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Belonging: One Organization's Mission to Weave DE&I for All Families into the Fabric of Their Culture 

Edwina Mays
Senior Director and Head of Diversity & Inclusion
Foundation Medicine

In this episode, Edwina Mays, Senior Director and Head of DE&I at Foundation Medicine, a health care organization committed to advancing patient care by offering comprehensive genomic profiling products that help physicians make more informed care decisions, dives deep into her efforts to create a sense of belonging among employees and patients. Tune in to hear best practices in DE&I strategies that support and uplift LGBTQ+ communities, as well as their specific work creating ERNs and strategic values that help open channels of communication, enhance understanding between colleagues, and ensure every employee, patient and family feels like the belong. 

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Podcast Transcript:
Belonging: One Organization's Mission to Embed Diversity & Inclusion for All Families into the Fabric of Their Culture 

McKenzie: Hello and welcome to another episode of OviaAsks podcast. I’m McKenzie Curran, and today I’m joined today by Edwina Mays, Senior Director and Head of Diversity & Inclusion at Foundation Medicine. Welcome Edwina, we’re so happy to have you on the podcast today!

Today is a special episode. As we know, June marks the annual celebration for Pride Month — where the world takes a moment to recognize the LGBTQ+ community. In the past few years, we’ve seen widespread adoption for Pride celebration among US cities and towns, as well as among employers. These types of diversity celebration moments are so important to ensuring an inclusive environment where everyone can fell that they belong. Today, Edwina is going to dive in a little deeper into Foundation Medicine’s DE&I efforts, and how their organization is recognizing, honoring and celebrating their LGBTQ+ employees and patients.

So, Edwina, tell us a little bit about yourself and your work at Foundation Medicine.

Edwina: Hello McKenzie and thank you for hosting Foundation Medicine today. I have been a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion practitioner for more than 13 years. My experience centers around strategic frameworks to drive forward a long-term vision for DE&I. Most of my work has been done at Fortune 100/200 high technology firms — former EMC and Dell Technologies. The rest of my career was spent in marketing and marketing communications roles including a very lengthy stint leading industry analyst relations for high technology firms. During a major merger, I pivoted my experience and skill set to DEI where I found that my background was exactly what was needed to help stand up robust programming and establish impactful initiatives that help to drive organizations forward in their DE&I journeys.

I am working with my colleagues at Foundation Medicine to build a climate in which diverse perspectives are valued. For us, diversity isn’t just a nice to have – we see it as a necessity for our culture, and a true business imperative. We center our work around the concept of Belonging — best ensuring that every employee brings their authentic self to the workplace and enters into ideation that is innovative and inspiring. This helps to bring the notion of diversity of thought across our employee base as well as our patient communities.

McKenzie: You know, I love to hear that it’s more of an imperative than an additive program. And that concept of belonging — that’s powerful. I think it’s so important not just in business but in life. It’s refreshing to see Foundation Medicine not just doing the right thing but seeing it as a business imperative and core to your success.

Now, I know you’re fairly new to the team but have already made quick work of standing up a foundation to your diversity programs and expanding your employee resource networks (ERNs) — tell us a little bit about your work thus far.

Edwina: After forming a Diversity Committee, my first goal was to deliver a data-driven DE&I strategy centered around belonging and supported by 4 pillars. Our ERNs help to further this sense of belonging, particularly because they are driven and developed by employee interest.

We currently have four:

  1. Sustain: Which strives to make Foundation Medicine a more sustainable business and is a lever for expanding and promoting our supplier diversity efforts
  2. PROUD: Which serves our employees who identify as LGBTQ+, in addition to their allies
  3. IMPACT: Which is dedicated to celebrating and advocating for communities of color
  4. UPLIFT: A network dedicated to supporting all those who identify as female
We hope to have a fifth this quarter. These employee-based networks promote intersectionality, as they encourage members to bond over common passions or experiences.


McKenzie: That’s amazing – I know ERNs are so powerful and can also work to make your employees feel engaged and heard. Love to see those groups already spun up. Now, you also mentioned you had 4 core pillars that you’ll be wrapping your strategy around — can you dive a bit deeper there? What are the 4 pillars and why is it important for you to have those as the backbone of your DE&I strategy?

