AbbVie’s Rae Livingston on Advancing the Company’s Vision for Equity and Inclusion

Originally published on Rae Livingston is AbbVie’s Chief Equity Officer. AbbVie ranked No. 15 on The Fair360, formerly DiversityInc Top 50 Companies for Diversity list in 2021.


Since 2014, AbbVie has been recognized as a Fair360, formerly DiversityInc Top 50 Company — a company passionately committed to Equity, Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EED&I). We are simply ecstatic to be in the “Top 15” this year, coming in at No. 15! In a field of 1,800 companies, AbbVie moved up 4 spots on the list from our position last year, meaning we by no means see a finish-line in this work — and therefore constantly strive to improve and do better.

The Fair360, formerly DiversityInc Top 50 list measures performance in six key areas of diversity and inclusion management: 1) Leadership Accountability, 2) Human Capital Diversity Metrics, 3) Talent Programs, 4) Workplace Practices, 5) Supplier Diversity, and 6) Philanthropy.

Right from our start in 2013, AbbVie has been committed to diversity and inclusion. But this year feels different. And how could it not?

In the past 12 months, the world has changed in so many ways; and the world has changed us. We lived through the ever-changing landscape of the COVID-19 pandemic; social movements triggered by significant tragedies and the ongoing quest for equality, fairness, and inclusion within so many of our communities, where differences far too often equal less than. I started to list the specific communities impacted but quickly realized — “rush to judgment” behavior, failure to seek and bridge understanding, acceptance of inhumane, hateful, and unjust treatment and/or disregard for human life is happening across far too many communities to list. Sadly some of these attitudes are approaching the norm, not just in the U.S. but around the globe.

What do you do when the external environment spills over into the workplace? When your workforce, your employees, the colleagues sitting beside you or on your video call, your friends and the people you respect are living in a perpetual state of concern, a required state of high alert, experiencing fear, and even pain? When all people want to do is free their minds and get back to work?

At AbbVie, we lean in.

The fight for racial equality, social justice and simple inclusion has made its way to center-stage the world over. Our attention has remained there in a way that we haven’t seen in decades — if ever seen at all. We can’t ignore that. Finding our way through being on the right side of humanity is already wrought with challenges, further compounded when addressing these things at work. At AbbVie we have decided that with these challenges also comes hope, leadership and opportunity. We decided to light a new path and get back to work in a new, improved way. We want to make AbbVie even more of the place we want it to be — for ALL of our employees.


Accepting the Challenge

When I accepted the newly created role of AbbVie’s Chief Equity Officer last June, I felt it all — the challenges, the opportunities, the despair and, most of all, the hope. From day one at AbbVie, back in 2013, our company has been deeply committed to diversity and inclusion. In fact, Embracing Diversity and Inclusion is one of our AbbVie Principles. However, there was more work to do. In this new role, I am determined — and honored — to play vital role in advancing that work.

In the unprecedented landscape that was 2020, I knew we needed to generate greater understanding of each others’ differences and acceptance of each others’ experiences — especially when it comes race, and our fundamental differences. We need to make even more room for employees of all backgrounds to thrive.

How does this show up at work? Work should be a place where everyone feels they belong — and where they feel safe being their authentic selves. In my own work life, I’m constantly aware of my physical, emotional and spiritual well-being. At AbbVie, we’re working toward being a place where we all feel safe in telling each other our stories. We need to reinforce an environment where people are listened to without fear of being judged. That is how we get to the kind of understanding that enables an inclusive, equitable workplace. That is how we get back to work!


Advancing Our Vision

To make sure that the environment we expect to see is always a reality at AbbVie, we created a new EED&I vision where EVERY employee can say: “I belong. I am inspired. I’m not the only one.”

During the last year, we took the following steps to advance our vision:

1. We prioritized awareness and learning across the company. An important part of our EED&I strategy is to instill an inclusive mindset in all leaders and employees so we can realize the full value of our diverse workforce. We prioritized learning and education across the company by launching our virtual Impact through Inclusion Learning Series as well as a global Inclusive Culture Learning Series. To ensure the sessions were relevant around the globe, we conducted pilot sessions for impactful feedback around key differences and nuances around the world.

  • All global senior leaders participated in immersion sessions designed to enhance their own learning and understanding of equity, equality, diversity and inclusion. Together they discussed how to become more inclusive leaders.
  • We also brought in external speakers and experts for active listening and impact – including events with Dr. Bernice King (pictured on the right), Bryan Stevenson, Sybrina Fulton, Jane Elliott, Bakari Sellers and more.
  • Through our Black Business Network Employee Resource Group, we created meaningful educational opportunities to help bring greater awareness to the AbbVie community.  These programs were delivered virtually, allowing employees from anywhere in the world to participate.
  • In 2020, we increased membership across every Employee Resource Group, 53% overall and 165% outside the United States. Just one illustration of more employees saying, “Count Me In!”

2. We listened — truly listened — to our employees. We hosted global listening sessions, in which thousands of employees shared their experiences related to race, bias, inclusion and more. Their stories yielded a wealth of insights that are guiding us on our journey to becoming more inclusive. This feedback, with other key inputs, has shaped our areas of focus for 2021 and beyond.

3. We amplified EED&I development and engagement. We expanded our existing Executive Diversity Mentoring Program and we launched a formal Sponsorship program to create more opportunities for greater participation of our talented pipeline to learn and grow from successful leaders.

4. Our company demonstrated its long-term commitment to racial equality and social justice, which included a $5 million donation to the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund and the Equal Justice Initiative and a commitment of $50 million over five years to partner with nonprofits that share our goals. And we signed the CEO Action for Diversity & Inclusion™ pledge and Paradigm for Parity® as well as the Business Coalition for Equality Act.


Delivering an Impact

I’m pleased to say the changes we’ve made over the past year are making a positive difference for our employees. One employee said, “This is truly the best I have felt in terms of inclusivity and commitment to change since becoming a part of corporate America.” Others have told me: “I am empowered not to be silent” and “I promise to do my part.” These statements from colleagues across the company mean everything to me. They demonstrate that we’re moving the needle; we’re helping people feel seen, safe and inspired.

We accomplished a lot in 2020, and our recent Fair360, formerly DiversityInc Top 50 recognition further reinforces that. We took a stand. We listened and went to work. But, we still have a ways to go.

My advice to others is to begin every conversation with a desire to really listen to, learn about and understand the other person’s experiences. Respecting differences and checking potential biases builds bridges of understanding — and with those bridges comes the ability to collaborate to achieve your ultimate goal: in our case, making a remarkable impact for patients.

What’s one thing you’re doing to create even more belonging in your workplace?

Please accept my heartfelt thanks to all of you who are leaning in and making a difference for yourselves and each other at work. Trust me, it matters.