Who’s Answering the Next Big Question? CISO Meredith Harper

Community Blog
Written by Drew Lazzara

FEBRUARY 25, 2021

During each episode of the Next Big Question podcast, we speak with executives and thought leaders about a big, timely business question. This week, Liz Ramey and I are talking with Vice President and CISO Meredith Harper of Eli Lilly. We asked Meredith: What does diversity look like in the workplace of the future?

Before joining Lilly, Meredith served as the chief information security and privacy officer with the Henry Ford Health System and as the chair of the Michigan Healthcare Cybersecurity Council. For Meredith, a truly diverse workforce benefits from the full gamut of unique perspectives – race and gender, but also diversity of experience, education, training, and even geography. Meredith believes that our current historical moment represents an opportunity to make meaningful, lasting changes in our approach to diversity. Taking a formal approach is critical, and here, Meredith describes the ways intentionality can foster more authentic expressions of self in diverse leaders.

I am not asking anyone to fully understand the life that I have and lead as an African-American woman working in IT… But what I am asking those people to do is respect the fact that whatever I’m sharing with you is a real, live, lived experience. And it’s valid.”


Drew Lazzara:

Meredith, I feel like there is such a long tradition of “business people” and the associated perception that there is just “a way that business operates.” There’s this argument that leaders and people in positions of authority are those that have proven themselves as “business leaders.” But when I’m thinking about diversity, I would imagine the benefit is that you get people from different backgrounds who have different kinds of experiences, and their take on leadership and their take on influence could pull the company in new and innovative directions. So, as they move up in the company, how do you ensure that women, people of color, people of different backgrounds have an opportunity to be their own, authentic kind of leaders, as opposed to just generic business leaders?

Meredith Harper:

I think our approach speaks to the intentionality we have within our Lilly culture. We have employee resource groups that represent multiple demographics across our workforce, and those employee resource groups really offer the level of support that a team member would need… It gives them the ability to grow, change, and develop within their own affinity group. 

The other part is that we did roll out a sponsorship program that’s more formalized. What we were looking at across our VP population is, “Are there two individuals within your space that you see as your protégés?” And then that VP becomes the sponsor of those people. That’s a very intentional way to ensure that those high-flying talents who could be diverse team members get the opportunity to be mentored and sponsored by someone at the VP level. 

So, we try to find those moments where we can walk these developmental journeys with the minority group members, as well as our women talent and ensure they have everything they need as they continue to move forward. So, we really do encourage people to be a part of the employee resource groups, allow yourself to create community among those spaces, and allow that to also propel you forward.

One of the other things I think the sponsorship program offers: we flourish when we see people that look like us, and I think that program is one of the things that is helping team members understand across the board that we do have a diverse population of vice presidents from all walks of life and all spaces. 

Now, they get a chance to see someone who looks like them, and that also opens up possibilities for them of what they can become in this company. So, I think doing it more formally promotes it better than just deciding in a side meeting that I’m going to be your sponsor. This is something that’s formal for us at Lilly.

Listen to the full episode of The Next Big Question from Evanta, a Gartner Company here, or on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or your favorite podcast app

To find a local community of your CISO peers, visit evanta.com/ciso.

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Drew Lazzara

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