Towards Ensuring Diversity and Inclusion in the Workplace
Charles River leaders share the importance of recognizing bias in one's personal life and driving diversity in one's professional life
Diversity, equity, and inclusion is a conversation that should occur year-round. The CEO Act!on for Diversity and Inclusion, the largest CEO driven commitment to advance diversity and inclusion in the workplace, has set aside this time to remind us why listening and understanding are critical first steps toward action. Toward that end, more than 2,000 CEOs, including Charles River's CEO James C. Foster, are leveraging their individual and collective voices to advance diversity and inclusion in the workplace.
"Diversity adds brilliance, excellence, character, style, personality, innovation, creativity, and an opportunity for us to really, truly Be The Difference," says Brent Underwood, Associate Director, Global Diversity, Equality, and Inclusion at Charles River. "Diversity secures our today, tomorrow, and the end of our fiscal year."
We wanted to share this video of Jim Foster, and Q&A with eight key leaders from Charles River talking about some of the key questions around achieving true diversity in the workplace. We hope you find their responses insightful and inspiring. In addition to Brent, the other leaders in the Q&A include: Birgit Girshick, CEVP, Discovery and Safety Assessment, Biologics Testing Solutions and Avian Services; Colin Dunn, CSVP, Global Research Models & Services; Foster Jordan, CSVP, Microbial Solutions; Kerstin Dolph, CVP Global Biologics; Shannon Parisotto, CSVP, Global Safety Assessment, Vicky Creamer, Chief People Officer; and Wilbert Frieling, CSVP, Global Discovery Services.
Here are their lightly edited responses.
What is one way you plan to incorporate the I ACT ON pledge into your daily life?
Birgit Girshick: First, I will look inward. I will think critically about my own identify and ask myself the tough questions: Have I benefited from my own racial identity? Have I inadvertently silenced someone by not including them in the conversation? Once I can evaluate my past actions, I’ll be able to think about the ones I’ll need to take to move forward.
Brent Underwood: As Charles River’s DE&I Leader, I feel that it’s mandatory for me to align closely with the actions, behaviors and values outlined in the I ACT ON PLEDGE. My daily life is filled with robust discussions about highly sensitive and controversial topics. I don’t avoid these discussions but seek to gain understanding without judgment. The last year has been particularly difficult given ongoing violence in America and the biased policing of some Black men. Although I haven’t been the victim of extremely poor treatment by police officers, I have formed a bias through my vicarious experiences with them. I’ll utilize the pledge to help my young nieces and nephews alleviate their fears of cops and, instead, try to keep an open mind and eliminate “grouping” bias.
Colin Dunn: I will be learning more about recognizing bias, both my own and the unconscious biases that surround us in daily life. I will also be prepared to recognize and understand the impact of bias on my colleagues in the workplace, as well as individuals in my life, so I can help address and correct it.
Foster Jordan: I think it’s important to look for ways to increase diversity across our organization, and I am pledging to be more cognizant of potential biases throughout our supply chain and service providers. One small step we’ve already taken is to look for more BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color)-owned providers we can work with locally.
Kerstin Doph: I recently participated in a series of unconscious bias workshops, which was eye-opening. I always considered myself completely free from any bias. They brought awareness and understanding that we do hold some, unknowingly. I vow to be more aware, more open in every part of my life. And I promise to keep the conversation open and accepting.
Shannon Parisotto: Our leadership team focused on conscious and unconscious bias last year as we recognized the need to be more inclusive. Not just anti-discriminatory, but proactively inclusive. Through this work, I learned the critical importance of seeking out diverse experiences and opinions to help inform my own opinions and decision-making. As I take the pledge, I commit to making that part of my information seeking and decision-making process and I will make this more outwardly known by talking about it more.
Vicky Creamer: The two parts of the pledge that really resonate with me are initiating meaningful, complex, and sometimes difficult conversations and learning more about other’s experiences and perspectives. Toward that, personally I am pledging to read something daily I normally would not to get a new perspective. More broadly, I’d like to engage more with employees and prospective candidates to understand how they feel and what they think about Charles River, the good and the bad.
