Harnessing DE&I to Turn Individuality and Differences into Powerful Strengths
Astellas is harnessing diversity, equity & inclusion (DE&I) to empower its workforce and strengthen its competitiveness. In 2021, the company created a global strategy to align its multinational, multicultural employee base on DE&I, bringing about greater awareness, deconstructing unconscious biases, and enhancing a working culture built on mutual respect.
Watch the video below to see how Astellas is championing "Openness" to harness creativity through the inclusion of diversity and open communication.
We believe internal DE&I initiatives will improve collaboration and enable talent to thrive, which will drive innovation leading to greater patient VALUE. La Toya McClellan, Brian Thibeaux, and Aya Ishihara are central figures in effecting DE&I change company-wide at Astellas, HR division. The three discuss Astellas' DE&I backstory, the challenges they face, and how greater internal DE&I awareness can positively affect patients' lives.
Building on a strong foundation—the journey to establishing a global strategy
DE&I has been part of Astellas' cultural fabric for over a decade. A 2007 CEO-driven DE&I project kickstarted momentum, followed up in 2009 by the director of Human Resources who highlighted the need for greater DE&I awareness and began working on initiatives and training sessions to help people understand the cultures of their employees and colleagues.
Since then, Astellas in the US has continued to take the lead in nurturing a DE&I culture. The US-based teams have created awareness campaigns, celebrated Heritage Months, established councils and curriculums, and held flagship events such as the Astellas Women's Summit (2016), where employees discussed women’s empowerment, and the We Are One forum (2020), where employees discussed racial disparity in the aftermath of social unrest. And then, in 2021, Astellas solidified its DE&I platform by establishing a global DE&I strategy.
La Toya is the Global Head of Engagement, Diversity, Equity & Inclusion. She explains, “One of the main goals of Astellas' global strategy is to leverage differences to create business value. To achieve this goal, the company aims to build an internal movement to forge a demographically and cognitively diverse workforce with a shared sense of purpose, an organization where DE&I is integrated into all aspects of life, and the development of high-performing, diverse-thinking teams. Though aligning the mindsets of nearly 15,000 employees from multiple countries and wide-ranging cultural backgrounds is a significant challenge, we do have pockets of excellence.”
One such "pocket of excellence" is the Employee Impact Groups (EIGs).
DE&I at Astellas—Employee Impact Groups
The EIG initiative began in the US in 2014. There are currently seven groups: Abilities, African-American, Asian, Hispanic, LGBTQ+, Military, and Women. The company-sanctioned groups are all employee-led, driven by passionate and motivated volunteers who actively work to foster a sense of belonging, empower and develop group members, improve cross-cultural competence, drive business impact, and invest in communities and partners. While centered in the US, momentum is building worldwide.
Brian explains, "We are promoting DE&I in the US and supporting the global expansion of EIG initiatives. To extend our global reach, there are important processes we need to put in place. First, we try to make it easier for any employee to join an existing group, no matter where that individual might be based. If employees are interested in starting their chapter of a current group or creating a brand-new group, we need to support them and provide a clear pathway. We have chapters starting in Canada and the United Kingdom, and we are having constructive conversations with colleagues in South America and Central America.”
Currently, EIGs are expanding globally, but there are some cases where we need to take step-by-step approach depending on regional situations. Aya, who leads DE&I in Japan, explains such approach.
Global vs Regional—the hurdles each region is facing
“Growing awareness inside a typically traditional culture is a hurdle to realizing the global strategy. In Japan, diversity tends to mean women, so awareness of the full spectrum of diversity is relatively low. However, we must adapt to the cultures we work in—we can't force people to change their inherent behavior. So, our training sessions in Japan begin with gender bias before explaining that other biases exist, many of which may be unconscious."
One initiative driving greater awareness in Japan is the Open Café, a Japan-original project that began in 2021. The Open Café is effectively an open forum that any Astellas employee can join, either online or in person. What began as an opportunity for employees to talk directly with top management about their careers and challenges has developed into a no-judgment space to discuss diverse topics such as LGBTQ+, men's participation in childcare, women empowerment, and disabilities.
“Total 1,080 employees have participated in Open Café so far. I feel Japanese employees’ mindset towards DE&I is gradually changing. In 2022, we have started collaboration with EIGs in Japan as well. I hope DE&I culture is rooted more deeply among employees through EIGs initiatives.”
Flexible collaboration of cross-functional leaders and employees
To achieve global alignment on all DE&I initiatives, clear direction and unified leadership are essential, and the reshaped Global DE&I Council aims to provide this. In our original cross-functional council held in the US, it was too large and too formal to accomplish effective direction and decision-making. The new iteration is more agile and has greater authority. Our top management is on the council alongside other key leaders able to drive DE&I forward, including DE&I team, HR leaders, procurement from a supplier diversity standpoint, and sustainability from an ESG perspective. By pulling together the key personnel to effect DE&I change worldwide, we can instigate meaningful discussions about where we are now and where we are going.
Internal efforts lead to positive outcomes for patients
Developing a robust DE&I culture at Astellas can galvanize the company to reach and surpass its potential, and It’s also important to deliver VALUE for patients.
La Toya states, "If we think about patients, we can understand what Diversity really means. It's not just gender; it's faith, economics, politics, and a whole host of things that impact the patient experience. And diverse employees also help us understand the situations surrounding various patients. From a health equity standpoint, we must be mindful of our patients' diversity regarding how they access our products. By fostering inclusive culture that create a sense of belonging and empowerment among employees, we believe it will eventually lead to VALUE for patients."