Spotlight: Event Recap from 2021 DEI Report

NOTE: On December 8th, Big4Bio:Philadelphia sponsor Life Sciences Pennsylvania (LSPA) conducted a virtual leadership panel with representatives from three different industries to discuss their culture, hiring practices, and managing the changing landscape of the workforce. Part 1 of a transcript recap of this event is included in our just-published 2021 DEI Report; part 2 continues below.

The panel included Delvina Morrow, senior director, Strategic Community Initiatives and DE&I with the Pittsburgh Penguins hockey team; Mary Walker, vice president of Human Resources at the utility PECO (formerly Philadelphia Electric); and Sumit Verma, senior vice president of Commercial Manufacturing at Iovance Biotherapeutics. Amy Dorfmeister, partner at Ernst and Young moderated, along with Chris Molineaux, president and CEO of LSPA, who introduced the panel and asked questions from the audience.


Chris: What are some specific items that are included in employee performance plans regarding DE&I? To evaluate an individual, you need to build in specific accountabilities. Can you give specific examples—we’ve touched on hiring practices and board seats—are there other examples? And as a follow-up, what are some realistic near-term and long-term goals for a company at the beginning stages of building out their DE&I initiatives? How can we measure them with data?

Mary: Some examples around how you add it into the performance element—it’s got to be based on where that person is in the organization—that’s our model. For the individual employees, are you participating in employee resource groups? Have you taken the opportunity to engage in a volunteer or civic event? Have you done one self-imposed development activity? For leaders at the top of the house, what do your succession plans look like? Who are you mentoring? How are you making sure that in your talent conversations you are developing opportunities for employees across your organization? When we do interviews, all our interview panels are diverse, with either one woman or one person of color, to make sure there are different views coming into the selection process. It’s natural to move toward something or someone who thinks/looks like you—that’s just natural. But when you bring in a different perspective, it could be from a different part of the business, how does that evolve you and your business in a different way? So, those are some of the types of goals for making sure we have good metrics around the work we’re doing in our equity initiative, which was launched after the civil unrest last year.

We put together an equity initiative with five strategic focus areas: workforce and community engagement; leadership accountability; workforce culture and engagement; and supplier and contractor spend—where we can put our money toward companies with an underrepresented workforce. In the next few years, PECO needs to be at 40 percent spend with diverse suppliers. We’ve gotten to about 34 percent over the past couple of years. It’s a metric, it’s where we’re going. Also, it’s putting your organization where you want it to be. We just posted an Equity Fund with our parent company Exelon where we will give loans to small businesses that are underserved and underrepresented that would not normally be at the funding phase for some of the work they want to do, instead of them going to a bank. The Equity Fund is administered by a third party and funded by a foundation. We’re also awarding scholarships—25 students, $25,000 per year for four years, so they don’t finish college with a lot of debt. There are things you can do internally and externally to make sure you ingrain it into your metrics, put it in terms of dollars and cents and accountability.

Delvina: One of the things that we did last fall was a climate survey. We surveyed our entire staff with more than 30 questions to really understand how they perceive the organization and what we’re doing. That was helpful for us to see those numbers and we used that as a benchmark and that allowed me to create our focus areas to implement DE&I best practices. Those include our organizational commitment, corporate culture, and community engagement and volunteerism. Now that I have these numbers, I can figure out how we want to move the needle when we resurvey the staff. Looking at the deficit areas, we can focus our DE&I initiative to help move that needle so our staff sees that we are listening and reacting to their needs and requests for change.

Sumit: For Iovance, we put DE&I into perspective even when choosing to locate in Philadelphia. Most biotechs are West Coast and Boston centric. Diversity numbers do matter for us so we looked at it from where we should be located. When we put that into perspective, Philadelphia was our top choice. It’s interesting because when you talk about the metrics for tracking, we see the results. We’re just introducing 100 employees in the region and making sure with intent from panelists that their voices are heard. We’ve been able to increase the African American elements on our interview panels from 2.6 percent to 8.8 percent over just the past year. As I look at what we are trying to do, in the very challenging biotech environment where the numbers don’t get that good, we’ve been working with that intent that long-term we will be able to create a diverse organization and today, as we stand with just 300 employees—nearly half are women and almost 45 to 50 percent are people of color. To me that’s really a testament to think long-term and work on the near-term aspects of keeping those ideals in place to get to your goals.

Amy: Recruiting is definitely top of mind given the current talent shortage and data showing that the average time employees remain in a job is decreasing. Sumit, you shared some tangible ways you’re thinking about recruiting and retention, I’d like to hear some examples of ways each of your organizations are having some best practices in recruiting a skilled talent workforce that’s diverse in accomplishing your goals.

