Kendall Square is home to some of the world’s most innovative life sciences, tech and biotech companies — but while these industries are responsible for producing change-the-world research and technology, they also have a history of grappling with diversity and inclusion. In Kendall Square, DEI work is an open and ongoing conversation among company leadership, receiving increasing attention and budget.
“One of the good things about the time we’re living in is that there’s a lot of external pressure to speak to your community impact and how you are contributing to diversifying the STEM pipeline and workforce talent development,” said Wendy Richard, director of corporate social responsibility and community relations at Sanofi. “Those kinds of conversations are positive social pressure.”
And more than social pressure, Kendall Square companies are supporting each other in this work, sharing resources, discussing topics in forums like the KSA’s Future of (how we) Work meetings, and more.
“There is a recognition that we can do this work together,” said René Salazar, Chief Equity Officer at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard. “Particularly in spaces like science and tech, where you want a fast ROI, it can be challenging to convince stakeholders that it’s about incremental changes that will be long lasting.”
René and Wendy are leaders in diversity and inclusion efforts at their companies, in addition to in the Kendall Square community. The KSA caught up with each of them to hear more about how they’re thinking about DEI work in 2022 and what opportunities and challenges lie ahead for Kendall Square.
On the state of DEI in Kendall Square…
WENDY: In Kendall Square, people have a commitment to the value of equity and the idea that we all have a role to play in advancing it. But in spite of the sincerity of that sentiment and the amount of discussions that have taken place, not much has changed. If anything, Kendall has become less diverse. And that’s not because of just one specific part of the ecosystem. It’s what’s happening overall due to the rapid increase in prosperity driven primarily by the innovation happening in Kendall Square. We’re not controlling what that means in terms of access others have to that prosperity. We can do more to expand access to this professional prosperity and innovation. We must continue to expand these talent pathways.
On orienting a company around DEI goals…
RENÉ: At the Broad, we have three pillars that organize our approach to DEI. Pillar one is looking at how we create an inclusive internal climate and culture. The second pillar is how we think about bringing more equity to our science and cutting-edge research. How do we ensure that the research community is thinking about recruiting diverse populations into the studies that we develop? How do we think about the questions that need to be asked? Medicine historically has been very biased. And then the third pillar is how we diversify the scientific workforce, which, again, has been a very historically white, male-driven space. I’m a guy with white skin, but I’m also a Mexican American gay Latino who’s a first-generation college student. And the fact that I’m sitting here isn’t by accident. It’s because a lot of people invested their time and energy and gave me opportunities.
On engaging the community to drive DEI…
WENDY: A group that I met through KSA, the Innovators for Purpose — which works with local youth — will tell you, ‘I’ve lived in this part of the neighborhood, and I’ve never stepped foot in this building or that building.’ The Cambridge community knows about disparities firsthand, so moving forward, it’s about how we are changing the way we interface with these communities. It requires reciprocal growth — learning, listening and leaning in. We have many community partners working in the areas of health and STEM equity and other critical unmet community needs.
On the opportunities and challenges ahead for Kendall Square…
RENÉ: We have to acknowledge that people have been waiting desperately for change. We have to make things happen. DEI is work that involves intentionality. It’s work that involves a commitment. It’s work that involves sharing of resources, and it’s work that involves time. We have to build relationships, we have to build trust. We have to talk about things like power, privilege, discrimination, harassment. If I come at this charging down the road, people are going to run away or the walls are going to fly up. But it requires getting everybody on board to get us to the same endpoint.
I think the number one thing is to have a group like KSA to bring people together. The ability to come into spaces to connect, to talk about what we’re doing is powerful. This pandemic has isolated us. I was hired virtually. I’ve been to the Broad, physically, once or twice a week at most since I’ve started. And so it’s like, what resources are around me in Kendall Square? There’s a robust community that’s going to come back to life. Folks, I think, are unaware. I think it is a challenge, but it’s also an opportunity.
On taking action toward DEI over the long term…
WENDY: There is a call to expand the pipeline of how we bring in talent and how we nurture that talent. Where does that start? What part in the educational cycle? The answer to that is as early as we can. It’s clear, and documented, that diverse and inclusive teams drive better business results across industries. This is an important metric to internally amplify to expand our collective equity work.
Inclusion Drives Innovation: Giving Kendall Square the Tools for Change
KSA is once again offering Inclusion Drives Innovation (IDI), a 10 week, SHRM accredited professional development program. Registration is open and the course starts on March 30th. The program focuses on building anti-racist organizations by providing foundational learning to individuals and guiding teams through equity-centered action planning.
In less than two years, over 300 Kendall employees from 48 organizations committed to making Kendall more equitable by participating in KSA’s Inclusion Drives Innovation. Believing that confronting racism in the workplace and taking actions to make the workplace more anti-racist are essential. We are proud that 90% of alumni reported feeling more confident doing both after completing this course, and we hope more of our community will take part in this collective effort to create equity and inclusion in Kendall Square.