We sat down with Dr. Alejandra Castro, Head of Law, Patents & Compliance at Bayer PACA ahead of our panel event ‘Inclusive Cultures: Effective Strategies for Gender and LGBT+ Advancement’, where she is speaking. Our discussion covered her many achievements in the D&I space, advice she would give and her D&I role models. To hear Alejandra and our other incredible panelists discussing many topics mentioned below and more, register for our upcoming webinar here.
1. What D&I achievement are you most proud of?
Without a doubt, I am proud to have achieved a more inclusive culture for women on maternity leave. We challenged the bias against maternity leave and proved that this could be an opportunity for the development plans of the rest of the team.
We promoted a rotation of positions with other colleagues in the team and opened short term assignments, so that people from other locations could temporarily help cover the licenses while they learned about a new business and a new area. The team benefited from working with colleagues who also brought a diverse vision from other areas and backgrounds.
This year, we were evaluating internal positions and restructuring the legal team when two colleagues shared the great news about their pregnancy. During their maternity leave, they were offered promotion, which fills me with pride.
Being on leave is part of our working life and no one can be discriminated against for it. On the contrary! If we can eliminate the historical bias and prejudices around licenses, we can take it as a moment to show solidarity and turn it into opportunities for all. When we stop thinking about the difficulties, we find the opportunities and the value that we can achieve for everyone! It is possible as far as we dare to be inclusive!
2. What has the impact of your D&I work been on your team?
My team is already diverse and strongly committed to promote an inclusive environment. This is not just a passion of mine, it is a passion of Bayer but particularly, under my leadership, it is clear that the team feels empowered to multiply the message of respect for inclusion and diversity. Each of them has led a project on D&I. There are two men on the team who are parents and share their family responsibilities with their wives by assuming the same role at home. This has been fantastic because they both promote equality and we support them with flexible hours that fit their parental duty.
Also in my team, I have Laura Jaramillo, who is the LATAM representative for the global group that promotes new policies of diversity and inclusion. She represents a huge region, coming from a small country in Latin America, showing that it is possible that one person can bring to the global team the voice of what we live in this region in terms of complexity and the cultural, social and economic challenges we face. Talents that live and enhance diverse culture are the leaders of the future and we need to support their efforts.
3. What is top of your D&I agenda for 2021/22?
My priority for this year is to support the implementation of the initiatives that our teams are working on. It is important to support every single initiative that promotes integration, diversity and inclusion, and provide visibility for our achievements. Additionally, I want to continue promoting the short-term assignments as a tool that brings diversity to the team.
Challenging biases to increase equity is something that should always be part of the DNA of legal teams in the organization and leaders should take the drive for change and walk the talk, starting by challenging personal and corporate biases to increase equity and improve inclusivity. You do not need to have a policy in place to make the difference.
Diversity is not a trend and we can continually take small steps for lasting change. Companies are already changing their recruitment strategy looking for diverse talents. But they also need to be inclusive for those people and embrace their differences and provide them with a voice at work and growth opportunities. Leaders must increase their involvement on these topics, enhance accountability and put structures in place to foster an inclusive culture. Diverse companies are more creative, more agile, and more productive; but mostly… they are happier!
4. How do you think the D&I landscape will change over the next five years?
We are already seeing an important shift in the organizations to pay attention to gender equity, socio-economic background and racial justice, as well as LGBT+ inclusion. Leaders will be required to live and prove their D&I mindset by genuinely accepting all people and ensure equal access and opportunities for everyone. What we are witnessing now is just a sense of what the future will be.
5. What is your approach to strategic change?
I lead an initiative with my peers in LATAM to design and implement four strategies to pave the way to a more inclusive and diverse organization. These four strategies are aimed at building an inclusive climate of equal treatment for all diverse communities, generating awareness of I&D topics and identifying unconscious bias to break paradigms. The initiatives comprised the following strategies:
a) Drafting and implementing a set of mandatory guidelines and a roadmap on expected behaviors of all the lawyers in Bayer LATAM to foster inclusion and avoid bias.
b) Implementing inclusive hiring principles for Bayer Lawyers.
c) Legal mentoring programs in LATAM and short term assignments.
d) Cross-regional “squads” and legal business partners communities.
The initiatives are led by our teams and they are empowered to develop strategies.
6. What have you personally gained from engaging with D&I work?
I built a diverse team of 8 lawyers from 6 different countries with different cultural backgrounds; five of the six women in the team are in managerial positions. The collective sum of these individual differences, life experiences, knowledge, unique capabilities and diverse talents has led to major success for the team that has positively influenced the entire Bayer organization.
My team shares knowledge of different legal areas and country regulations, building empathy towards other cultures, which always bring new insights on the topics we assist on. This has proven to be a quality to bring more flexibility and understanding of the different business challenges in complex cases.
7. Do you have a D&I role model within the industry?
Absolutely! I greatly admire women within my own company who have built a space for themselves in a traditionally male-led world and have shown great results in their work and commitment to diversity and inclusion. Some examples include Jacqueline Applegate, Head of Commercial Operations for Environmental Science; Natasha Santos, who is Global Head of Stakeholder and Public Affairs Strategy; and Sarena Lin who is Board Member and Global Head or Transformation and Talent.
This is very important as we lead by example in a world where we trust that empowering women can make the difference for our communities. There are also great male leaders, such as Gabriel Harnier, who is the Global Head of Legal. He has supported our local D&I programs and fostered initiatives to improve work/life balance and sharing knowledge with the legal leadership team, allowing lawyers from all over the world to lead or participate in those teams.
I also admire and have learned a lot from my own team, and the way they have embraced ‘psychological safety’, meaning they aren’t afraid to talk and challenge decisions at every level. They have created a safe work environment where we are all the same, regardless of the position you have, centred on respect for everyone. I am proud that they are well known and recognized in the organization because of their commitment to the company and their values.
8. We all know that working in the D&I or pro bono field can sometimes feel frustrating or involve dealing with sensitive and potentially distressing subject matter. How do you keep motivated when this happens?
The motivation is to generate the transformation of the organization and people. The more resistance, the greater the opportunity to demonstrate the benefits of being inclusive and the harm that comes from not being inclusive. It is essential to act with a lot of empathy because it must be understood that many of the prejudices come from religious or political beliefs that must also be respected.
It is important to teach that everyone is entitled to their beliefs as long as they do not negatively impact others. It is about promoting coexistence and that is something that we have learned, especially in a Latino organization with cultures that are sometimes conservative. I always say that you never have to be satisfied with a battle because we have a long way to go, and cultural changes are never quick or easy and require consistency and patience.
9. What would you say to someone who is not yet convinced of the benefits of D&I?
The only way to convince a person or an organization of the importance of diversity and inclusion is to live it. In my case, the use of the short term assignments has enabled my team to be ambassadors of their own culture and bring experiences from other cultures. They have provided support to legal teams in Dubai, Germany, USA and more. Living diversity is the best way to understand its benefits and the empathy that it brings to the team.
When people can be themselves without any fear of discrimination they will deliver better results for the Company and their own professional growth. I truly believe that to convince someone of the benefits of D&I a very simple reflection has to be made: just try to wear another’s shoes and meditate on whether your own brain and heart would be as committed to work if you had to pretend to be someone else.