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Quita Highsmith, LEAD360'S 2023 Executive of The Year

By Dorinda Walker


Quita Highsmith, is on the front lines and changing the game in the fight for inclusive research in healthcare.


Three attributes that describe Quita Highsmith are unapologetically authentic, consistent in challenging the status quo, and passionate about leading the fight for equity in healthcare. As Vice President and Chief Diversity Officer at Genentech, a member of the Roche Group, Highsmith reporting to the CEO, is breaking barriers as the first Chief Diversity Officer in the 46-year history of the company. In this role, Highsmith is responsible for enterprise-wide strategic initiatives that drive business impact by investing in commercial efforts, stakeholder engagement, research innovation, and community relations.


Highsmith's prior business and P&L experience in brand marketing and business development, where she held various leadership roles in Commercial and Government Affairs for several companies impacting and improving revenues, is the fuel to her success. In addition, having proven that she understands what it takes to run a business successfully has enabled her to combine her knowledge and understanding of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) to positively affect the bottom line as a critical attribute of how she approaches business.


According to Dr. Eric Wynstin Walton, Ph.D., MBA, and LEAD360's Chief Learning & Transformation Officer, "We chose Quita Highsmith as our Executive of the year because she's consistently demonstrated that she has the fortitude and skills to succeed in a disruptive global landscape. She brings agility, determination, and the resilience to take on significant risks and challenges head-on. Highsmith's ability to combine a global leadership perspective, passion, and knowledge of DEI has enabled her to take calculated risks to own her career while significantly driving more equity in healthcare. In addition, her leadership inspires and empowers others to bring their most authentic self forward. Given the revolving door of DEI leaders in corporate America, Highsmith's longevity and accomplishments can be a case study on how other companies approach DEI strategy and leadership in business".


Highsmith is committed to providing real solutions to diversify clinical research to ensure clinical trial participants accurately reflect the real-world patient population to improve outcomes for underrepresented patients. Clinical trials are research studies involving human volunteers to evaluate medical products like medications, vaccines, or devices for safety and effectiveness. Communities of different ancestral backgrounds can have distinct genetic variations that may be medically relevant and may inform how a patient responds to a medicine. That is why inclusive research is a critical component of advancing health equity.


An outcome of Highsmith's commitment and passion led her to co-found Advancing Inclusive Research®, Genentech’s enterprise-wide initiative to address barriers to clinical research participation for racial and ethnic underrepresented groups. Including underrepresented patient populations in clinical research enriches genetic data, and these genetic variations play a critical role in realizing the promise of personalized healthcare to achieve more accurate diagnoses, improve access to therapies, and optimize treatment outcomes for all patients.


As a business leader, she has co-authored several publications regarding health disparities in peer-reviewed journals. In 2022, she was chosen by Savoy Magazine as one of the Most Influential Black Executives in Corporate America and selected as an Elite 100 by Diversity Woman’s Magazine. In 2021, Highsmith was named the Inspire Award Winner bySan Francisco Business Times, and a Top 15 Champion by Diversity Global Magazine.


Highsmith states, "Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in clinical research are multifaceted and complex. There are an array of systemic issues and no magic solve. It takes grinding hard work, commitment, a steel resolve, and more diverse representation in leadership positions in healthcare to ensure diverse communities and women are not overlooked in clinical research. We must be transparent, bold, and intentional to make lasting change."


Highsmith's commitment to uplifting others extends to her community service as a servant leader. She serves on several local non-profit boards, including, Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, Northwest Kidney Centers, the Genentech Patient Foundation, and the Delta San Francisco-Peninsula Foundation Board, which fosters educational growth for young Black girls by providing college scholarships.


Highsmith received a Master of Business Administration Degree, an Advanced Diversity and Inclusion Certificate from Cornell University, and her undergraduate degree from the University of Kentucky.


Want to hear more insights from LEAD360's Executive of the Year? Tune into this episode of the LEAD360HER Leadercast where Highsmith joined Michellene Davis, President and CEO of the National Medical Fellowships, Inc., and Dorinda Walker, Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Advocate and Host of the LEAD360HER Leadercast series discussing the importance of Black C-Suite Leadership in Healthcare.

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