From Classroom to Boardroom, Gilead is Supporting Black Economic Advancement
For many Black people in the U.S., experiencing racial inequities in education, economic opportunity and access to resources is a fact of life. These inequities often have life-long impacts that become apparent early in life and persist through adulthood and career.
Gilead Sciences, a California-based biopharmaceutical company, believes addressing inequities across all of these spheres is essential to improving health outcomes. The organization’s history of transformative work across HIV prevention and treatment means they are no strangers to supporting marginalized groups and disinvested communities – communities where resources like housing, healthcare facilities, schools and grocery stores have been intentionally withdrawn. Its business strategy, company leaders say, places the same emphasis on health equity as it does on scientific research and manufacturing.
Gilead doubled down on this strategy in 2020 with the creation of its Advancing Health & Black Equity function, which employs a team dedicated to shepherding the organization’s efforts to expand health access, eliminate barriers to care and combat inequities for marginalized and disinvested groups. The company has also made a specific commitment to Black equity, which it defines as the attainment of social, economic and health justice for Black individuals and communities.
In service of this commitment, Gilead chairman and CEO Daniel O’Day and executive Vice President of Corporate Affairs and General Counsel Deborah H. Telman recently headlined a session during the Global Black Economic Forum’s Global Business Summit. Held in conjunction with the 2023 ESSENCE Festival of Culture, the summit brought together a global group of business executives and thought leaders – which included Vice President of the United States Kamala Harris and former President of Liberia Madame President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf – to discuss topics relevant to Black economic opportunity, mobility and advancement.
In a session titled “The Future of Healthcare, the Impact on Black Lives & the Role of Corporations in Advancing Economic Equality,” Telman and O’Day spoke with moderator and CNBC anchor Frank Holland about how Gilead’s work to build a diverse workforce and address health inequities is critical to their business success.
Telman kicked off the session by setting a definitive tone. Directly in the wake of the Supreme Court’s ruling to strike down affirmative action in college and university admissions which was announced the morning of the summit, she stated “we know there are many social determinants of health, and education is certainly one. We feel strongly as a science-based company that we need diverse team members. Broad swaths of people around the table to help us with our innovation. So, we did file an amicus brief with some other science and technology companies when the decision was announced.”
Gilead strongly asserts that innovation and health equity must be prioritized together. The diseases Gilead seeks to treat, and one day cure, O’Day explained to the audience, disproportionately affect Black communities. Both he and Telman cited statistics highlighting the extent of racial health inequities across HIV and cancer. These include the alarming fact that Black people represent 42 percent of new HIV diagnoses despite making up only 14 percent of the U.S. population and that Black women have a lower incidence rate of breast cancer than White women, but a 40 percent higher breast cancer death rate. That data, O’Day said, makes it clear health equity is a business imperative for the pharma company.
The CEO also spoke about how a diverse workforce enables the organization to meet its business objectives. In particular, he highlighted Gilead’s Advancing Black Leadership Strategy, a multi-year initiative to recruit, retain, and advance Black employees – which the company says is the largest private sector program of its kind. He also mentioned Gilead’s role as a founding member of OneTen, a coalition of business leaders aiming to hire, promote, and advance one million Black individuals who do not have a four-year degree into family-sustaining careers over the course of ten years.
“We rely on a diverse workforce to come up with the types of cures that we work on every day,” O’Day said.
“What Gilead is doing is scientifically attacking society’s most intractable problems. You can’t do that with a group of like-minded people sitting in a room. Diversity is fundamental and core to how we come up with medicines and equally important to how we develop strategies for breaking down stigma and discrimination.”
Tony Mitchell, director, State Government Affairs, Southern Region at Gilead was proud to see O’Day and Telman amplifying Gilead’s health equity commitments in front of an audience of prominent global leaders.
“As a company, Gilead understands our responsibility to patients extends far past the pharmacy counter,” he said.
“We recognize the need to create a landscape where disparities are minimized, and access is maximized. For example, by amplifying the need for policy change and educating our lawmakers, we have the unique opportunity to change stigmatic narratives around people living with HIV. These are essential elements to chipping away at the structural barriers that perpetuate the HIV epidemic.”
President and CEO of Global Black Economic Forum Alphonso David also noted the importance of Gilead’s leadership in addressing factors, like stigma, that contribute to health inequities. Citing a Deloitte report that estimates the cost of unaddressed health inequities in the U.S. will eclipse $1 trillion by 2040, he emphasized the critical need for other Fortune 100 companies to follow Gilead’s lead and leverage their resources to address the root causes of inequity.
“Advancing health equity begins with interrogating and addressing social determinants of health,” David said.
“As we consider the future of healthcare and the impact on marginalized communities, it will be essential for organizations like Gilead to lean into addressing root causes that exacerbate inequality in order to improve global public health outcomes.”
Education is certainly one of those root causes. According to a report from the National Academies of Sciences, an extensive body of research shows a clear link between the level of education a person has achieved and health indicators such as life expectancy and access to health services. To address this critical connection, Gilead created a workstream specifically aimed to advance health equity through academic and community partnerships. These partnerships have two main goals: to diversify the healthcare workforce, particularly within Gilead’s primary therapeutic areas, and to expand the company’s health equity footprint by developing programs that connect Gilead with students, faculty, and communities who can advocate for a more equitable system of health.
The partnerships also build on a wealth of support Gilead has provided to HBCUs and minority-serving institutions over the past several years. Following the murder of George Floyd in 2020, Gilead launched the Racial Equity Community Impact Fund (RECIF) to support organizations working to tackle racial inequities affecting Black communities across the U.S. The fund provided 20 organizations, including six HBCUs, with $10 million in grants. Additionally, the Gilead Foundation announced the creation of the $20 million Creating Possible Fund in 2022 to support creative and high-impact strategies that advance health through education equity, with a main focus on building a pipeline of Black health leaders.”
As a testament to the organization’s commitment to addressing inequities in education, following the Global Black Economic Forum Summit, Gilead leadership spent the afternoon at Xavier University of Louisiana, an inaugural Creating Possible Fund grantee and a partner in a three-year, $4.5 million collaboration to address the inequities of HIV care for Black communities in the Southern United States. The visit gave Gilead leaders the opportunity to learn more about the University’s work to advance equity as partners of Gilead and the Gilead Foundation. In return, Xavier students, faculty, and staff heard from Gilead about the importance of diversifying STEM fields and increasing the number of Black leaders in those fields.
“We appreciate the investment and partnership of Gilead Sciences,” said Dr. Reynold Verret, president of Xavier University of Louisiana. “Their commitment to developing the next generation of diverse scientists allows us to continue to address the disparities in healthcare that must be resolved so all people receive the care they deserve.”
Mitchell, who also attended the session at Xavier, sees Gilead’s work with HBCUs and other academic partners as a natural extension of the company’s equity and access work, and is excited to see what comes next. “Our work is so important to ‘creating possible’ for those who never knew it existed. Not only are these strategic partnerships important as we elevate communities, they provide a unique opportunity to build future champions for the work we have ahead.”