The Inclusion Revolution

by Katherine Griffin

Nancy Di Dia has been a diversity leader for more than two decades. Since she became chief diversity officer at pharmaceutical company Boehringer Ingelheim 10 years ago, the company has won awards for its initiatives for LGBT employees, working parents, and others. Di Dia, who is also a certified executive coach, talked with Diversity Woman about how the diversity landscape has changed, making clinical trials more inclusive, and why she loves her work.

Diversity Woman:
What are the biggest changes you’ve seen since you started working in this area?
Nancy Di Dia: Twenty years ago, diversity was the topic, and it was primarily focused around race and gender. What we’ve seen is an evolution to the term inclusion. That term can resonate better globally. And it resonates with employees [who want to feel] they can bring their whole self to work. We look at diversity much more broadly: diversity of thinking abilities, cognitive abilities, education, experience, socioeconomic status. We like to say that diversity is being invited to the dance, and inclusion is being asked to dance.

DW: What are the primary obstacles that still remain?
NDD: One is bias. Some of this is institutional, and some of it is just that people in general have biases and these play out in the workplace. Maybe it’s because that person is obese, or has a tattoo, or because that person is a millennial and you’re a baby boomer. Then there are all of these microinequities—subtle offenses that erase people’s confidence in themselves and in the company. It is an unintentional way of excluding people. The challenge is to help people see things with a different lens.

DW: What are you most proud of having accomplished at Boehringer Ingelheim?
NDD: We’ve been on the leading edge of social justice and inclusion, with our recognition around LGBT inclusion, working parents, and our public support of workplace coalitions on human rights issues. We are one of the only pharma [companies] that has signed, in North Carolina, the petition for inclusion for transgender citizens. The best part about working here is our leadership and their recognition of the value of an inclusive culture.

I am a cancer survivor myself. I’m grateful to be in a company that recognizes the value of health.

DW: Did your experience with cancer lead you to work in health care?
NDD: I was diagnosed in 2001 and it changed my life. In 2004, I left financial services and went out and did consulting and coaching. Then Boehringer Ingelheim became a client of mine, and I really felt a close connection to their commitment to patients. Yes, it did attract me because I was a patient. I feel like I’ve been given an opportunity to give back and empower other patients.

DW: Tell us about your work lowering the barriers to getting underrepresented groups into clinical trials.
NDD: In the past seven years we have become much more inclusive. A great example is in work we’ve done around Latino health awareness, in collaboration with the Hispanic Federation. We reached over 400,000 individuals by doing community-based workshops around preventing and treating diabetes. Being connected with local community groups really provides an entrée into those communities. Having clinical trials take place in the community is also important.

DW: What are your priorities for 2017?
NDD: Working more closely with our global colleagues to provide inclusive leadership throughout the world. For the past 10 years, the focus has primarily been in the United States, and we’ve now been able to establish a global diversity office. A big part of my role next year will be focused on driving that global inclusion mind-set through the organization.

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