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Bristol Myers pledges to spend $300M on addressing racial, health disparities

Bristol Myers Squibb plans to invest $300 million over the next five years to address racial disparities in healthcare and within its workforce, pledging to double Black and Latinx representation in its U.S. executive ranks by 2022.While many companies have put out statements expressing support for Black Lives Matter in the wake of George Floyd’s death, Bristol Myers’ planned investment is a notable financial commitment from a Fortune 500 company. CEO Giovanni Caforio will focus his company’s efforts on improving access to care, including addressing racial disparities in clinical trials, as well as improving outcomes among historically underserved groups. Starting on Sept. 1, the company said it will offer a 2-to-1 match for donations by U.S. employees to organizations dedicated to fighting disparity and discrimination.

The drugmaker is acting after months of employee input as the country grapples with the death of George Floyd and a pandemic that disproportionately affects Black and Latinx populations, Caforio said.

“Now more than ever, we recognize our role in creating the change needed to address the health disparities and racial inequality present in our rapidly changing communities,” Caforio said in a message to employees.

Bristol Myers is also looking within. By 2022, it pledged to reach gender parity among executives globally and double the representation of Black and Latinx employees at the executive level in the U.S. At the same time, Caforio stressed that the company’s commitment to Asian employees “remains steadfast.”

The company said it achieved gender parity among employees in general in 2015. But as of 2018, less than a third were minorities. On the executive level, that number was less than 20%.

The executive suite at Bristol Myers is not unusual; minorities are vastly underrepresented through the U.S. corporate world, and there are only five Black CEOs of Fortune 500 companies. One of them is Merck’s Ken Frazier, who has urged his fellow leaders to concentrate far more on diversity in hiring throughout their organizations.

“It’s really important that we not just engage in platitudes and nice statements,” Frazier said in a wide-ranging interview this summer with Harvard Professor Tsedal Neeley. “It’s time to take action.”

Bristol Myers’ $300 million investment amounts to about $60 million a year, or about 2% of the company’s profits in 2019. But the drugmaker said it’s committed to a wide range of initiatives beyond the cash commitment.

In addition to workplace hiring practices, the company pledged to spend $1 billion by 2025 with Black- and other minority-owned suppliers around the world. The move will “help create jobs and generate positive economic impact in diverse communities often hard hit financially by systemic injustices,” Bristol Myers said.

At the same time, the company will focus on training and mentoring 250 racially and ethnically diverse clinical trial investigators, hoping to increase the diversity of volunteers in its studies. Research often skews toward White and Asian participants at the expense of Blacks and Latinx people, according to a JAMA Oncology study from 2019.