At AstraZeneca, our people are our greatest asset, and we are focused on fostering a vibrant culture where everyone is respected and has a sense of belonging. This is the foundation that enables us to successfully collaborate, innovate and achieve our mission of delivering life-saving medicines to patients.
In celebration of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) Pride Month, we connected with Rick R. Suarez, Vice President, U.S. Market Access and Executive Sponsor of the AstraZeneca LGBTQA Employee Resource Group, to share his personal experience and advice for being a better leader and colleague.
Rick, as a senior executive at AstraZeneca, how do you encourage your teams to bring their authentic self to work every day?
Rick: For me, this starts with leading by example, being true to who I am in my personal and professional life. There was never a question as to whether I would talk about my family or my personal life, but I know that’s not everyone’s experience. Therefore, it’s important to ask questions and show genuine interest in the lives of my colleagues. I hope this affords them the ability to be more open and authentic. There’s a certain vulnerability in bringing your full self to work, and breaking through some of those barriers takes effort. But that work is worth it. Bringing our full selves to work is essential for a thriving workplace, and I believe it ultimately results in better outcomes for any business- and the research backs that up.
These days there’s a lot of talk about diversity and inclusion. What does that mean to you?
Rick: I’d like to flip those two terms so that inclusion comes first. Inclusion in the workplace means welcoming people from all backgrounds and cultures. If we are serious about inclusion, individuals should experience an environment where they feel included and valued. Inclusion ensures that we respect differences and incorporate these perspectives into our thinking. Diversity is about equality and protection for all, regardless of gender, race, religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or identity. We need to continue to ask ourselves, what signals are we sending? Does everyone feel safe to be themselves here? Do they feel like they belong? Does everyone feel like they have a voice? It’s important that when we communicate, there aren’t any “asterisks,” no room for interpretation that “this doesn’t include me.” When we create a more inclusive workplace, the diversity of our workforce will thrive.
Where do you see inclusion and diversity put into practice at AstraZeneca?
Rick: To start with, inclusion and diversity are embedded into our leadership objectives, and I think that speaks to the level of commitment we are making to our people. I’m also the executive sponsor of the Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual, Transgender, Queer and Ally (LGBTQA) Employee Resource Group (ERG), which is focused on providing support and education, and fostering a culture of openness, tolerance, and acceptance within AstraZeneca. Ensuring the ERGs were fully supported and resourced by the business was a personal priority of mine, so they can thrive and fulfill their purposes. To date, the LGBTQA ERG has helped to inform and drive change organizationally. For example, we’ve seen changes to our benefits, specifically, to be supportive of all definitions of family. I personally saw a big difference between the amount of family bonding leave I had with my first child to the amount of family bonding leave with my second.
Our employees drive the company's culture, but in order for change to occur, our leaders have to listen and understand the needs of our diverse population. This is one of several examples where AstraZeneca is getting it right; Yet, we have opportunity to do more. We’ve organizing an Inclusion Conference & Expo this summer to engage all employees across the US business to progress the conversation about inclusion and to educate and inspire our people. I am hopeful the outcomes of the conference will enrich our culture, further our recruiting practices, modernize our benefits, and look for ways to meet the needs of all of our employees.
What advice would you give others about how they can support their colleagues by being a better LGBT ally at work?
Rick: Speak up and listen - these are not mutually exclusive. Take interest in your colleagues as individuals and embrace people for who they are, not how they identify or who they love. Spend time listening to your colleagues, and make it clear that you’re interested in their personal experience. Being inclusive doesn’t mean you have to agree, but it does mean you have to be willing to understand different points of view.
At the same time, be ready to speak up. It goes without saying that you should say something when someone is disrespectful or uninformed. Additionally, whether you’re a leader or a colleague, you should be vocal about encouraging and celebrating diversity.
When I speak with the LGBTQA ERG and my other colleagues about inclusion and diversity, I see the positive impact of our focus in this area, and also realize how much more we can do to support our employees. I’m really excited about what lies ahead for us as an organization.