Guest Column | April 13, 2023

5 Practical Steps For Advancing DEI In Your Medical Device Company

By Camille Chang Gilmore, vice president, human resources, and global chief diversity, equity & inclusion officer, Boston Scientific

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In 2017, our Boston Scientific leadership team found ourselves faced with a dilemma. Poring over our annual employee survey results, we were taken aback to learn — much to our chagrin — that not all of our female employees felt they had equal opportunities for promotion as their male counterparts. We took a collective deep breath to let the realization sink in: A swath of our workforce was letting us know that they felt overlooked. We knew immediately that we needed to do better for them – and not only because diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) align with our values, but because in medtech, DEI is a business imperative.

Why do I say so? Because the medical device industry’s mission, making products to help solve healthcare’s toughest problems, demands relentless ingenuity. But the best ideas don’t emerge in a vacuum; they’re sparked by a deep understanding of the problems faced by patients and customers, then forged by the creative interplay of different perspectives. Creating a workplace that encourages that level of empathetic, collaborative engagement is critical for the innovation that powers our industry.

For us, those 2017 survey results became a catalyst for decisive action — one that helped accelerate a burgeoning cultural shift. Based on our experience, here are what I believe to be the core elements of any successful DEI initiative in the medtech industry and beyond.

1. Prepare to dig deep.

Medtech is all about solving for the unmet need. In this regard, DEI work is much the same. Approach your DEI initiatives with the same rigor, curiosity, and creativity you use to spark innovation in medical technology. Resist making any assumptions about next steps. Rather, begin by asking: What are the unmet needs here? What issues may have been going unaddressed? How do we uncover and understand them?

To find those answers, you’ll need to dig deep. And just as in medtech innovation, the first step is to gather all the relevant data you’ll need to make informed decisions. To do so, I strongly suggest that you engage an independent third party, as we did, to conduct employee interviews, focus groups, and anonymous surveys. Then brace yourselves to learn from whatever your employees tell you, even the ugly parts.

2. Make sure your leadership is invested and has a structure for sharing ideas.

An oft-repeated business maxim is that change starts at the top, and it’s absolutely true of inclusion initiatives. For a DEI effort to succeed, a company needs visible support from senior leaders who model its importance and ensure follow-through at all levels. Fortunately, this wasn’t an issue for us, since our senior executives were bought in from the start — a fact that gave us a distinct advantage, since the issue of investment often presents a sticking point for companies making change.

One way to help create that DEI buy-in is to have a champion on your leadership team: someone who believes in the initiative and can influence others. Be sure to maintain a genuine two-way exchange of ideas and feedback with your champion and the entire leadership team, so everyone understands what changes are being made and why they are necessary.

Where we did struggle at first was translating our leaders’ personal buy-in into real exchanges of actionable ideas. In a global corporation of more than 40,000 employees, we needed a way to not only monitor how various DEI solutions were working across the organization but also to find the “islands of excellence”: the pilots and programs within the company that were succeeding in one area, so that we might share those learnings across teams. Eventually, our best way to do so was to pull together the right cross-section of executives and employees to meet on a regular basis. Our Global Council for Inclusion, as we eventually named it, became an ideal way for us to discuss, develop, and share best practices among our executive committee.

3. Be transparent about your goals — and hold yourself accountable.

Once you have arrived at your initial DEI goals, make them public. The act of speaking your clear, concrete goals out loud is an important way to show your employees — and anyone else paying attention — that you are serious about tackling these issues.

Bear in mind that the route to those goals may not be linear, and you’ll likely need to course-correct along the way. There’s no shame in doing so, or in publicly saying that you’ve done so. In medtech innovation, rarely is there a straight line between the initial concept and the final result; rather, you iterate as you go, incorporating your learnings to continually refine the product. Your DEI efforts will require the same. Set benchmarks, collect reliable data to see if you’re advancing toward those marks, discover where you can improve, and adjust your course accordingly – and communicate your efforts and progress frequently. Your stakeholders will appreciate your willingness to be transparent and accountable.

4. Foster career development.                                      

As with other fields in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM), leadership positions in the medical device industry have been traditionally dominated by white men. To address these historical trends, it’s crucial to create programs to ensure all employees are given the tools to fairly compete for leadership roles. What we discovered at Boston Scientific was that our employees needed greater clarity around career pathways that were open to them: what a long-term career might look like, how an employee might match a career path to their interests, and how to start plotting a course to get there.

You can help employees bridge those learning gaps in various ways. A powerful initiative we’ve taken for corporate employees, for example, is a STEM sponsorship program that matches high-potential individuals with executives who serve as advisors, mentors, and career advocates over a multiyear timeline. For employees in our manufacturing facilities, however, we took a different approach. We created a global talent development program to help our direct labor employees turn entry-level jobs — often a means to a paycheck — into meaningful careers.

These programs can have additional benefits to the business overall. In our case, we found that the upskilling program for manufacturing employees not only supports their career growth but also helps solve for the current direct labor shortage: we have combined the best of human skill with the best of automation to relieve those frontline employees of more menial tasks that can be better performed by machines (like visual inspections on the manufacturing line), and they can move into roles in which they learn to manage and advance those technologies — a move that they tell us often feels more stimulating and satisfying. This is just one example of how purposeful cross-functional collaboration can lead to win-win scenarios — without intentional opportunities for teams to come together to share what’s working and what’s not, we may never have realized this multifaceted opportunity for career development.

5. Give employees the tools to take specific, everyday actions.

Words have never created a company culture — but people do. An inclusive environment is created only through your employees’ specific, everyday actions. One way of encouraging such proactive behavior is through employee resource groups (ERGs). These are voluntary, company-sponsored organizations, each revolving around a dimension of diversity — such as gender, race, sexual orientation, or life stage — where employees can connect, find support, and participate in mentorship. They are also a significant way for you to hear employees’ needs as they emerge, so that you can engage in timely discussions and respond more effectively.

Another way to equip employees to take inclusive day-to-day actions is to ensure that managers have the tools they need to be good mentors and coaches to all employees. One way to increase sensitivity to the nuances of race, culture, and identity is to have your leaders participate in an anti-racism program. In these comprehensive programs (often administered online, at their convenience), participants learn how culture drives behavior in the workplace, gain insights into different cultural groups, and identify their own blind spots and biases, so that they can begin to address them.

Results Come Over Time, Not Overnight

With diversity, equity, and inclusion, we must accept that progress is measured over time, not overnight. There is no easy way to eliminate bias and discrimination from the workplace. However, in order to succeed in the medical device marketplace — or any marketplace, for that matter — companies must leverage all of their available talent to maintain an innovative edge. That is why it’s incumbent upon all of us to push to make the workplace a more fair, equitable, and welcoming place for all.

About The Author:

Camille Chang Gilmore is vice president of human resources and global chief diversity, equity and inclusion officer for Boston Scientific. In addition to honors including the 2023 SAVOY Magazine Most Influential Executives in Diversity and Inclusion and the 2023 SHE-SUITE 100 Architects of Change, Gilmore serves on the boards of the Society of Human Resource Management Foundation, WittKieffer, the Greater Twin Cities Youth Symphonies, Disability:IN, and is a liaison to the National Action Council for Minorities in Engineering. She is an active member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated. Gilmore received her bachelor’s in business management from Pennsylvania State University and M.B.A. in human resources from the University of Illinois.