Sumit: Right now, the numbers don’t match up. You have more than 10 million jobs open and even if you shuffle all the seats of people unemployed, there’s a gap of 3 to 4 million. When you get to very specific industries such as biotech—it’s such a specialized skill set where you are looking for people who are going to try to cure cancer, and there is not much education out there today that has that knowledge base from which to recruit. They call Philadelphia the Cellicon Valley because we’ve been fortunate that many entrepreneurs and companies are coming through. What we’ve done differently in this scenario is to make sure we have touchpoints with the community. We’ve spent a lot of time with the Community College of Philadelphia, we’ve been fortunate to connect with a group called PIDC and run by Ann Nevins who has been very supportive of our needs. So, even though we are a small company, we are taking the best of the best out there, making sure they know who we are, get a chance to understand the talent and what we are trying to do as an organization, and make it very attractive from a proposal side. One thing that I think is very neat and took a lot of effort to work is to make sure the biotechnicians, the people working the front line, are considered shareholders in our company. We grant stock options all the way to the technician level. To me that was one of the proudest things we did to make sure that they feel they are part owners of the organization, maybe at different levels, and feel that their contributions will matter, not just financially for their families and themselves, but for the greater organization. The ownership aspect reinforces bringing in new talent, attracting friends and family, and building our name in the region.

Amy: Thanks for that. Delvina, any thoughts on the recruiting and retention efforts in today’s environment?

Delvina: What Sumit said resonates. Promoting a culture of excellence within your staff is key. People don’t leave companies; they leave bad managers. Make sure your staff is competent handling diverse employees. We like to promote our culture of excellence through our intern program and that helps with our recruiting process. At the height of the pandemic, we were still able to have our internship program virtually, which a lot of sports teams were not able to do. We can also use the organization Vibrant Pittsburgh to post job opportunities and that goes directly to diverse audiences most of the time. We also have other areas where we can really work with recruitment. We also post job opportunities at the Central Outreach Resource and Referral Center in the Hill. One of the things I’ve personally done, I’ve worked with our hiring managers to really look at [the wording in] our job postings. Even if you’re using the most inclusive language, there could be certain things that you have in a job posting that maybe someone that is first generation might not apply for, or someone from a diverse background—really working with our team to dissect those job postings to make sure that they are as inclusive as possible.

Amy: Delvina, many of your messages today have been about the branding of the Pittsburgh Penguins and that has resonated throughout this discussion. Mary, knowing that you are hiring at much higher volumes at PECO compared to the other panelists, any additional thoughts with respect to recruiting that’s aligned with your strategic goals?

Mary: Sure. I second everything that Delvina and Sumit shared. One of the other things that bears looking at, and we have dedicated resources to doing, is we work with a development team that we have established that has a sole focus to make sure that we offer opportunities to break the cycle of poverty for underrepresented and underserved communities. Two and a half to three years ago we put together a team that reports to me and to our director of corporate relations. They include senior managers and multiple program managers. Their work is focused on all our positions but primarily on those entry level opportunities where we can get people who, with a high school diploma, can make a great standard of living for them and break the cycle of poverty for their families. These are not $15, $20 an hour jobs—these are 60, 70, 80 thousand dollar a year jobs with a high school diploma. How do we go out and engage the community? One, we have an awareness opportunity. People thought you had to know somebody to get into PECO. While some people get in as friends and family, for us to expand our culture and quality, we have to extend beyond friends and family to make sure that we are more representative of the organizations and communities that we serve. We set up this direct team to work with the development team. They created new helper opportunities. They’ve connected with our 100-plus community partners. In the job descriptions for talent to bring into the organization, they look to eliminate the barriers to entry for those that are underrepresented and underserved. Think about what you really need for that job. What can you train for and what can you build once the person gets there? That’s going to dictate what you can do in terms of moving the needle. Barrier elimination has been top of mind for us. One of the things that we also did is, a lot of our industry requires re-appointment tests. Edison Electric Institute is the governing body for a lot of the utilities. We’ve developed a free training program for our community partners. If they train people within the community how to be successful on the test and know about our jobs, once they do that training, we will test them and once you pass, it is acceptable by any utility in the country. You can become a mechanic who rides in our trucks with a high school diploma starting at $22 per hour going up to $50 per hour in 48 months, with help getting you over that first hurdle of the test. You need to diagnose where people fall out in the hiring and selection process so you can figure out what you need to do to break them in and eliminate some of those barriers. So, hiring a team that would support our workforce effort, focusing on breaking the cycle at the entry level job point—that’s where we have had great success. Well over 58 percent of hires this year have been from diverse talent.

Amy: That’s great. Let’s close out with a brief discussion of the impact of the pandemic on DE&I initiatives. One of those elements is working virtually.

Delvina: A lot of the social justice protests during the pandemic took place with our playing arena as the backdrop. Our staff really wanted to understand what was happening and how they could be part of the conversation to create positive change. We just happened to have a relationship with an organization called Rise! that works with institutions to combat racism so we were not only able to continue that virtual relationship with Rise!, but also to convene our staff and talk about what was going on. One of the drawbacks of any type of virtual programming is it’s hard to bring your most authentic self virtually, but we had a lot of opportunity to work with our staff and talk about identity and for them to be open and honest with one another and connect with each other. Virtual has also allowed us to create small safe places for our team to come together and talk about DE&I, learn, and not be afraid to ask questions.

Amy: Thank you all.

The Big4Bio Pivot Report series is co-produced by BigBio Communications and KMA & Company. For more information on the 2021 Pivot Report:DEI or the series, click here or contact us at