Seeing Color: How Five Leaders are Driving Change

Jul 22, 2019

In July, five Boston Scientific female executives with diverse backgrounds flew to New York to represent the company at Working Mother magazine's Multicultural Women's National Conference. There, they accepted an award recognizing Boston Scientific as one of the Best Companies for Multicultural Women and engaged to learn more about the intersections and barriers of gender and race, and how women and men can serve as advocates for continued change.

Returning to work, they'll serve as both a sounding board and steering committee to speed the advancement of multicultural women in support of our 10-20-40 diversity goals. In a recent roundtable discussion, Diversity & Inclusion Manager Veronica Angel asked these five leaders to talk about what Boston Scientific's culture is like today for multicultural women and to share their personal experiences and perspectives on what more the company can do to help women of color succeed.

Veronica: Thanks to all of you for coming together for this discussion about challenges and solutions in advancing multicultural women in business and leadership. It would be great to hear how this applies to your experiences at different stages in your careers. Let's start with Lillian.

Lillian Chin, Director, Office of GBS & Automation: I was born in Hong Kong and immigrated to the U.S. when I was very young. My parents weren't well educated, and I had no access to coaching or mentoring programs, and I didn't know how to advocate for myself. Women in my culture were to be seen and not heard. I even questioned whether I deserved being hired by companies, or if I was part of a quota system. But all of that changed at Boston Scientific. In the last ten years, I've grown confident about my experience and skill set. It's an environment where we can talk about cultural differences, and that's been a mind-opening experience.

Veronica: Lymari, can you also describe some aspects of your background that had an impact on your career?

Lymari Aldea Gonzalez, Director Project Management: Growing up in Puerto Rico and being part of that culture helped me understand different ways that a woman can be a leader. I was raised to think a strong-minded woman could be perceived as being rude. Maybe, as a result, I've adapted and learned to lead differently. But, it's important for each of us to overcome these preconceptions. In the past, as a woman and as a mechanical engineer, I would want to make sure I was 100% right before speaking up. But as a leader, I had to get out of that mindset. Here, people recognize that we need more women in positions of responsibility and that being multicultural may help you be more open-minded.

Denise LaMirande Clark, Director, HR Business Partner: Personally, I can't speak about being multicultural, but I certainly can speak on being a female. In previous jobs, I remember management meetings where I was the only woman in the room. If I brought something up, either the men didn't hear it, or it wasn't a good idea. I got to know the vice president quite well, and if I wanted to get something through the management board, I'd ask him to present it. It was an effective way to get things done, but how sad – the whole male-female thing back then! I'm blessed at Boston Scientific. We still have a way to go, but I do feel my voice can be heard. People listen. And if they don't feel comfortable, they can raise that concern.

Veronica: I'm glad to hear things have changed, and I agree, we still have work to do. But I want to pick up on something Denise just said about not being multicultural. You may identify as a white woman, but we're all women of various cultures, and we each bring something different to the table. We can learn from each other.

Ebony Travis Tichenor, Manager II, Diversity & Inclusion: I agree with that. I think it's about being your true self, and that's something Boston Scientific has allowed us to do. In the past, I never understood why people would say certain things to me, like the phrase "I don't see color." I even used to say that myself. But now I understand that if you don't see color, you don't see me. If you don't see differences, you don't see who we are. This is all part of thinking that you have to be a certain way. No. Just be you!

Kristin Hendrickson, National Program Director, Close the Gap: The shifts we're talking about have had an impact on the workplace. Over my tenure, I've sat on a number of management boards and I remember on my first one, I was one of two women in a group of 25 and it was difficult to have a voice. But look at where we've come. Last year, I was sitting in a division where women represent 50 percent of the management board. That's significant progress, and we're stronger as a company for having those diverse viewpoints. What I am excited about now is the opportunity to share our learnings externally as we can potentially help influence elevating women within healthcare careers as well as bring to the forefront more emphasis on the need for clinical data specific to healthcare concerns of women and minorities.

Veronica: It's clear that sponsorship and mentorship play an important role in helping leaders rise in their career. Women often struggle with lower self-confidence, and that's one reason we established programs like EXCELerate. So, what can leaders do to support an employee who is interested in finding a sponsor?

Denise: We did a pilot for the EXCELerate program, a sponsorship program focused on women in technical roles, and I looked at participant comments and saw things like "working with a sponsor helped take the fear out of stretching myself in new ways." It's about having someone who has your back, who sees things in you that you didn't know yourself, and who advocates for you when you're not in the room. In an ideal state, we wouldn't need a formal program because this would all be embedded in our culture. Today, we're trying to educate and help people understand that even if you're not selected in the formal program, that shouldn't stop you from finding a sponsor on your own. It's also about senior leaders challenging themselves get to know others who don't look like themselves in the organization, especially women and people of color.

Lymari: I agree, and I think Boston Scientific is doing a lot with the EXCELerate program. But I feel there is more to do. I had an 'aha moment' when I realized there's a lot I can do myself. I can be the change agent. Studies show that groups with greater diversity are more successful and I want to make sure we have more representation. People have been there for me and sponsored me in my career, and I can do the same for other women so, I am now a sponsor and advocate.

Lillian: I also feel a passion for mentoring young professionals, teaching and training them to advocate for themselves – sometimes with subtlety – so they understand that becoming a good leader is not just what you do, but how you do it.

Veronica: The numbers Working Mother spotlighted in a recent report are important and interesting. Representation of multicultural women at the manager level and above increased from 13 percent in 2018 to 15 percent this year and representation in senior management roles went from 8 percent to 11 percent. But we also know that there is a phenomenon called unconscious bias that can impede progress. Let's talk a little about that.

Ebony: Unconscious bias plays a huge role and we all have it, but that's not to say it's always bad. Our biases are shaped by our experience, culture, lifestyle, and diversity as individuals. None of that is necessarily bad. A potential problem in the workplace is the role it can play in hiring and advancement, which comes down to the hiring managers. They need to know whether they are operating on the basis of biases. They must own their self-awareness and be true to why they may or may not hire or advance an employee. For example, at Boston Scientific, we're trying to go to blind resumes, but you may still be able to tell that a candidate didn't graduate from an elite U.S. college. How do you act on that and fairly evaluate the whole candidate? I think we're getting better.

Veronica: That's a good point. Those job candidates are on the slate for a reason. So, what experiences did they have, and what can we learn? We all come from very different cultures, but what I heard from each of you is: be yourself and find your voice. Seek mentors, if you need them, or do your job so well that you can build sponsors who will help empower you to break down the barriers. And do the same for others. Thank you very much!