opt in and take on leadership roles. Just like any other group -- whether ethnic or racial or gender -- there is no one type of “woman leadership”. There’s a lot of diversity there, just like with our male counterparts. Yet, there can often be presumptions about how women lead -- what strengths are and what weaknesses may be. I would ask that we not jump to those pre-conditioned assumptions, but rather engage individuals and learn their leadership style individually.
A: Well this has been such a rich topic. We can probably talk about it all day/every day, but I know you have a job to do. I really appreciate your time and the effort you and your team are putting into these efforts because they’re critically important. The sustained effort is really what’s going to change the way we act and behave. Really appreciate you and your team.
L: Thank you, Amy. I know this is a subject you are equally passionate about. Thank you for your leadership. You’re an inspiration to all of us.