Edwina: Yes, our four pillars are as follows:

  1. Bold and Inclusive Leadership which aligns to our work in driving a deep sense of Belonging across the Enterprise
  1. Cultural Competence which speaks to the need to foster intersectionality across our business and most importantly, to embrace diverse perspectives across a multitude of cultures and ethnicities
  1. Courageous Conversations connects our work in the two previously mentioned pillars and intentionally fosters an open and embracing way for employees to speak their truths around topics which might be uncomfortable, but with respect.
  1. And finally, the Efficacy of Belonging which allows us to speak our minds without fear of reprisal. We also envision this pillar as the one where we use BELONGING as a differentiator for our business and our culture — transforming cancer care across our patient community and using this pillar as a platform where speaking one’s truths bridges the gaps and knocks down the notion of health care disparities across race, ethnicity and marginalized communities.

McKenzie: Those are so beautifully crafted. I really like encouraging courageous conversations. I know it may be uncomfortable at first but hearing it straight from someone’s mouth, their experiences, I think that’s the fastest way to break down barriers and achieve real understanding. It’s more human when it comes from someone you know or have worked with. I think those conversations are such great bridges and ways to walk in someone’s shoes, or at least see through their lens for a moment.

Now, you mentioned that DE&I is a business imperative vs just a nice to have strategy — tell me a little more about that. I know there’s plenty of research out there that proves more diverse companies are more profitable and successful, but I feel like it goes beyond that for Foundation Medicine. How does DE&I drive or improve your business and why is that important to you and to Foundation Medicine?

Edwina: We serve patients from many walks of life, so having a diverse employee base allows us to draw from many perspectives as we work to transform cancer care. Additionally, diversity enables us to partner with diverse vendors, ask specific questions about their diversity; in turn this makes us an attractive potential partner.

Developing a deep DE&I strategy also allows us to address a multiplicity of issues that could potentially have a negative impact on the diverse patient communities that we embrace. We incorporate diversity into our business models to ensure that we are applying the diversity lens to all of our practices to deliver superb patient care regardless of an individual’s stature.

McKenzie: And wow, I bet that is so much more comforting to patients, to see a diverse staff that represents them and all walks of life, especially when they’re going through treatment and may be at their most vulnerable. I love that everything you do has the patient at the center – and their experience. What a hallmark of top-quality care.

But, a little earlier, you mentioned intersectionality — what do you mean by that and how are your ERNs helping to bring this to life?

Edwina: Intersectionality encourages people to look beyond gender and sexual orientation to find what else they may have in common, such as parenthood. Throughout Black History Month, our ERNs each co-hosted a Lunch & Learn with IMPACT, which as I mentioned is our ERN dedicated to celebrating and advocating for communities of color, and these virtual events highlighted the contributions of Black and African Americans to communities of color and beyond, covering topics such as environmental justice and allyship in the workplace.

Our Pride Month initiatives this month include weekly Lunch & Learn programming, similar to what was done in recognition of Black History Month, and topics include disparities in cancer care and a Pulse nightclub remembrance event.

McKenzie: That’s beautiful. Putting the perspectives and issues in different lenses to reach/connect as many employees as possible. You know, I think finding those points of connection and helping someone see through a new lens that is close to their experience is just so critical to really helping others understand and appreciate each other.

And, I love that you are repeating this type of strategy for Pride month! What a perfect way to ensure that all employees feel they belong and are supported. That’s something near and dear to my heart and is also important to us here at Ovia. We’re trying to make sure every path to parenthood is supported, not just heteronormative experiences. I know it’s also at the core of Foundation Medicine’s business imperatives as well — tell me a little bit more about how you’re supporting LGBTQ+ employees and why it’s so important for Foundation Medicine, and others, to do so?

Edwina: Our PROUD ERN encourages employees to bring authentic selves to work, which helps them reach their full potential and contribute to the best of their capability. We recognize awareness days and months, such as transgender day of visibility, and PRIDE month in June.

