How we’re supporting the advancement of women of color at our company

We joined forces with Paradigm for Parity to help build skills and capabilities needed for senior leadership roles

June 22, 2022

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The path to C-suite or executive level positions requires experience with managing a company’s profit and loss, also referred to as P&L. However, many women, specifically women of color, don’t get the opportunity to take on this responsibility — potentially limiting their ability to rise through the ranks within a company. 

We’re committed to closing the gender gap and supporting the global advancement of women in our company. To help achieve that goal, our global diversity & inclusion center of excellence, alongside other companies, partnered with Paradigm for Parity, a coalition of business leaders dedicated to addressing the corporate leadership gender gap, to launch its new program: Paradigm for Parity Profit and Loss Leadership Accelerator for Multicultural Women.

This six-month, online development program for women of color began in January 2022. The program helps participants who are in their first five to ten years of their careers build skills and capabilities needed for P&L management roles within an organization.

“We aim to elevate women into the senior levels of our company, and we’ve partnered with several organizations for counsel,” says Celeste Warren, vice president of global diversity & inclusion.

Learning the ins and outs of the P&L role

Six top performing women of color were selected from our company, along with women from other participating companies. The women were divided into five different teams — each representing a fictional company — and performed different exercises related to running their companies over a simulated three-year period.

“Everyone in each group came from different backgrounds. Maybe somebody is from marketing and someone else is from finance,” explained Ainka Gonzalez, associate director, business integration & external partner engagement, diversity & inclusion center of excellence, and participant in the leadership accelerator program.”

Ainka Gonzalez

“We came together and made decisions as our company’s CEO, on everything from our company’s mission, how we’re going to approach our strategy, our marketing decisions, and how we’re going to distribute our money.”

  • Ainka Gonzalez

Through periodic assessments, each team was able to see the impact their decisions had on their company’s performance.

Working with mentors

A key component of the program is the opportunity to work with and gain knowledge from female mentors. All participants are placed with an internal female mentor from within their company and an external female mentor from another company, both who have held and currently hold executive level roles.

“Our internal and external mentors show us what’s possible within Merck and what’s possible outside of our company,” said Gonzalez. “I think you have to see things in order to believe that it can happen.”

Regular meetings with mentors helped define candidate’s goals and steps on how to achieve them as well as highlight insights and learnings throughout the process.

“I see a lot of growth in those who are in the program — not only in their understanding of the financial aspects of business but also in understanding themselves and how they influence others,” said Joanne Monahan, senior vice president, U.S. oncology lead and one of the internal mentors within the program.

At the end of the six-month program, each team presented a 10-minute report on its fictional company’s results to the Paradigm for Parity board of directors. 

Gonzalez appreciated the feedback she received from her internal mentor.

“She helped me understand what I could improve, highlighted what she liked and things that I might consider. The level of engagement she’s provided has been truly remarkable and very meaningful to me,” said Gonzalez.

Opening the doors for all opportunities

Through our partnership with Paradigm for Parity, we hope to continue breaking down silos and barriers to improve equal opportunity for advancement at our company.

“Merck offering this program to women of color makes me feel seen, heard, valued and hopeful. It helps remove barriers that diverse women encounter when trying to navigate through the corporate ranks,” said Cynthia North, director, U.S. oncology consumer marketing.

Paradigm for Parity hopes that this program provides more opportunities for women to advance into operational roles.

“This opportunity gave me the ability to be seen, especially as a woman of color, by our leadership. It showed me what skills I already possess, what skills I need to hone, and showed me the path to get there,” said Gonzalez.

Group of woman taking a photo together

The program has been virtual, however all candidates were able to meet in person on June 14th in New York to celebrate the program’s success.