Wilbert Frieling: I think it is critical to recognize that everyone has some level of bias. Personally, I was raised by parents who instilled the idea in me that all people are equal, but throughout the course of my life I have developed unconscious biases. By educating myself and becoming aware of my own biases, I have been able to actively work toward removing them.
What value does diversity bring to our workplace?
Birgit: Every day, I learn so much from those around me who have different perspectives and backgrounds. I truly believe that these discussions are often when I learn the most, and that together, we make the best decisions.
Brent: Diversity adds brilliance, excellence, character, style, personality, innovation, creativity, and an opportunity for us to really, truly Be The Difference. Diversity secures our today, tomorrow, and the end of our fiscal year. It strengthens our capabilities, services and market results. Diversity is our global strength and why we’re experiencing phenomenal growth.
Colin: Diversity is our path to innovation. We need all minds and skills available to us so we can act quickly and in the best interest of the clients and patients we serve.
Foster: A diverse workplace is one that welcomes different opinions and perspectives, and ultimately that makes it a more interesting place to work. Those opinions and perspectives lead to new ideas and experiences, which is important for encouraging growth among our people.
Kerstin: I am proud to be a member of our DE&I Executive Council. What we do as a company, how we perform for our investors and customers is important, it’s how we stay in business. But how are we able to do that? Through our employees. They are the heart and soul of Charles River. I consider it a privilege to be representing the people who work here.
Shannon: The future of our business depends on diverse, collaborative thinking. For us to be successful, it is imperative that we create a culture that our people want to be a part of – one where people with diverse backgrounds and opinions can flourish and discuss their ideas openly. Only then can we reach the true potential of what Charles River can do for our clients and the people and patients we serve.
Vicky: Diversity and inclusion brings new perspectives and fresh ideas, which are key for any business to advance and deliver on its purpose. It also creates a work environment where collaboration and understanding the human experience and how we interact is valued.
Wilbert: The biggest value is bringing together different ideas and points of view. Everyone excels in different situations, and those individuals are shaped by their diverse life experiences. By bringing together individuals with different backgrounds, we can work toward having a variety of differing ideas and opinions in every situation, ultimately enriching the experience for everyone.
What do you think is the most important thing we can do to foster diversity and inclusion at Charles River?
Birgit: We need to be aware of our unconscious biases which can include associations or feelings of bias that may be hidden underneath the surface, and thus, we aren’t aware of. This is the first step towards real change. When we can recognize our unconscious biases, we can process these instances of stereotyping and change our ways.
Brent: It’s simple but also takes action and engagement…allow people to color outside the lines. Accept new ideas, work styles, opinions, and thoughts. Be good listeners and hold ourselves and others accountable for poor behaviors. Create a safe place for people to work and produce great results by helping them find balance and purpose. And lastly, stretch us beyond our business areas, beyond our communities and build bridges for diverse talent to cross into Charles River.
Colin: As an organization we need to continue to commit to the growth and development of our people and work collaboratively to build an environment of trust and understanding.
Foster: I think the single greatest step we can take toward fostering diversity and inclusion is to talk about it. The conversations we have might not always be comfortable or easy, but ultimately without an open dialogue, we’ll never be able to understand each other’s unique perspectives.
Kerstin: I’m very excited about the new Employee Resource Groups we are creating, especially the Health and Wellness one. This holds a very special place for me, not just at Charles River, but in life. Supporting the mental health and wellbeing of our people is critical. Seeing family members and friends struggle with mental health issues, challenged with access to good care and support is a stark reality. We must do better. I know the value of having a great support system at work, as well as home. When people are experiencing difficulties, they need to know they are valued and supported. We must be that source of support for our people. Let’s work together to de-stigmatize mental health by offering benefits and assistance for those in need.
Shannon: As we hire and bring new people into Charles River, we must ensure that they reflect our core values, but we must also make an effort to hire more people who don't look like us and think like us. We have much to gain from more diversity in our thinking and from people who can challenge the internal status quo.
Vicky: I think one of the most important things each of us can do is speak up and intervene when we see discriminatory or disrespectful behaviors or actions. It doesn’t mean we have to agree with, or like every decision or every point of view, but it is how you listen, react, and respect each other’s differences that matters.
Wilbert: The most important thing is that each of us work to demonstrate inclusivity every day and become comfortable with speaking up when we see behaviors that are opposed to our values.