One example is the video that our Creative team spearheaded for Transgender Day of Visibility. The video, called “All One Team” acknowledges how everyone is different, and how that is a good thing. The characters are members of a basketball team, and when introduced, they use their preferred pronouns. They discuss how their sense of belonging allows them to bring their best to the team and get the best out of their experience on the team. It is very reflective of the approach we take to our teams at Foundation Medicine. The video also provides a list of helpful resources for viewers to reference for more information. And earlier this week, we received the exciting news that this animated video won a Bronze level Telly award! We’re quite proud of this accomplishment.

McKenzie: Congratulations!! I’m sure it’s well deserved, and for those of who you want to see the video, we’ve actually posted a link to it below on this podcast page so feel free to give it a watch to see Foundation Medicine’s award-winning work. I know when I watched it, it gave me goosebumps. I’ve said it before in this episode, but it’s just so refreshing and wonderful to see how dedicated you are to making everyone know they belong.

I suppose that’s why that concept of belonging is right in the­­­­­ center of your DE&I strategy. I’d love to know though, how have you expanded that out into other parts of your business, like benefits? How are you ensuring that your current benefits are inclusive and support every type of employee and family? And what are some best practices other employers can emulate?

Edwina: We provide flexible parental leave for new parents and are dedicated to helping people with their individual situation from the beginning. For example, we provide 12 weeks of bonding leave for all parents whether through birth, adoption, fostering, or guardianship that may be taken anytime between the child’s birth and first year; this leave is paid at 100% base salary. We also have a working adoption and surrogacy support program which helps to offset expenses incurred through adoption or surrogacy.

At Foundation Medicine, we feel it is important for employers to recognize that there are many paths to parenthood. Our Benefits team provides employees with the option for one-on-one meetings, during which they are made aware of the benefits available to them during their unique journey to parenthood.

McKenzie: Edwina, wow. That’s just beyond fantastic to see. It’s so important to have those bonding moments, and I know so many parents come back to work much sooner and are stressed, and exhausted and constantly feeling torn and guilty about being away from their child or leaving their partner with all the parenting duties. They can’t be bringing their best selves to work, and to see policies that are going to give them that space, that time to bond with their family and new child, to really be in the moment. I don’t think I can say enough about what that means to new parents. I bet it has a great impact on your retention stats too feeling so supported by your employer. There’s never been a better time to be a family-friendly company than now, especially with everything families have gone through this year.

2020 and even 2021 have obviously been years of great change with the pandemic, a stronger emphasis on social justice and diversity support. I know it’s been the catalyst for many organizations to step up their support and programming. Foundation Medicine obviously has had this at the center of their strategy for a while, but I’d love to hear where you want to grow your programs.

How do you see your diversity and inclusion strategy continuing to evolve to support the LGBTQ and other communities?

Edwina: We are dedicated to working towards improving employees’ sense of belonging at Foundation Medicine. As I mentioned before, diversity of thought is a business imperative for us, and we are committed to keeping it as a top priority for the company. This effort embraces all of the four pillars that we discussed earlier as well as our entire employee population.

We want our LGBTQ+ employees to experience and feel the same level of inclusion and the right to bring their full selves to the work environment. We envision our concept around BELONGING as a differentiator for our company and across all of our efforts for inclusive engagement. We continue to encourage our LGBTQ+ constituency and their allies to self-identify so that we may continue to build new, inclusive efforts that will serve to expand, encourage and embrace the acceptance of differences across Foundation Medicine

McKenzie: Anything else you’d like to share that we haven’t discussed today?

Edwina: It has been a real pleasure to share our thoughts on diversity and how we recognize DE&I as a true business lever critical to driving broader embracement and greater understanding and usage across all patient communities. It is an honor to lead these efforts for Foundation Medicine. Thanks again for allowing us to share our narrative around the impact and framework for DE&I.

McKenzie: Thanks Edwina. Thanks for sharing your story and for the work you're doing today. It means a lot to your employees, patients, and us in the market just hearing your story. I hope other employers can take a page out of Foundation Medicine's book when it comes to these types of strategic programs. And thank you to all of you who are listening today. Happy Pride Month, I hope you all feel like you can celebrate and belong with joy. Stay tuned for more episodes for Ovia Asks.


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