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DIVERSITY, EQUITY & INCLUSION: Views from Leadership

“…we should bear in mind that “minoritized ethnic and racial groups” are not homogenous but people with very diverse cultural backgrounds within them and with very different histories of success within a country …”

For the fifth instalment of our Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Leadership series, the team recently had an insightful conversation with Dr. Dipti Amin, Director at Maaya Associates Ltd and a Non-Executive Director at Lineage Cell Therapeutics, Buckinghamshire Healthcare NHS Trust, and the University of Hertfordshire. Previously Chief Compliance Officer at Quintiles Transnational (now IQVIA), Dr. Amin brings 29 years’ experience in positions of operational and strategic responsibility within Pharmaceutical Services at the C-suite and Board level.

CP: Please describe your personal journey. What have been your own experiences around the topic of D, E & I since you started your career?

Dipti: When I was at school, I remember clearly when I said that I wanted to do medicine, being encouraged by my female teachers to think about something “easier” like physiotherapy, pharmacy or “something else”.

At 15, young females are not at their most confident and my first reaction could have been to think that they were right, but I have always been very resilient. My core thought was that I had wanted to study medicine since I was seven years old, and that if I did not have a go, I would forever wonder whether I might have got in. I did get into medicine and eventually became a doctor, but it taught me a really valuable lesson about self-belief and self-confidence. The reason I raise this is that when we think about diversity and inclusion, we have to consider how we are bringing forth all the folks who feel potentially marginalised and how we give them that confidence throughout their journey, whether it is in the workplace or at school. Now it is very different, there is a 50/50 ratio at university which shows that we are getting it right with females, that they are coming through, succeeding, getting into the workplace and that the environment is definitely changing.

As a non-white female, I have experienced much more discrimination for being a female than for my race or ethnic background. A lot of that is down to me: if someone overlooked me because of the colour of my skin, I would not have noticed it if it was subtle, which in some ways is quite protective. I would think that I was not selected because I was not good enough for that role and maybe not the right person. But I have had comments throughout my career, which I could not ignore: that I could not expect to be paid the same as a man doing the same job because I was female – which I think you could get away with in the late 80s or early 90s, but not anymore; or that, after returning from maternity leave, I should not worry about the workplace and think about having another baby instead, or that I should not expect a bonus that year.

We now have many mechanisms in place to stop this kind of behaviour, however that will not necessarily stop the thinking behind it, and there are subtle ways that this can come out in the workplace which is something that you have to watch out for.

I think that diversity in the workplace is not just thinking about women, colour or physical disability, it encompasses everything, including a diverse executive committee or boardroom, bringing together different thinking and different life experiences, which is ultimately what adds strength. It really has to be systemic. When you introduce quotas, there is a risk that it becomes a box ticking exercise. I have never wanted to be selected because I fit a box, but I know that it is inevitably happening: if I fit on every other criteria, I probably have the slight edge because I happen to be female and “brown”. But I really want to be selected because I am the right person.

CP: You are currently sitting on the Board of a Californian company, what is your view on attitudes to D, E & I topics in the US? Do you see a marked difference in US behaviours, compared to the UK and Europe?

Dipti: One of the reasons Lineage recently appointed two females of non-white origin is because they have to meet the requirements of the new California law(1). What was reassuring however was that the process they put us through felt robust, that we were thoroughly assessed – and one assumes there were other candidates in the mix as well. The value they felt I added was very clear to me. The recruitment process was very much about my experience, why they wanted it and how it fitted with Lineage’s future plans. The fact that I then ticked the other boxes was obviously part of the mix.

There are now three female members of this Board and I definitely have a sense that we have to make sure we speak up. It would be very easy to sit, listen and let the men do the talking as they are not always going to suggest we participate, this is frequently not the culture in the US. It is actually not a criticism, because it is also beholden on us as women not to be the passive listeners.

In terms of diversity and inclusion I think there is a real effort being made. I cannot generalise but from my experience on the Boards of Quintiles or Cambridge Innovation Capital for example, I think that whether US or UK-based, whoever is on the Board and whatever their individual mindset, makes a huge difference; some Board Members have bought into diversity, others not at all, and that really affects the thinking.

CP: Did you notice behaviours change during the period you were at Quintiles?

Dipti: I was there for nearly 25 years in total, so I definitely saw a big change through the organisation as the focus on diversity and bringing minorities or women more to the fore, gradually increased throughout that time. A big American organisation will always be at the forefront of trying to make sure it is complying with all that it needs to comply with, but at the beginning of my tenure, like in many other healthcare organisations at the time, there were probably more women than men in the lower ranks, and far fewer as you went up the chain. In 2012 though, the new CEO made creating more diversity and breadth a real priority. My personal experience is that who you have at the top and the philosophy of the Chair, CEO and the wider Board and Executive Committee, does inevitably drive behaviour all through the organisation.

I feel very positive about the future, because as we go forward, we have got a generation with different life experiences and mindsets, who have grown up with mothers who worked. They have gone to schools with all sorts of diversity and they are comfortable with different cultures. They see this as the norm not a threat, there is no fear element. That is where the positive perpetuation in the future will come.

