Diversity Increases Greatness by Luchy Hidalgo-Semlek
Source: Montessori picture of my children’s Pre-K class
Note. This picture was taken a few years ago and includes my children while attending the Montessori school. It does not contain parental sharing restrictions.
Medical Affairs (MA) constitutes a critical branch for the Pharmaceutical and Medical Device Industry growth. This department drives innovation by creating a channel for the transfer of essential information among healthcare industry stakeholders. The lifecycle of a product heavily depends on the insights acquired and effectively communicated by the field Medical Affairs team, which inform their employers about consumers’ product acceptance, the competitive landscape, the opportunity to expand the label, and how employer products impact consumers’ quality of life. The ultimate goal is to ameliorate a disorder or eliminate an existing condition that affects a specific individual group.
To achieve these goals, diversity is a crucial component of Medical Affairs, especially in that MA personnel often work cross-functionally with people from diverse cultural and educational backgrounds. Traditionally, diversity refers to the differences in race, religion, gender, disability, sexual orientation, age, and education, among other variables, says Steven Cates, a faculty member for graduate programs at Purdue University Global.
Over the years, I have worked for several companies that are also diverse in size, culture, and product portfolios. As I worked in these organizations, I have observed that the best teams of which I had the pleasure of working with teams composed of individuals from diverse backgrounds. In my experience, I observe that groups who lack diversity often have an “only one right way” mentality that stifles creativity, growth, or opportunity for significant break-out successes.
Researchers have shown the advantages of having diversity within an organization as employees with different backgrounds bring their perspectives, ideas, and experiences, creating resilient and effective organizations (Eswaran 2019). To use a sports analogy, it is more important to find players to fill every position before adding depth to the roster at a single position. This analogy does not only apply to work functions. It applies to a diversity of gender, ages, ethnicities, or any number of categories.
Evers. M. et al. (2014) mention the importance of acquiring and developing strong talent. Specifically, for Medical Affairs, each member should combine strategic thinking, basic commercial skills, cross-functional collaboration, teamwork, and scientific leadership. The author acknowledges the scarcity of talent that meets all the requisite skills, especially within the borders of a single nation (Evers et al., 2014). Therefore, diversity should be an essential component of company culture to achieve optimal results.
The problem is that individuals harbor unconscious biases, which are powerfully manifest during the hiring process. In my experience, managers are significantly averse to risk during this process; hence, they often hire individuals most like themselves. This mindset creates a homogeneous group of individuals that affirm one another’s beliefs and preconceptions while simultaneously perpetuating unconscious bias against conditions that allow for a diversity of people and thought. Martins et al. (2004) suggest that homogeneous teams are more satisfied and experience more positive reactions, while heterogeneous teams experience enhanced team creativity and bring a wider variety of solutions to a given problem.
In my experience, the best leaders make hiring decisions to create a balanced team filled with employees with a diversity of talent, skills, and backgrounds best suited to complete current and future team needs. However, preconceived biases make hiring managers to analyze resumes and work experience primarily through the lens of their own experiences. They are only viewing the candidate on the merits of what they have done instead of how they complete the team and can succeed in the role to which they would be hired, or even better, to succeed in a way that the leader had never even considered before the interview. The worst leaders are entirely unaware of their biases. The best leaders are constantly aware of their own preferences and actively take measures to minimize them.
Executive leadership will also be aware of how their decisions affect their company’s ability to compete among rivals. The gold standard for planning for success within a given industry is Porter’s Five Forces framework, which leadership will use to help them create strategies to compete against industry rivals. Absent from Porter’s is any mention of a need for employee diversity. However, Porter’s is an analysis of forces mostly beyond a company’s control. Hiring for diversity is within an organization’s control (Anastasiu, L. 2020). In a future article, I may delve into how Medical Affairs can contribute to company strategy to help shape the competitive landscape in which it operates.
A recent BCG study suggests that increasing leadership diversity leads to more and better innovation and improves financial performance. Research has shown a positive impact on economic growth due to a diverse population (Hamilton Project 2019, BCG 2017). The Boston Consulting Group (BGC) found that companies with more diverse management teams have 19% higher revenues (BCG study 2017). Eswaran (2019) suggests how New York, Dubai, London, and Singapore’s financial success correlates to the high concentration of immigrants as a commonality.
The healthcare industry is heavily regulated and is continuously evolving. Hence innovation is an essential part of industry growth. For instance, the COVID surge last year significantly changed the way Medical Affairs operates the business. Hence finding creative and innovative opportunities to conduct business by thinking outside of the box was a must to succeed during the pandemic, in my personal view. There is an advantage for the Pharmaceutical and Medical Device industries to invest in their organizational culture by increasing diversity in Medical Affairs since it’s an integral part of their business success.
Anastasiu, L. (2020). Is Human Capital Ready for Change? A Strategic Approach Adapting Porter’s Five Forces to Human Resources. Sustainability 12 (2300). doi:10.3390/su12062300
Evers et. al. (2014). Pharma Medical Affairs 2020 and beyond. McKinzie & Company. https://www.mckinsey.com/~/media/mckinsey/dotcom/client_service/pharma%20and%20medical%20products/pmp%20new/pdfs/pharma_medical_affairs_2020.pdf
Eswaran V. (2019, April 29). The business case for diversity in the workplace is now overwhelming. The World Economic Forum. https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2019/04/business-case-for-diversity-in-the-workplace/
Martins, Luis L.; Gilson, Lucy L.; Maynard, M. Travis (2004). Virtual teams: What do we know and where do we go from here? Journal of Management. 30 (6): 805 835. doi:10.1016/j.jm.2004.05.002. S2CID 14671665.
The Hamilton Project (2018, Oct 9). Output in the economy is higher and grows faster with more immigrants. https://www.hamiltonproject.org/charts/the_foreign_born_share_of_the_u.s._population_has_returned_to_its_late_19th.
Disclosure: This manuscript was prepared by Luchy Hidalgo- Semlek, MD in her personal capacity. The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not reflect the view of Employers past or present.
Luchy Hidalgo, MD
Luchy Hidalgo, MD, is the New England Medical Science Liaison for Exact Sciences. As a medical affair professional, she has over ten years of experience in the medical device and pharmaceutical industry. She serves as the scientific, intellectual resource who conveys systematic data, explores medical and scientific insights, provides scientific education to health care practitioners, quality leaders, researchers, and clinicians. I work cross-functionally to create stakeholder’ specific solutions that increase disease awareness and promote health equity. In my role, I manage top-tier relationships, identifying stakeholders’ knowledge gaps and health access barriers at the national and regional levels.