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Dr. Lewis Sullivan Leads Panel on Diversity in Education and the Biotech Workplace

June 19, 2012
This year the Diversity Summit at the 2012 BIO International Convention focused on the importance of recruiting and fostering a diverse workforce in the biotechnology field. Past Diversity Summits have focused on diversity in research and clinical trials, but experts have found that it can be challenging to develop new treatments and cures without a diverse workforce pursuing these discoveries. For panelists as well as those in the audience, the need to bring minorities into the bioscience workforce is imperative.

The panel was moderated by Dr. Lewis Sullivan, Former Secretary of HHS, President Emeritus, Morehouse School of Medicine. Dr. Sullivan began the discussion by saying that “a more diverse workforce will create a stronger research environment, which in turn will lead to a healthier population and a more robust economic future.” Increasing the number of minorities in the biotech workforce helps all populations for generations to come.

Dr. Sullivan was joined by panelists Dr. Brandi Kaye Freeman, Pediatric fellow, Trustee to the Board of Trustees of the National Medical Association, Chairperson of the Post-Graduate Physician Scientific Section, Dr. Norbert G. Riedel, Corporate vice president, Chief Science and Innovation Officer of Baxter International Inc. and Dr. Eugene M. DeLoatch, Dean and Full Professor of the Clarence M. Mitchell Jr. School of Engineering at Morgan State University.

Dr. Sullivan noted that in 2042 the United States would no longer have a white majority population. This statistic was in stark contrast to the data Dr. DeLoatch provided that “minorities make up only 12% of healthcare professionals.” As a Dean, Dr, DeLoatch sees firsthand the African-American students entering the biomedical engineering field and is working to increase their numbers nationwide. T he disparity between growing minority populations and the lack of minorities entering the bioscience fields is cause for alarm. Biotech professionals have heeded the call to make changes and are accelerating the steps necessary to remedy the situation.

Growing the biotech workforce starts young and Dr. Riedel has worked with different groups at Baxter to ensure that they are not only recruiting diverse talent but also feeding promising young individuals into their pipeline. Baxter works with children in the Chicago public school system to get them excited about science and interested in pursuing a career in biotech. Later they help place students in internships and mentorships where their careers can blossom.

Dr. Freedman was one such individual who benefited from the mentorship and encouragement of others to eventually be a top public health advocate for diversity in the biotech professions. Dr. Freedman spoke about the need for a “full circle mentorship,” ensuring that students at every step of their education reach out to professors and advisers to help counsel them on their journey through higher education. Now that Dr. Freedman has reached the top of her field she is helping other students in under served populations pursue careers in medicine and research.

Whether biotech professionals are in academia, business or research there has never been a greater need to have people from diverse backgrounds in the workplace. As the U.S. population shifts and the global landscape continues to grow, there is no longer a cookie cutter model that can serve all patients, nor the individuals who wish to treat them.