THE BLOG
22/02/2016 10:36 GMT | Updated 22/02/2017 05:12 GMT

Women in Business Q&A: Nancy Di Dia, Executive Director, Chief Diversity Officer, Boehringer Ingelheim USA

Nancy Di Dia brings more than 25 years of experience in management and diversity practices in corporate America to her role as Executive Director & Chief Diversity Officer at Boehringer Ingelheim. She has national responsibility for Diversity, Inclusion & Engagement reaching more than 10,000 employees. Under her leadership the company achieved the #1 position from the Association of Diversity Councils as well as a perfect score on the Corporate Equality Index from the Human Rights Campaign for the best places to work for LGBT for three consecutive years. In 2009, she also received a prestigious recognition of Diversity Champion from the Southern Connecticut chapter of the Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM)

Just recently, Ms. Di Dia has begun studying for a certified ICF (International Coaching Federation) Accredited Coach Training Program (ACTP) focusing on the neuroscience of leadership. Ms. Di Dia is an active member of the Hidden Brain Drain Task Force- a think tank and research group of leading global companies which focuses on developing best practice models for organizations seeking to recruit, retain and re-connect talented women. In addition, she mentors and coaches executives on presence and dealing with multicultural challenges.

Prior to beginning her role in May 2006, Ms. Di Dia was a senior consultant with the FutureWorkInstitute, a strategic partner of Towers Perrin. In that role, she pioneered creative diversity initiatives that advanced the culture of inclusion at many institutions, including pharmaceutical companies such as Astra Zeneca and Johnson & Johnson.

Prior to her role at FutureWork, Ms. Di Dia established her own consulting practice focused on Human Resources, and Diversity & Inclusion Work. In her work with Fortune 500 companies, she conducted organizational assessments, focus groups, and executive interviews to help companies further their mission to become employers of choice.

Before beginning her private practice, Ms. Di Dia spent 25 years at JPMorgan Chase and was recognized as an award-winning diversity leader and facilitator who pioneered significant cultural changes across the firm. Among those accomplishments was the establishment of a Gay & Lesbian Employee Networking Group and the effort to successfully initiate domestic partner coverage by delivering a compelling business case to senior management.

Ms. Di Dia was known for her role in the development of both professional and personal leadership of senior women at JPMorgan Chase. She addressed issues concerning women so they may better support their firm's objectives to achieve both personal and professional success. Her goal in these coaching forums was to empower the senior women to further develop their leadership and influence skills and network effectively with all levels of colleagues. The outcomes were clear improvements on their job performance with quantifiable impacts to the culture and bottom line.

Ms. Di Dia is recognized as an effective coach and mentor whose collaborative style and expertise in leading diverse teams and managing conflict enables her to uncover dysfunctional behaviors and make a positive impact in organizations undergoing change. She is a highly sought after facilitator for her ability to quickly make people feel comfortable and included. She is also regarded as a diplomatic leader who balances diverse interests, forges global partnerships and builds best practices that further organizational goals. She is highly skilled in performance consulting, workplace coaching, focus group facilitation and organizational engagement.

Ms. Di Dia is a graduate of the Ross School of Business-University of Michigan Senior Leadership Development Program.

How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?

There are numerous experiences in my life that have influenced how I interact and lead people, and have shaped my passion for diversity and inclusion. I think it goes back to my childhood, growing up in Brooklyn in the sixties when the civil rights movement was very prominent. At the time, my father didn't support civil rights and my parents were very protective, so I felt a bit sheltered. I think that feeling pushed me to be inquisitive, to approach and seek perspectives from people with different backgrounds and to be outgoing. After I graduated from school, I worked in financial services and saw first-hand the disparity among genders. As a member of the LGBT community working in an industry that was dominated by males, I learned a lot about myself. During these years, I realized I was a strong person with a powerful voice, and the impact diversity and inclusion could have on an organization.

I have also faced personal challenges that have shaped who I am today. At a young age, I spent time taking care of my parents who were ill. I was also diagnosed with breast cancer and had to face the fact that I had a life threatening illness, which really put my life into perspective. All of these experiences have given me a perspective on life that has helped me focus on what's important, and have inspired how I work with others.

