A dialogue with Abi Bulus – Vice President, Human resources, 54gene
World Diversity Day is set apart to hold thought-provoking conversations globally in support of diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) importance in all spheres of life.
Particularly in 54gene, a major aspect of our work is focused on increasing the representation of underrepresented populations in genomics studies so that precision medicine is equalized for everyone. So now you understand why this topic is important to us.
Abi Bulus has 8+ years of experience in Human Resources in tech startups, and loves to talk about the importance of having a diverse and people-focused ecosystem – so on this World Diversity day, we thought it would be fitting to ask her some questions about DEI. Read on!
- Before we dive into why you’re so keen on this topic, let’s begin with a simple question – What does diversity, equity and inclusion mean to you, and why should we celebrate it?
Abi: Diversity, equity and inclusion typically refers to programs and policies put in place to promote representation of various groups within the workplace. While these policies, programs and quotas are important and a great place to begin, to me, it’s so much more than that and we need to go deeper. It’s about creating an environment where the employer and employees genuinely recognize, respect and celebrate varying needs and perspectives.
- Why is DEI important in the workplace, and what value does it add to the health tech sector particularly?
Abi: Where an organization is able to work towards and create an environment that celebrates diversity, they are more likely to have engaged and happy employees. There will likely be more satisfaction and more trust among Management and the employees. Some of the benefits that come to mind are; boost of employee morale, an improved understanding of those we work for, with and around, reduced complaints/grievances and all of these can contribute to increased employee productivity.
In the health tech sector particularly, DEI speaks directly to the value that can be gleaned from variety and different perspectives. When I think of our company, 54gene, the journey we’ve embarked on as an organization and the work that we do is a powerful example of the value diversity and range bring to the table. By studying the African genome and populations that have been majorly understudied within the clinical research space, we have been able to build comprehensive genomic datasets, and generate valuable insights to advance healthcare for the benefit of all populations.
- How does an organization know if they run a diverse, equitable and inclusive ship
Abi: There are a few ways to determine if an organization is truly diverse, equitable and inclusive;
- Is the workplace visibly diverse?
- Do they have equitable compensation and promotion practices?
- Do they have policies that cater to specific minority groups in the organization? This could be recognizing certain holidays, parental leave practices, etc.
- Do new employees feel welcome and accepted?
- Do they value varying opinions and ideas?
- How can the impact of diversity and inclusion be measured in the industry?
Abi: Measuring the impact of DEI initiatives is a great way to hold ourselves accountable for a commitment we’ve made and ensure that the intended beneficiaries are truly seeing a difference. It also enables us to continually make improvements from leadership down.
- One of the best ways to measure the impact of DEI strategies is to ask those whom the programs and policies seek to support. This can be done through surveys to collect feedback on specific initiatives.
- Another way is to look at the changes in the organization’s demographics over time to see if there has been a change linked to targeted DEI initiatives.
- Finally, the HR department can provide regular qualitative reports to maintain a pulse on the employee body around DEI matters.
- As our Human Resources lead, what step does your department take to eliminate bias in the hiring process?
Abi: It is human nature to gravitate towards people that are like us, whether it is age, gender, race, our alma mater that is the common denominator. Our unconscious bias could also have a negative impact before we have the opportunity to meet a candidate, so it is important to ensure there are systems in place to combat this and level the playing field for each applicant.
The question of fair and equitable recruitment is one that I thought about back when 54gene started recruiting – the question I asked is, how can we create a fair and equitable process? How can we ensure that individuals who see our job ads (a) feel welcome to apply and (b) have a fair chance to join our team?
A few of the strategies that we use to create a fair and equitable process are as follows:
- We review our job adverts to ensure they aren’t insinuating a particular gender as the preferred hire/or prefered candidate for the role;
- We screen all CVs and resumes submitted objectively and in the same way;
- We use a diverse interview panel to ensure balance in the overall decision/interview outcome and we ask the panelists to complete a scorecard at the end of each interview.
- Additionally, for some roles within the organization, skills tests are administered.
- What can you say about 54gene’s commitment to appreciating diversity and promoting an inclusive culture at the workplace?
Abi: One of our goals as an organization is to allow employees to be the best version of themselves. One of our values that I particularly appreciate is that of ‘Caring’ – it is not just being concerned about an employee’s contribution to the organization, but taking it a step further to show concern for their general well-being, and seek ways to support them and ensure our environment is conducive for their success.
According to our Code of Conduct and Employee Handbook, we don’t discriminate against those looking to join the organization (i.e. during the recruitment process) or those within the organization. Where there are conversations around discrimination, there is a 2nd policy that supports this, which is the Disciplinary Measures policy.
- How does inclusive leadership contribute to a culture of excellence and increase the organization’s bottom line?
Abi: As is the case with a company’s culture and values, leaders must be champions and ambassadors of DEI. When they demonstrate a posture of inclusivity and celebrate the diversity that exists within an organization, the practice will trickle down to their teams and be imbibed by the organization.
As mentioned earlier, the presence of effective DEI policies and programs will boost employee morale, reduce complaints/grievances, give employees a better understanding of those they work with and for [among other benefits] and all of these can contribute to increased employee productivity and ultimately, the organization’s bottom line.
- What is your biggest piece of advice for getting started with DEI?
Abi: While there is a tendency to get bogged down in the numbers and the metrics of what you’re trying to achieve, ensure that the people are at the center of all policies, programs and training.
Be open to reaching out to employees who are part of the groups you seek to support and ask them for their opinion on what would be most helpful and beneficial for them. You might learn something you didn’t know, it might take you “off track” from your initial plan – be willing to honorably learn and adjust in the process.