CP: We find that a lot of the larger companies are all about ESG and D, E & I but what about the smaller, early-stage biotech, for example companies that you might have interacted with in your role at Cambridge Innovation Capital?

Dipti: This may sound counter to what I have been saying, but I have more leeway and sympathy for the very small companies. I think it is certainly incumbent upon larger organisations to be thinking about it, but when you literally have a handful of staff, if you start going too much down that route, it becomes very challenging. I would say smaller companies should think about ESG and D, E & I when they are small even if they cannot do anything about it, and then build it into their organisation as they grow bigger. While you are private, there is not really a big push on this and smaller companies frequently only start thinking about diversity when they look at listing on the stock exchange. Investors are now however, starting to ask questions around this as a requirement when they make investments.

CP: What were your observations around D, E & I as you transitioned from your ExCo role, to a ‘plural Board’ career? Where have you seen diversity as a best business practice?

Dipti: A good practice I have seen recently, is the recruitment of three Board roles for the Buckinghamshire NHS Trust where a new method is being piloted: all the CVs for the long list were anonymised, omitting candidate names and background, for example which university or school they went to. The process focused on past roles and experiences, and on the personal statements about what candidates could bring to the role. The second stage involved stakeholder events allowing candidates to respond to the questions posed by each stakeholder group. The CVs of the shortlist were only shared at the interview stage. This led to great appointments through a really effective and balanced process.

CP: In your opinion what do diverse teams do better?

Dipti: I think it is the practical application: when people with very different backgrounds bring ideas to the table or solve a problem, they just think differently to each other, because their life experiences are different. I have noticed that on all of my Boards. The more diversity you have, the easier it is to solve problems. Take the pandemic last year and watch what NHS hospitals did when they were allowed to take the covers off and give clinicians and others on the front line more autonomy. They solved some key challenges effectively and very quickly.

CP: So when we think about all the benefits, why don’t more companies do it?

Dipti: There is still a lot of resistance and fear of the unknown. People on Boards tend to be senior and often their experience of working with, for example, lots of women or people from other cultures may be limited. That discomfort level is what sometimes seems to outweigh the benefits.
When you have a small team, there is also a real tension between diversity and team fit. If you go for team fit, chances are you will want people that are quite similar because they will get on with each other more easily. Whereas if you create diversity, they will think differently, challenge each other, and there may even be some tension at times but actually from a business perspective, you can get more value.

CP: We put diversity into these very neat boxes, but what about self-identification and its implications on the recent NASDAQ Diversity Rule(2)?

Dipti: As I mentioned earlier, we have to be careful that D & I is not a box ticking exercise. First and foremost, it has to be about what an organisation and business need to be an optimum performer. What will make it most robust and effective? Everything else should fall out from that. I am not a fan of quotas, although I can see why so many countries have gone down that route: quotas take you down to the lowest common denominator, which I think is also a risk, and so rather than aiming for “good”, you end up with “mediocre”. Also, we should bear in mind that “minoritized ethnic and racial groups” are not homogenous but people with very diverse cultural backgrounds within them and with very different histories of success within a country.

Having said this, when we talk about diversity, especially in the boardroom, it usually comes down to the diversity of gender and ethnicity. I often wonder how much difference, including more people from the LGBTQ+ community or people with disabilities on Boards, would make in the functioning of the Board. They will probably have a different experience and perspective to bring to the table.
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Dr. Dipti Amin is a business leader with medical and clinical research experience and she is currently Director at Maaya Associates Ltd and a Non-Executive Director on the Boards of Lineage Cell Therapeutics, Buckinghamshire Healthcare NHS Trust, and the University of Hertfordshire. Previously, she was Chief Compliance Officer at Quintiles Transnational (now Iqvia) and over the last 29 years Dr. Amin has held positions of operational and strategic responsibility within Pharmaceutical Services at the C-suite and Board level. Her broad experience covers Clinical Pharmacology, drug development, ethics and compliance programmes, ethical issues in clinical research, as well as leadership and management of large, multi-functional, multi-geography, global groups to deliver value-added, efficient growth and achieving business turnarounds. Previously Dr Amin served on the Board of Cambridge Innovation Capital, the Board of Faculty of Pharmaceutical Medicine of the Royal College of Physicians, on the Innovation Board and the Medical Expert Network of the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry, on a Department of Health Multi-centre Research Ethics Committee, on the Emerging Science and Bioethics Advisory Committee of the Dept. of Health, and on the Board of Governors of Heathfield School for Girls (The Girls’ Day School Trust).

(1) On September 30, 2020, California mandated that publicly held corporations in California were: to have at least one director from an underrepresented community on its Board by the end of 2021; to have at least two directors from underrepresented communities by the close of 2022 if a covered corporation with between five and eight directors, and to have at least three directors from underrepresented communities if a covered corporation with nine or more directors.

(2) On August 6, 2021, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) approved the NASDAQ’s proposed listing rule related to Board diversity requiring each Nasdaq-listed company to have, or explain why it does not have, at least two “Diverse” directors, including one who self-identifies as “Female” and one who self-identifies as either an “Underrepresented Minority” or “LGBTQ+.”