How has your previous employment experience aided your position at Boehringer Ingelheim?

Prior to my work in diversity and inclusion, I spent more than twenty five years in financial services. I learned the ins and outs of how to achieve goals within major corporations and to know when I should "go to the mat" or when I should store my chips. When I came to Boehringer Ingelheim, the company was ready for a change and to look at diversity and inclusion through a different lens. I leveraged my experiences of navigating publicly traded companies with processes and procedures to implement change at Boehringer Ingelheim. The nice thing was that we had more time to do things the right way. Also, for me, work had more meaning and purpose. It wasn't just about the bottom line anymore, there was a focus on something greater - our patients. We provide important medicines for patients and, I feel, each one of us is helping to make a difference in someone's life. I've taken my knowledge of driving strategic objectives in organizations to support a cause that is meaningful.

What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure at Boehringer Ingelheim?

One of the highlights has been the level of support from our leadership team and others in helping turn our vision and strategy into meaningful changes. An amazing aspect of working here is that we foster a culture where people can bring their whole selves to work. When I arrived at Boehringer Ingelheim nine years ago, there was a good deal of work to be done around diversity and inclusion in order for us to really walk the talk. I have had the opportunity to implement some new concepts, and conduct my own listening tour.

Having the opportunity to interact with single parents, same sex couples, and people from different backgrounds and truly listen to how we could make Boehringer Ingelheim a more diverse and more accepting environment has been an extremely rewarding experience. I'm also proud of our progress in supporting an industry effort to drive diversity in clinical trials. This helps to provide more universally safe and effective medicines by ensuring populations with high prevalence of a certain disease are included in appropriate numbers.

Our hard work is paying off. We were one of the first pharmaceutical companies to sign the amicus brief delivered to the Supreme Court against the Defense of Marriage Act in 2013, and we've been recognized several times by organizations such as the Human Rights Campaign, Working Mother, and the National Association for Female Executives for our diversity and inclusion programs.

What advice can you offer women who are seeking a career in your industry?

What's great about working in diversity is the ability to take big and bold ideas for a more inclusive environment and effectively transcend them into the marketplace. This is true in many industries, but more so in the pharmaceutical industry. For women looking to pursue a path like mine, I would tell them to be confident in what you believe in, stick with your passions, and don't be afraid to speak up even if your nerves are telling you otherwise. Focus on delivering results based on your capabilities, not because you're a women, but because you're established in your area.

How do you maintain a work/life balance?

Nothing is more important than your health and family. I like to think of it not as work/life "balance," but work/life "negotiation." If I have a late afternoon meeting, I make sure I take the time after to relax, go rowing, or take a walk outside. It's important that we don't drive ourselves in to the ground. I think if life was perfect, then maybe we could have it all, but the real world isn't perfect. We can't also be ashamed to ask for help when our burden is too heavy.

What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?

Without a doubt, pay equity. Women are making 78 cents on the dollar compared to men. Also, we need more presence of women in senior leadership positions in all industries. While this is becoming a louder conversation in society, action needs to be taken.

How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?

I've had a host of mentors over the years who I feel have become my personal board of advisors. One of the biggest impacts they have had is to help influence my work/life negotiation and helped me realize that I was the ultimate decision-maker in my path. When I was diagnosed with cancer eighteen years ago, it was a big wake up call for me to reprioritize. I had a solid support system to lean on, but also never forgot that I was the key player and that my positivity and attitude had to come from within.

Which other female leaders do you admire and why?

From watching her in her early days as a governor's wife in Arkansas to now a presidential candidate of the United States, Hillary Clinton is a leader who I have a great deal of respect for. She has been through the good, the bad and the ugly and has been incredibly resilient.

What do you want Boehringer Ingelheim to accomplish in the next year?

We are committed to further integrating and deepening Boehringer Ingelheim's diversity and inclusion strategy and creating more cultural immersions. Whether it's in the work around unconscious bias, gender equity or gender balance, we're prepared to have dialogues about the hard topics, and to create an environment at Boehringer Ingelheim where those dialogues are brought to the foreground.