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Defending diversity

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“Really being transparent is important to us,” exclaimed Patricia Martin, vice president of Global Diversity at Eli Lilly and Co.

The international pharmaceutical manufacturer that employs more than 41,000 people and has plants in 13 countries has been the subject of a recent racial discrimination case. The lawsuit alleges that the mega-company paid Black employees less money and promoted them slower than their white counterparts. In addition, some of the 53 plaintiffs of the suit say that they were subjected to various forms of harassment and retaliated against when they complained.

“We take this claim very seriously,” said Martin. “We’re doing everything we can to ensure that expectations from our employees and leaders are set.”

Last month the NAACP announced that it has joined the suit. The civil rights organization has called for greater corporate accountability when such allegations occur.

“Discriminatory practices whether in policy or experience should not be tolerated, are against the law and do not make good business sense,” said NAACP President and CEO Dennis Courtland Hayes. “Companies have much to lose by improperly addressing offensive behavior of staffers and fostering a culture of unequal treatment.”

Martin agrees and says that’s why Eli Lilly has several processes in place to ensure employees are protected.

“The most anonymous way is an 800 phone number that is manned 24 hours a day, seven days a week by people outside of the company. You can call that number and not even give your name. We also make sure that there are channels through HR, the supervisor’s supervisor, or calling our compliance department.

“It’s really important that employees understand that those avenues are available and that they take them seriously.”

Lilly also has a code of conduct that outlines the obligation of managers to speak on behalf of employees that see them in regards to any discriminatory actions.

Currently 16 percent of Lilly’s employees are minorities, with 7.7 percent being African-American. In regards to sex, the company has 54.6 percent male employees and 45.4 percent females in the United States.

In addition to being a racial watchdog, Martin says the company also monitors the advancement of women.

“We pay very close attention to the rate of our promotions of women and minorities relative to their overall representation in the group. Our minority population of promotions into management level has actually outpaced our underlying numbers for the last two years.”

Dr. Kimberly L. Sterling, an African-American employee with Lilly for the past five years says she’s never experienced any form of discrimination at the pharmaceutical giant.

“I feel comfortable working here. They’ve done a good job with providing opportunities (for minority employees). I’ve had great support from my supervisors since I came to the company. Individuals have really taken time to invest in me.”

Sterling said being a part of the African-American Network, a group at Lilly that helps integrate new Black employees with similar individuals was key in her success at the company.

In addition to ensuring that females and minorities are ready for promotion, Lilly also has a corporate objective that clearly states the company’s desire to increase representation of the two in management.

Though Lilly has garnered national attention from the discrimination case, local partners of the company maintain their support.

“All I can say is that the people we’ve had an opportunity to work with have been absolutely incredible. They’ve been remarkable to the young people who have participated in the Center for Leadership Development,” explained CLD President Dennis Bland.

“Eli Lilly has probably consistently been the largest supporter of CLD,” continued Bland. “Not just in terms of donations, but in terms of actual Lilly employment involvement, and providing professional services to CLD.”

Joe Slash, executive director of the Indianapolis Urban League says Lilly has been a “good corporate partner.”

“I wish more companies would step up and offer initiatives that would improve the quality of life in the communities the way Lilly has.”

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