Celeste Warren - Leaders recognized for establishing consistent DEI strategies in their organizations
Q: Can you tell us a little about yourself and your role at your company?
A: I lead Merck’s Global Diversity & Inclusion Center of Excellence. Our purpose is to compel a more globally diverse and more inclusive workforce for our employees by creating an environment of belonging, engagement, equity and empowerment so that we can ensure patients experience ultimate health outcomes.
Q: Why is diversity, equity and inclusion important to your company?
A: Our ability to excel depends on the integrity, knowledge, imagination, skill, diversity and teamwork of our employees. The success of our company is built on a culture that embraces different perspectives and values the contributions of each individual, and we recognize that a diverse, skilled and engaged workforce strengthens our competitiveness.
Our ability to save and improve the lives of patients is linked to our [Global Diversity & Inclusion] strategy — our framework for a sustainable competitive advantage. Through it, we aim to create an environment of belonging, engagement, equity and empowerment that aligns with our purpose to save and improve lives. Ultimately, our globally diverse and inclusive workforce uses this foundation as a means to improve patient health.
Q: How has your company’s DE&I strategy evolved over the past couple of years as the spotlight has been on the country’s lingering racial inequality and social injustice issues?
A: We began developing the next evolution of our DE&I company strategy in 2019. We knew that our strategy had to be flexible and agile enough to account for the volatility we were seeing in the external environment globally. We could foresee the growing “awakening” in our employees as a result of what was happening in their homes, their communities and their families and friends.
Issues that impact different diverse communities of employees were seeping through into the workplace. We knew we had to prepare for those contingencies, so we worked in 2019 to write the next version of our company’s DE&I strategy.
Our diversity and inclusion efforts focus on:
• Our People: Strengthen the foundational elements of diversity.
• Our Culture: Ensure accountability to drive an inclusive culture.
• Our Business: Continue to leverage diversity and inclusion to ensure business value.
• Our World: Transform the environment, culture and business landscape.
When the devastating events happened in 2020, we were prepared to meet them head-on for the benefit of our employees and our patients.
Q: What area of DEI is still a challenge despite increased visibility and acceptance?
A: There is a challenge with our work in equity. Many do not understand the concept of equity and the work that we are doing around equity is causing disruption in the workplace. People in the majority don’t understand that various strategies to enable equity are needed because of the “isms” that exist in companies: racism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia, etc.
We have to put initiatives in place such as employee resource groups, learning and development programs for diverse employees, etc. — while simultaneously working to dismantle all of the “isms” that exist in the organization. Until we have been successful in eliminating systemic issues, we have to continue to implement equity initiatives, so we can continue our journey to true equality.
Q: How does supplier diversity and minority business development fit into your company’s DE&I strategy?
A: In 2021, diverse spend represented 12% of our total procurement spend — exceeding our corporate spending goal with minority-, women-, veteran-, and disability-owned business enterprises, along with those owned by lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer/questioning and other people or LGBTQ+. It is important to provide definitions and context for diverse suppliers. Diverse suppliers are businesses that are 51% managed, controlled and operated by a person or persons in the following categories:
• Minority: Black, Hispanic, Asian and Native American
• Veteran, service-disabled veteran
Nondiverse refers to those suppliers that don’t qualify per the definition above.
We spent $2.9 billion with diverse suppliers globally in 2021.
To learn more about diversity, equity and inclusion at Merck, visit https://www.merck.com/company-overview/diversity-and-inclusion/.