Learning & Development Asia 2024
Best practices to develop inclusion competencies among individuals, teams & leaders: Invitae's DEI Head, Cherise Bernard

Best practices to develop inclusion competencies among individuals, teams & leaders: Invitae's DEI Head, Cherise Bernard

"Whether you're a young employee just starting your career or a seasoned C-suite executive, perfection isn’t required. What matters is having the courage and transparency to learn new behaviours and take ownership when you get it wrong", Cherise Bernard says.

- With inputs from Priya Sunil.

Cherise Bernard's journey within diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) began with a passion for driving positive change and fostering inclusion. Her specialisation in the area dates back to 2017, in her days with Spotify, McCann, and now Invitae, a medical genetics company founded in the US.

In an interview with Aditi Sharma Kalra, the leader calls it an "exciting and sometimes ambiguous journey", one that has shaped her career from her first job to her current role as the Head of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at Invitae.

"After I earned a Ph.D. in Cellular and Molecular Pharmacology and an MBA Certification in Bio-Pharmaceutical Innovation, my career path took me from The Rockefeller University and Mount Sinai Innovation Partners to Elsevier and Spotify.

"The consistent thread connecting all of the chapters of my career is a dedication to fairness and equity. When I worked as a scientist, I became interested in understanding how and why Black people - especially women - often experience different outcomes, in terms of both socioeconomic status and health.

"I applied this lens across every industry I’ve worked in, and I’m uniquely positioned in my role at Invitae to apply all that learning and make a large impact."

Backed by her passion, Cherise talks about the DEI projects she is proud of driving at Invitae, her best practices to develop inclusion competencies, and more. 

Read on for excerpts of the interview:

Q Seeing how much employees value DEI in the workplace, what initiatives have you created and implemented at Invitae to foster a more inclusive, equitable, and diverse workplace?

One of Invitae’s timeliest projects that I’m very proud of is the focus toward our equity and inclusion strategy. I worked with teammates across the organisation from all different backgrounds to form a DEI task force to address solutions around engagement, culture, accountability and the employee experience.

Our goal at Invitae is to create an ecosystem and culture where everyone can thrive, regardless of identity while also acknowledging that identity can be the reason behind underrepresentation and marginalisation. It’s so important to acknowledge this truth because that’s where the power of equity comes into play. Prioritising equity means creating opportunities where we are amplifying voices or lived experiences through sentiment surveys and analysis.

To this end, we focused heavily on Culture Conversations in 2023, a data-driven approach that interviewed underrepresented populations at Invitae to glean insights and specific ways that our inclusion and equity strategy could be more effective.

Employee support and continuous learning are also heavily connected to building community, which is why I partner with our Employee Resource Group leaders. Through collaboration with these leaders, we have been able to implement training and learning initiatives focused on mitigating bias, creating workplace inclusion, and fostering mentorship environments. These initiatives empower employees with the knowledge and skills needed to contribute to and thrive in a diverse workplace.

Job descriptions play a crucial role in attracting diverse candidates. How do you suggest updating job descriptions to ensure they appeal to a wider range of candidates?

Since language has such a strong power to shape perceptions, it is crucial job descriptions use inclusive language. Avoiding biased terminology that might inadvertently create barriers and using diverse sourcing channels are also important to attracting a wide range of candidates.

Additional ways organisations can attract a diverse pool of candidates include:

  • Forging connections with platforms dedicated to amplifying underrepresented talent;
  • Collaborating with local communities and nonprofits to help employers find qualified candidates who otherwise might not have come across a job posting, and
  • Mitigating bias in screening and selection. By implementing strategies like interview rubrics and standardised questions, organisations can better focus on qualifications and skills that make a candidate stellar.

Q As a certified coach, what are your best practices to develop inclusion competencies such as empathy, resilience, awareness, and curiosity among individuals, teams, and leaders?

To develop these competencies across an organisation, there must be a healthy attitude of humility, authenticity, being comfortable with discomfort, and willingness to disrupt our own biases.

Whether you're a young employee just starting your career or a seasoned C-suite executive, perfection isn’t required. What matters is having the courage and transparency to learn new behaviours and take ownership when you get it wrong.

Creating lasting impact within an organisation requires leaders to be authentic about the work that still needs to be done, and also requires them to translate company values into accountability and action.

Offering meaningful benefits, resources, and opportunities is an important aspect of attracting and retaining diverse talent. Could you provide some examples of what works, and what doesn't work in this space?

Prospective and current employees want to feel confident they can care for themselves and their families. This peace of mind comes from fundamental benefits like competitive and equitable salaries, comprehensive health benefits that support physical and mental wellbeing, excellent family leave policies, flexible schedules and work location options.

Another key strategy to retaining talent is being clear and enthusiastic when it comes to growth. Employees want to know that they have plenty of opportunities to develop new skills and pursue new paths within their organisation. Taking a close look at already existing talent and strengthening the internal funnel is a strategic move an organisation can make to provide growth opportunities, fostering a culture of continuous development.

What may NOT work in this space to attract and retain a diverse array of talent is a one-size-fits-all approach. Ample consideration should always be made to the various needs and backgrounds of employees when launching new benefits or resources. This ensures a more inclusive and equitable approach to fostering a positive employee experience. Furthermore, accessibility is also critically important. Offering resources that are not easily accessible or available to all employees, such as language-specific support or accommodations for disabilities, can create barriers for talent.

Feedback is essential for employee growth and development. How do you adopt a 360-degree approach to feedback that supports inclusive yet productive performance conversations?

Giving and receiving feedback are the cornerstones to inclusion and allyship. I believe organisations that aren't afraid to implement strong feedback mechanisms and take action stemming from qualitative and quantitative data are more likely to value inclusion and belonging in their workforce.

At Invitae, we believe it’s integral to provide opportunities for the team to share anonymous feedback outside of traditional performance discussion. This provides an avenue for employees to receive real-time feedback and take actionable steps to improve their performance now versus having to wait until an annual review discussion is conducted.

Finally, and let's end on a lighter note, music can be a great mood booster. Is there a song or playlist that you find personally uplifting or motivating when it comes to promoting DEI?

This is an interesting question! I don’t think that I have ever equated DEI work with music but now that I think about it, Beyonce’s newest album, Cowboy Carter, gives me that feeling. Although Beyonce is from Texas herself, she uses this album to deeply explore another genre of music, one that her core listeners may not be used to. It represents her own intersectionality by being able to identify as a multi-faceted artist but also creates more curiosity with her listeners in a way that isn’t always seen in music today.

This is the basis of what I love about inclusion and equity…curiosity and asking the right questions is essential to finding solutions. But being open to what you find once you ask those questions is even more important and what leads to lasting impact!

Photo / Provided

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