Com disabled businesswoman in conference room

How a life sciences leader accelerated its DEI journey

Evolving mindsets and rethinking strategic roadmaps are key.

In brief
  • A leading biopharma company needed assistance with implementing a DEI governance structure across the organization to centralize its DEI efforts.
  • The EY team performed a strategic assessment, interviewed key stakeholders, and helped develop an activation roadmap and change management plan.
  • As a result, the company now has an actionable path forward that can be evolved over time as needed.

The workplace is in a constant state of change. As a result, it is essential that organizations frequently evolve their strategic focuses. As organizations continue to navigate increased environmental, social and governance (ESG) regulatory demands and growing expectations from investors, shareholders and employees around diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI), business leaders across industries are laser-focused on evolving their DEI programs and initiatives.

Below, we explore several strategic insights from our work helping a large biopharmaceutical company, Boehringer Ingelheim USA Corporation (Boehringer) refine its current DEI structure.

Background and challenges

In the face of mounting regulatory standards and the perpetual emergence of external societal influences, Boehringer leadership needed a structured approach to realign and refresh its DEI strategy and initiatives across its business units. This work included defining clearer targets and accountability mechanisms of the business and implementing a governance structure for long-term strategy support and sustainability. While there was an established DEI strategy, as well as widespread enthusiasm and well-intentioned DEI grassroots campaigns across Boehringer, the main challenge was sharpening its strategic focus and providing more governance that would enable the company to activate and sustain its long-term goals and increase its impact.

The path forward

Boehringer leadership engaged the Ernst & Young LLP People Advisory Services (EY US PAS) team to help redevelop a DEI governance structure that would enable the company to activate and sustain its long-term goals. What followed was a three-phase initiative that codified the Boehringer’s DEI strategy and commitments, prepared leaders to take a larger role in advancing outcomes, and repositioned the company’s DEI Center of Excellence (COE) as a strategic partner in these efforts.

Phase 1: Strategic assessment and initial design of governance structure

We began by conducting early interviews with key Boehringer stakeholders (including C-suite executives and business unit leaders), a series of focus groups, and a deep-dive analysis of the company’s internal data and other actions. Through these activities, we gained key insights into the current state of the company’s governance, organizational structure, transparency and leadership alignment around DEI. This six-week phase also included candid discussions on what shared ownership and commitment to advance DEI progress would look like for the organization based on its strategic business priorities.

We then leveraged these findings to co-create a re-energized DEI roadmap with Boehringer leadership. The outputs of this work included a charter for a new DEI governing structure. This charter designated the structure’s members, identified key roles, outlined a meeting cadence and transparent reporting protocols, provided decision-making guidelines, and created a process to help the group gauge and benchmark its progress.

Phase 2: Leadership engagement and operational transformation

This next phase of the initiative focused on helping company leaders bring the new governance structure to life. As such, we developed an activation roadmap and change management plan to help the organization transform its operating model to support the newly established DEI governance structure. In addition, we created a leadership playbook with training materials to prepare key leaders to take on elevated responsibilities related to DEI. And finally, we shared leading practices around sustaining this vital work for the long term amid competing priorities. Together, these efforts helped Boehringer socialize the new governance structure and inspire buy-in across the organization.


Phase 3: New org structure for the DEI COE

To further support activation of the new governance strategy, Boehringer sought recommendations on how to best resource and restructure the DEI COE. Informed by stakeholder interviews and competitive market research, the EY US PAS team collaborated closely with the company’s key stakeholders over the course of eight weeks to identify critical capability gaps and opportunities to achieve greater efficiency and speed.

By clarifying roles and reimagining how DEI goals can be accomplished, we helped the DEI COE drive more strategic impact and sharpen its focus on the company’s most critical and complex DEI issues, including amplifying a sense of belonging among the Boehringer workforce.


Impact, future outlook and key takeaways


At the time of this writing, the company’s new DEI governance structure and executive council have launched, with several subcouncils and accountability metrics identified for each line of business. While the company’s US CEO and other top leaders have ultimate ownership of this governance structure to drive consistency from the top down, Boehringer has also designated leadership roles for each subcouncil. This approach provides these subcouncil leaders with a sense of ownership and benchmarks identified for their respective line of business. In addition, the councils have a broad mandate to help drive change throughout the organization, having established KPIs, ways of working and critical success factors.


“There are enough guardrails for them to feel comfortable and enough freedom for them to act,” said Jamie Eden, Senior Vice President of Human Resources. And while fully standing up the new governance structure won’t be a simple or quick task; the company has already seen an early win in the form of widespread buy-in and acknowledgment of the tremendous value that these efforts bring to the organization.


Looking ahead, Boehringer leadership is confident that it has an actionable path forward and that the governance structure codeveloped with the EY US PAS team can be evolved as needed over time. As the councils and the broader company move forward, their long-term ambitions include reimagining internal processes with an eye toward driving impact around the employee lifecycle.


For organizations that seek to accelerate their DEI journey and drive long-term impact, the following five actions are essential :

Impact, future outlook and key takeaways

  • Align key stakeholders around a consistent understanding of the company’s DEI strategy relative to key strategic business priorities
  • Establish role clarity and accountability metrics for business and functional leaders around desired DEI outcomes 
  • Engage senior leaders early during the design phase and often throughout the remaining phases for the new DEI governance structure 
  • Provide training sessions and other support to help company leaders manage their new DEI-related responsibilities with their everyday flow of work 
  • Create and leverage leading practices to help optimize the DEI COE’s strategic value
Article authors include:
  • Barbara Steel – Executive Director, Ernst & Young LLP
  • Monica Lin-Meyer – Senior Manager, Ernst & Young LLP
Article includes contributions from:
  • Michael Beyer – Senior, Ernst & Young LLP
  • Brandon Burns – Senior, Ernst & Young LLP
  • Isaac O’Neal – Staff, Ernst & Young LLP


By transforming how its DEI strategy is brought to life across the enterprise, Boehringer is activating its long-term commitments around DEI and company culture to improve employee experience and serve providers and patients more effectively. The careful deliberation, strategic planning, candid conversations and other work to develop its DEI governance structure have helped the company make a significant leap toward achieving its overarching goal of enabling a more focused approach to DEI, both within the company and across the health ecosystem.