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Diversity in Biotech: Path to Equitable Workforces with Tiffany Summerville

Increasing diversity in biotech is worth a candid conversation. Our clients often ask for tactics to address this, and while we do have many, the truth is that companies need to be open-minded–there are great candidates in places other than Harvard.

To dig into this, we recently sat down with Tiffany Summerville, an HR executive with a wealth of experience creating diverse companies across several industries, including biotech. You can listen to the full interview on our podcast or watch the video embedded here in this article.

Building Equitable and Inclusive Biotech Companies

Diversity, equity, engagement, and inclusion (DEEI) is Tiffany Summerville's spin on DEI. Note the extra 'E' for engagement. More on that later. Tiffany has been a key player on this front, pushing for DEEI initiatives within companies throughout her HR career. Her unique approach is worth examining to understand how we can make our companies more equitable.

Tiffany's journey into HR might seem unconventional at first glance, but it gave her an edge – she brought with her fresh perspectives and creative strategies that proved crucial when tackling challenges inherent to promoting diversity in biotech and diagnostics.

Promoting DEEI in Startups: From the Top

Tiffany emphasizes the importance of establishing a top-down commitment to diversity. However, implementing these initiatives can feel daunting for many due to resource constraints or a lack of knowledge on where to begin.

According to Tiffany, accountability plays a significant role in this process. Setting clear goals related to diversity ensures everyone understands what they're working towards. It's crucial for leaders to actively participate in events and training to demonstrate the organization's commitment. This commitment can even be factored into their bonus structure to provide motivation.

Engaging Marginalized Employees

Creating an inclusive workplace goes beyond hiring diverse talent. Ongoing engagement is critical for fostering progress and well-being in the workplace. To truly promote inclusivity in the biotech workforce, it's essential to actively engage marginalized employees. This includes individuals from underrepresented groups who may feel excluded due to their race, gender, age, or disability status. Engagement starts by creating safe spaces for open dialogue and understanding within the organization.

Active engagement means more than establishing diversity committees or hosting occasional training sessions, which can seem performative and have little impact. It means ensuring that every voice is heard, whether it's in team meetings, project discussions, or casual conversations. Everyone should feel comfortable expressing their opinions and ideas without fear of judgment or retaliation. Building this inclusive culture takes time and effort, but it's definitely worth it in the end.

Ongoing Communication and Training

Continuous professional development is important for fostering an inclusive workplace, which is crucial for nurturing diversity in biotech. Clear and ongoing communication about challenging topics promotes a culture of growth and encourages open exchange of ideas among all team members, not just top-down directives. These conversations build trust and spur innovation.

Investing in comprehensive training covering job-specific topics and broader issues like diversity, equity, and inclusion demonstrates a commitment to employees' success. It's essential that all take collective responsibility for this training, ensuring that the onus does not fall on underrepresented employees. Regular refresher courses are vital to keep inclusivity at the forefront, supporting an ongoing culture of inclusiveness rather than viewing it as a final goal.

Active participation from managers and company leaders in these trainings and events is crucial. Their presence demonstrates organizational commitment and reinforces the importance of these initiatives, ensuring that everyone understands the expectations and contributes to creating an inclusive environment. Investing in additional education for managers on DEEI best practices is a worthwhile investment to further these aims.

Strategies for increasing diversity in biotech

Several strategies have proven effective in building a diverse biotech workforce. But be warned, they require an open mind.

Targeted Searches at HBCUs and HACUs

Consider initiating focused outreach at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities (HACUs). These institutions house a wealth of diverse talent that should not be overlooked.

Interestingly, some clients may initially express unease with this targeted outreach towards HBCUs and HACUs. However, it is vital to point out the inconsistency in their comfort level when engaging with prestigious institutions like Harvard or MIT compared to HBCUs. By connecting with HBCUs and HACUs, clients widen their candidate pool and foster diversity within their organization, enriching the biotech sector's overall inclusivity.

By proactively engaging with HBCUs and HACUs, you attract top talent and contribute to a more diverse and inclusive future in the biotech industry.

Engaging with Diverse Communities

The next approach involves engaging directly with various communities. This doesn't just mean attending job fairs or posting ads online; it requires active participation in community events, sponsorships, mentorship programs, and even collaborations on special projects. This is playing the long game, and there is often resistance to these initiatives as the ROI is not immediately apparent.

These strategies require dedication and consistent effort from all levels of management. However, biotech companies have seen increased applicant pool diversity by investing in long-term engagement initiatives to attract diverse talent. Brand recognition is key, and it's not built overnight.


Diversity in biotech isn't just a buzzword. It's an untapped goldmine of innovation, growth, and resilience.

Tiffany Summerville was gracious enough to sit down and share her story and her perspective. Her strategy hinges on DEEI - diversity, equity, engagement, and inclusion. That second E for Engagement is critical.

If you want to learn more about Tiffany, connect with her on LinkedIn! You can listen to the full episode anywhere you get your podcasts or watch it below!


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