Black Women Are Taking the Lead at Pfizer to Improve Health Disparities in Our Communities

Black Women Are Taking the Lead at Pfizer to Improve Health Disparities in Our Communities

Despite the scenic beauty of Dominica, the women who reside on this Eastern Caribbean island nation are among those who have the highest risk of developing breast cancer in their lifetime. In fact, the women of Dominica who reach the age of 52 are twice as likely to get the disease as women in the United States.

Ann-Marie La Ronde-Richard, Ph.D., however, has made it her mission to help address the risk that has impacted her native island. Working as the Patient Engagement Lead in the Internal Medicine Research Unit at Pfizer’s Cambridge, Massachusetts, research and development site, she is highly attuned to what is required to connect the perspectives and needs of diverse patients with scientists charged with exploring novel breakthrough therapies that have the potential to change patients’ lives.

By partnering with patients, La Ronde-Richard helps research teams better understand the unmet needs and research priorities, and optimize clinical study design and endpoint selection. Marrying her occupational focus with her passion for service has led to the creation of the Dominican Health and Education Initiative, a nonprofit organization to aid her island. As La Ronde-Richard has unequivocally stated, she’s determined to “improve the quality of life for individuals, families, and communities,” including those in her homeland.

Dedicated professionals like La Ronde-Richard represent the type of diverse employee that Pfizer covets in its talent recruitment, hiring, and retention efforts. By doing so, Pfizer has the opportunity to gain rich, unique perspectives and experiences necessary for the biopharmaceutical giant to engage in more innovative research of the array of pernicious, life-threatening diseases, develop new, revolutionary therapies and effectively communicate to a range of patients, including people of color.

Pfizer needs individuals like La Ronde-Richard and other women of color who will ensure its commitment to the advancement of the health status of communities of color across the globe.

There are black women like La Ronde-Richard who are valuable assets to Pfizer—we will share the stories of three other dynamic professionals—making significant contributions to the company’s innovation and community-connectedness. It begins with how Pfizer’s leadership team designs a corporate culture that fosters diversity, inclusion, belonging, and authenticity.

Pfizer’s focus on embedding these characteristics as part of its DNA comes at a time when corporate America still has much work to do ensuring that African Americans have equal access to opportunities for mobility as other groups.

Recently, Pfizer co-sponsored a groundbreaking study by the Center for Talent Innovation entitled Being Black in Corporate America, which found that black professionals are more likely to encounter prejudice and microaggressions than any other racial or ethnic group. Moreover, they are less likely than their white counterparts to have access to senior leaders and support from their managers. And the report revealed that white colleagues are oblivious to such struggles: 65% of black professionals say that black employees have to work harder in order to advance, but only 16% of their white colleagues agree with that statement.

With a culture that emphasizes “the values of courage, excellence, equity and joy,” Pfizer seeks to change such realities and perceptions. According to corporate officials, its D&I team focuses on the development and implementation of programs that:

  • Assist colleagues in appreciating the value of diversity and experiencing Pfizer as a fair and supportive environment in which to pursue a meaningful career
  • Hold managers and leaders accountable for creating inclusive and equitable workplaces
  • Allow patients, shareholders, and other stakeholders to realize the value of diversity through innovative product development and sound company stewardship.

As a result, Pfizer aims to strengthen its hive of innovation and vitality through divergent perspectives and experiences that result in fresh solutions and life-changing breakthroughs that fuel progression within the healthcare sector.

For African Americans within and outside Pfizer, such an ecosystem is vital to achieving one’s professional best while influencing the health status of communities of color.

In fact, the Harvard University School of Public Health reported in 2019 that health disparities between African Americans and whites continue to widen as blacks suffer from alarmingly higher rates of diabetes, hypertension, and heart disease than other groups, and black children have a 500% greater mortality rate from asthma compared with their white counterparts.

