Amri Johnson: Leveraging STEM Collaboration to Spur D&I Innovation

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By Andre LaFontant

As the Global Head of Diversity and Inclusion at Novartis for Biomedical Research, Amri Johnson is tasked with facilitating cultural diversity as a means to foster breakthroughs in scientific research.

“When I began in 2009, I came to create what our former president called the ‘Sociology of Innovation,’” stated Johnson. “The organizational climate and culture were critical for people to be able to connect and bring these scientific ideas together for the sake of coming to a nuanced understanding of research.”

Simply put, Novartis mines for talent across all backgrounds in the effort to conduct the most well-rounded approach to research.

Before devoting nine years of his career to the diversity and inclusion sector, Johnson was a seasoned epidemiologist.

“Epidemiology was my entry point into the so-called diversity and inclusion space. What I saw was that a lot of the problems, in health disparities, were cultural. We called them diversity problems, but they were really a lack of cultural understanding and intelligence about the people we work within the public sphere,” Johnson said.

In order to broaden cultural understanding, Johnson recruits a “Faculty of Scholars” spanning academia to work within their labs through the Next Generation Scientist Program.

The collaborative internship program allows for scientists from other countries—such as Bazet Lyonnet, an Argentinian researching tuberculosis—to gain first-hand experience working in Novartis labs. The program benefits international scientists and strengthens Novartis’ network of global perspectives in the fight against harmful pathogens.

“When we practice diversity and inclusion at a high level, it’s really just what should be expected around organizational effectiveness and organizational development,” Johnson said.

Utilizing as many collaborative avenues as possible how Novartis makes sure their organization is most effective. Additionally, understanding the value of varying groups is the precursor to the thorough acceptance of change within the biomedical research field.

Johnson commented that “gender is one dimension of an identity. There are additional dimensions that we must understand so to better engage and support the many identities of an individual.”

Whether working with scientists and researchers in the US or from around the globe, Novartis for Biomedical Research is committed to achieving its goals, collaborative and innovative diversity and inclusion programs.