Paving the way for the next generation of healthcare communicators

01 September 2021

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At Fishawack Health we’re striving to foster engagement and interest from underrepresented communities in life science communications by increasing early exposure for young adults exploring their career choices


Our commitment to diversity and inclusion (D&I) is focused on creating an inspiring, respectful, and inclusive environment that attracts diverse talent. We are operating an inside-out strategy that can increase our capabilities, so, in turn, we can help life science partners meet the needs of diverse stakeholder groups including underrepresented patient populations.

Attracting new talent to the communications industry is a key pillar in our D&I Strategy, Kirsty Wear, Global Head of Talent says: “To deliver great work for our clients, and to provide a truly diverse workforce, we need to widen the talent pool and ensure diverse representation in our teams.”

As such, we have created an Ambassador Program, in which team members visit colleges and universities in both the US and UK to speak to underrepresented minority students. The goal of these programs is to drive industry exposure and recruitment opportunities for candidates from a variety of backgrounds.

Why we’re mentoring students in the US

To increase the diversity of talent, Afshan Hussain, SVP Client Services, and D&I Board Member, has developed an impactful mentorship program in the US, following her own positive experiences of being mentored throughout her career: “I have had great mentors in my life, and I wanted to be that person for someone else. I am delighted that the mentorship program has been wildly successful – providing high school students with the opportunity to grow and build their professional skills and increasing inclusive and empathetic skills in our mentors.”

The pilot program was trialed in our Pennsylvania office, which partnered with a local high school and worked with teachers to identify teens with barriers to access. “We are striving to foster engagement and interest from underrepresented communities in life science communications by increasing early exposure for young adults exploring their career choices,” says Afshan.

It was important that the mentoring was culturally responsive, so the mentors were hand-selected and trained to meet the students’ needs and involved in creating the program. Cultural responsiveness is essential to successful mentoring programs, so it is important mentors are capable of genuinely embracing, working with, and continually learning about cultural differences and acknowledging the impact of systemic oppression, marginalization, and inequality. Additionally, mentors must foster their mentees’ ability to reach their full potential, versus “saving” or helping a “needy” youth. The latter reinforces a “savior complex” which is disempowering and recreates a power imbalance.

I learned how I don’t have to know exactly what I am going to do, and that anything can change when I go to college. I loved learning that because it gave me a little hope for myself
a student participant in our mentoring program

As well as providing a positive experience for the high school students and helping them grow and build their professional skills, the program also increased leadership skills among mentors and led to positive feedback from the employees who took part. “I had such a wonderful time working with my mentee and giving her a peek behind the curtain of our world. It was a wonderful way to put what we do into perspective and to know that there is a whole generation of people who are waiting for us to show them the way,” says Kristin Morris, Group Creative Director.

Student participants were provided with practical skills such as writing a resumé, creating a LinkedIn profile, and leadership skills training. They also received a certificate of completion and for some, a letter of recommendation for college.

Follow-up research among the mentees scored highly and feedback was overwhelmingly positive demonstrating the impact of the program. “I have learned good skills for presentations, as well as for public speaking, and learned good traits to have when leading a team,” said one student.

“My favorite part about this mentorship is learning about how I can take things that I love and combine them. I learned how I don’t have to know exactly what I am going to do, and that anything can change when I go to college. I loved learning that because it gave me a little hope for myself. Another thing I loved about this mentorship is that I was able to learn more about how I think and how I work in a group of people. I also liked that I was able to learn about what leadership is, because I think there are amazing qualities that would be beneficial to bring into my own life, such as looking at both sides of an argument before jumping to conclusions,” said another student participant.

Coaching underprivileged students in the UK

In the UK, the team has partnered with education and social-mobility charity, Future Frontiers, where volunteers from across business functions at Fishawack Health coach Year 10 (16-year-old) students to help improve the pupils’ self-esteem so they can independently think about their future careers.

“We wanted to create a culture of coaching internally, as well as give our coaches exposure to people who have had very different upbringings and backgrounds to themselves,” explains Rachael Clarke, coordinator of the Fishawack UK coaching program. “We know that students at that age from lower-income backgrounds are twice as likely to drop out of education and 5 times more likely to become NEET – not in education, employment, or training. We wanted to leverage our experience to coach the students and open our teams’ eyes to the value of working with people from different communities.”

Dominic Miller, Chief Operating Officer “As one of the leading global commercialization partners for the life science industry, we have significant opportunities to impact and address inequities through internal initiatives and our client work. The best way we can achieve that goal is to build a diverse and inclusive environment that fosters diverse thinking. Succession planning and working with the next generation to create equal opportunities and better paths into the industry are crucial, not only for ensuring that we’re creating a fantastic organization but also in developing innovative solutions that help our clients reach diverse patient groups and bring us one step closer to tackling healthcare inequalities across therapy areas and geographies.”

To find out more about our company culture, visit our careers page.

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