For years, diversity and inclusion (D&I) efforts were nonexistent in most companies. Even after D&I gained more widespread focus, corporate efforts to promote D&I were largely symbolic and vague or focused purely on the numbers—i.e., seeking to fill X% of positions with women or people of color.
These efforts only paid lip service to the actual goals of D&I and often failed to generate any meaningful impacts. This didn’t just hurt the people D&I efforts are focused on bringing into an organization; it also hurt the companies involved because they failed to realize the many benefits D&I provides to their businesses.
Increasingly, companies that have truly recognized the benefits of D&I have more concretely formalized their efforts. This includes setting meaningful corporate goals, for example. But it also means steps like appointing chief diversity officers, or similar positions, and implementing formal company programs aimed at promoting D&I.
One such program is RiSE, implemented by Horizon Therapeutics. RiSE is focused on promoting diversity, inclusion, equity, and allyship at Horizon. We spoke with the company’s Chief Human Resources and Chief Diversity Officer, Irina Konstantinovsky, to learn more.
From Consulting to Doing
Born and raised in Buenos Aires, Konstantinovsky began her career as a teacher in Argentina and holds a bachelor’s degree in education from the University of Buenos Aires. She later moved to the United States to complete two master’s degrees, one in adult learning and one in Human Resources management from Cornell University. Konstantinovsky was employed as a consultant for 15 years, working in all areas of HR before moving in-house. “After 15 years in consulting, I decided to drink some of my own medicine,” she says, explaining her decision.
Konstantinovsky says that D&I is truly a passion for her, influenced at least in part by her own experiences. “It’s something I’ve always carried in all the roles I had in my career,” she says. “As an immigrant, I came to the United States to study and found I had a great opportunity to be able to succeed in my career as a Latino executive while having children, and yet, I’ve always understood that there’s not enough opportunity for ethnic minority participation in corporate America. Many times, there is a sense that the opportunities get slated for the majority and that we have to do more for our women, and our ethnic minorities to succeed in the workplace.”
Crain’s Chicago Business recognized Konstantinovsky for her work in supporting employees at Horizon, highlighting her work on embedding D&I in the company’s culture. She is also a leader outside of Horizon, playing an active role as an executive member on the boards of the Human Resources Management Association of Chicago (HRMAC) and at the YWCA of Metropolitan Chicago, where she helps drive women’s empowerment initiatives.
Horizon’s RiSE Program
Konstantinovsky is the first Chief Human Resources and Chief Diversity Officer at Horizon, and her personal experiences influenced her D&I work, including the development and growth of RiSE. “Embedded in the HoRIZon name, RiSE is comprised of a leadership team and allies which represent the perspectives of a diverse group of employees (including Hispanics, Blacks, Asians, LGBTQ+, veterans, women, early career professionals, caregivers and disabled),” says Konstantinovsky.
“Together, this team focuses on cultural enablement, talent attraction, professional development and community involvement where we concentrate on recruitment activities, developing and hosting webinars, planning networking activities and partnering with external organizations to raise awareness on important topics and to learn best practices,” Konstantinovsky adds.
Importance of Allies
“The idea behind RiSE is that when we work together, we rise together,” says Konstantinovsky. An important focus of RiSE is engagement from everyone in the company, not just women and minorities. A key initiative of the program are companywide “Real Talks,” whereby employees participate in ongoing discussions about race. These sessions are led by an external partner who guides employees through full-group and small-group conversations about social justice issues, including racial equity.
Inclusiveness means being inclusive of everyone, not just those who have traditionally been marginalized, Konstantinovsky stresses. Excluding white people and men from discussions on D&I not only makes those groups feel left out but also misses out on invaluable allies.
“One of the things that we’ve been putting quite a bit of emphasis on this year is what it means to be an ally—and actively and visibly support and celebrate differences,” Konstantinovsky says. She adds that “it’s not enough to not be racists, we have to be actively anti-racists.”
An Ongoing Effort
RiSE is relatively new, and just as D&I efforts continue to evolve globally, so, too, does RiSE.. That’s not just so the company can feel good about itself; it’s to promote very real and very important business goals, says Konstantinovsky. “We want to ensure we have a diverse workforce that represents the communities we serve,” she says.
“In our company today, we are more than 50% women, and we have representation of ethnic minorities in many places in the organization.” But she emphasizes that D&I efforts are a journey and one that is still in progress at Horizon. “Currently 25% of our board of directors are women; 45% of our leaders are women—it’s a pretty nice percentage when you compare it with some external benchmarks. But there’s always room to be better. We want to be leaders in this space.”
Whether it’s creating a new position to focus specifically on D&I initiatives, launching a program like RiSE, or any number of other D&I efforts, the key to success for any organization is making those efforts a true priority that sustains over time. That’s what Konstantinovsky and Horizon have done in the organization, and it’s what has driven much of the company’s success.
“It’s a big priority for me, and the only way to make it happen is if you instill that sense of priority in everyone in the organization,” Konstantinovsky says. “You can’t just drive it from the top. You have to embed this commitment within the rest of the organization. That’s the journey we’re on and the journey we will continue.”