Q&A: Novo Nordisk’s Keith Middleton on its latest DE&I efforts

Novo Nordisk recently released a report that outlines its aspirations advancing DE&I internally, as well as in communities facing high rates of diabetes.

Keith Middleton headshot
Keith Middleton, senior director of DEI&B and culture, Novo Nordisk.

Novo Nordisk released its first diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging report this summer, dubbed Listen, Learn and Act

The document outlined the ways the pharma company is aspiring to move the needle on several DE&I initiatives. These include internal efforts to provide support to the workforce through employee resource groups to its efforts to embed ambassadors in communities around the world facing high rates of diabetes and obesity.

MM+M spoke with Keith Middleton, senior director of DEI&B and culture at Novo Nordisk, to learn more about how the pharma company plans to differentiate itself with its DE&I work.

This interview has been edited lightly for length and clarity.

MM+M: Can you break down how these new initiatives will work on a tangible level?

Middleton: First, if we start with people and culture, we’ve got a rich history of ERGs. We have nine ERGs that range from those that represent characteristics or identities of our employees all the way through to those that support employees who have loved ones who live with diabetes.

We also have a brand new ERG that we launched at the end of 2021 called AllAbility, which supports employees and their loved ones who live with hidden or invisible disabilities. Across these ERGs, we’ve created a culture of not just awareness but opportunities for professional development and business impact.

When we think about the people and communities we serve, one example where we show up in a major way is a program called Cities Changing Diabetes.

The incidence of diabetes happens at an alarming rate in urban settings. Within two cities, Houston and Philadelphia, we engage with local partners, specifically in low-income communities, to highlight and educate around risks associated with chronic diseases and how to empower folks that live in these areas. 

It’s meant to equip them with the knowledge and skills around how to not only prevent but also manage those conditions with things like eating healthy and getting better access to healthier foods. We’ve launched that over the last couple of years and it’s progressing quite well in both cities.

MM+M: Since the protests that occurred in 2020 after the murder of George Floyd, many companies in the pharma sector have made commitments to DE&I. How is Novo Nordisk differentiating what it’s doing compared to other players in the space?

Middleton: The fact that we work in the therapeutic areas of the diseases that we do, it highlights a huge opportunity. 

If you think about diabetes specifically and even obesity, communities of color are impacted by these chronic diseases at an alarming rate. The opportunity that we have to tie our mission to change and impact diabetes reaches beyond these four walls. It speaks to the communities that we work in, the communities that we live in and the communities that we serve. We’re working to change mindsets, but we’re also working to combat health stigmas and addressing those cultural influences.

Another example is we’ve engaged with Rosebud, which is a reservation in South Dakota that has high rates of diabetes. We’ve engaged with the tribe on the Rosebud reservation and have ambassadors embedded throughout the organization that take trips to educate them around healthy lifestyles. 

MM+M: How does Novo Nordisk’s work in the obesity space tie into the idea of reducing stigma around certain health conditions, particularly in marginalized communities?

Middleton: We’ve got a program called Truth About Weight, which is a web-based support program, both for our HCPs and for patients with diabetes. 

Truth About Weight gives HCPs education around what some biases are and what some viewpoints or perspectives are from these communities around culture, food and body image and even trust. It centers on how patients’ culture impacts their experience and how their body image impacts their education, healthcare and professional lives.

Also, if you’re somebody who lives with obesity, you can visit the website and create a plan that fits your lifestyle, and it speaks to you directly about where you are in your culture. The Truth About Weight is one of those programs that reaches directly into these communities.

MM+M: As Novo Nordisk moves forward with these initiatives, do you plan on finding ways to measure the impact?

Middleton: I’m excited about this report because it does a couple of things. It shows a level of transparency that we’ve never done before, both internally and externally. Once you’ve communicated something, particularly externally, you have a commitment that you’re going to be held accountable to see what progress you’ve made year-to-year.

Often in this performance-driven industry, people say, ‘What metric gets measured, gets done.’ With these initiatives, it’s such a great story to tell.

This story first appeared on mmm-online.com. 

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