Minita Shah-Mara: Leading with Empathy

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By John Black

Boston, MA — In today’s Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) field, the task demands more than checking a box or achieving certain workforce demographic percentages. As Minita Shah-Mara, Head of Global Diversity and Inclusion at Biogen, explains, D&I is a constantly evolving opportunity that is never ‘finished.’

“The D&I programs at Biogen begin with the onboarding experience all new employees undergo. But, they don’t stop there. We are dedicated to making sure that our programs are available to every employee throughout their career at Biogen,” Shah-Mara explains. “It’s not an extra service we provide; it’s an integral part of our business culture.”

Shah-Mara and her staff’s D&I initiatives range from organizing culturally-themed events to fast-tracking D&I learning through digital simulations, ensuring that Biogen’s global lines of communication are operating on all levels at all times.

“Having open lines of communication serves as an effective feedback mechanism to identify and overcome any potential barriers, in terms of our improving daily operations and strategic planning. It’s also important,” Shah-Mara added, “for D&I leaders to be truly empathetic with the people they serve, in order to effectively drive the work forward. At its simplest, empathy is the awareness of the feelings and emotions of other people – and as such, it is a key aspect of both emotional intelligence and cultural competency. Empathy is critical for bringing inclusive, innovative culture and leadership capability to life, a core tenant of success for companies in the life sciences, while simultaneously mitigating the fear of failure.”

While empathy is important in the context of the employee experience at Biogen, Shah-Mara also stressed that there is a general need for companies to have empathy for their customers. “To be the company of choice for all customers requires an inclusive understanding of their experience and incorporating various cultures, backgrounds, and experiences, thereby creating a holistic view of and culturally-competent solution for the customer needs,” she said.

“Being a D&I professional requires constant learning, reflection, and self-discovery. I am proud to work for Biogen because of its strong legacy of D&I leadership and commitment to positive internal and external impact on all current and future customers. The best ideas don’t always come from the most experienced person, and it’s my job to create an environment that can nurture and support those ideas.”

Minita Shah-Mara will moderate the Role of Empathy Panel Discussion at the inaugural Health & Life Sciences Conference taking place Thursday, arch 22, from 10-6 PM. Sponsored by Color Magazine and Biogen.