Equally important is encouraging African Americans to participate in preventive health and wellness programs as well as enrolling in clinical trials which are evaluating the efficacy of drugs to treat these health conditions.

La Ronde-Richard and the other three black female professionals we feature must be a part of that ecosystem and are unmatched in their areas when it comes to professional prowess, brilliance, and excellence. For one, all are members of Pfizer’s Global Black Community (GBC), a colleague resource group (CRG) designed to connect employees across the company and offer the support, developmental opportunities, mentoring, and intentional networking necessary to bolster skills and advance careers.

In fact, La Ronde-Richard currently serves as chair of the Massachusetts chapter of the GBC. Through her leadership, the group partners with other greater Boston CRGs in Pharma/Biotech to create a community for professionals of color—known as The Color of Biotech Massachusetts­­—that promotes further collaboration, networking, innovation, and support of a multicultural professional talent pool.

Niesha Foster of Pfizer
Niesha Foster (Image: Courtesy of Pfizer)

Niesha Foster, Vice President of Product Access within Pfizer’s Global Health & Patient Access team, is another professional who shares a commitment to the health outcomes of African Americans. Her team addresses the patient affordability challenge—an area critical to multitudes of African Americans. This 16-plus year veteran oversees Pfizer’s U.S. Patient Assistance Programs, administered through Pfizer RxPathways; manages signature international product donation programs such as the International Trachoma Initiative; and co-leads Pfizer’s Multicultural Center of Excellence, which seeks to drive the progression of health equity in diverse communities.

Building trust is critical in dealing with diverse communities. Foster’s experience as a Corporate Affairs Lead focused on shaping the environment for the Rare Disease and Inflammation & Immunology business groups came in handy to perform her duties as well as advance Pfizer’s connection with a constituency dealing with a disease that only afflicts individuals of African descent. In fact, she designed unique partnerships with community leadership, which included the National Newspapers Publishers Association, the trade association of black-owned newspapers and websites, as a means of communicating the needs of patients suffering from sickle cell disease.

Michelle Blackman of Pfizer
Michelle Blackman (Image: Courtesy of Pfizer)

Michelle Blackman, Senior Director, Global Commercial Development for Pfizer’s Rare Disease Business Unit, has applied such communication to drive business results as well as advocate for underserved patients of color.

She is responsible for leading the cross-functional commercial integration team that collaborates with the Research Unit, Corporate Business Development and Global Product Development teams for an investigational cardiology asset. Perfectly suited for her current role, the 16-year career veteran has held a diverse set of commercial leadership positions spanning sales, marketing, strategy and operations on a global, regional, and local scale.

As such, Blackman has gained a stellar, well-deserved reputation for driving customer value and business results over the life cycle of a pharmaceutical product. She has met the most important test: impact. In her prior role as Global Commercial Development Lead for Sickle Cell Disease, she led international launch preparedness efforts and facilitated cross-functional collaborations.

Debbie Walters-Francique of Pfizer
Debbie Walters-Francique (Image: Courtesy of Pfizer)

Such effort is required at all managerial levels, including senior management. Take Debbie Walters-Francique, Vice President, Assistant General Counsel and Legal Lead for the Commercial Solutions Legal Platform.

As part of CSP Legal, Walters-Francique’s team contends with an array of activities that are critical to the business and to patients. This includes the negotiation of multibillion-dollar contracts to help secure access of Pfizer medicines to patients globally. She and her team help Pfizer navigate through some of the most complex and high-risk challenges facing the company and the industry including evolving healthcare dynamics in access and reimbursement, drug pricing transparency, and defending the value of their medicines.

Recently, Walters-Francique received her second General Counsel Award—the highest honor awarded to a legal division colleague—for leading a group of colleagues to launch a significant project to assess emerging enforcement risks in the industry and to determine whether similar risks exist internally.

In their distinctive roles, these four women of power are vital to not only Pfizer’s global competitiveness but also its leadership in customer service and health equity.