The Inclusive Language Handbook: A Guide to Better Communication and Transformational Leadership, by Jackie Ferguson and Roxanne Bellamy
Horizon Therapeutics specializes in solving problems in rare diseases, and the biopharmaceutical company develops medications that only 500 patients worldwide require. As the Executive Vice President, Chief Human Resources and Chief Diversity Officer, Irina Konstantinovsky knows that a commitment to DEI is essential to a company where inclusion is at the heart of its mission. In this episode, hear why it’s important to lead with your coworkers’ humanity in mind.
Jackie: Hello, everyone. I’m so glad that you’re here. My guest today is Irina Konstantanovsky. Irina is the Executive Vice President, Chief Human Resources and Chief Diversity Officer of Horizon Therapeutics. Before joining Horizon, she was Vice-president of Global Talent at Baxter International Incorporated and spent 15 years in senior partner and director roles at Towers Watson. Irina holds a Bachelor of Arts and Education from the University of Buenos Aires and Master’s Degrees in Higher Education and Industrial and Labor Relations from Cornell University. In addition, she currently serves as the Chair of the Board of Directors for the Human Resource Management Association of Chicago and is also on the YWCA of Metropolitan Chicago board.
Irina, thank you so much for being with me today.
Irina: Thank you Jackie. Good morning.
Jackie: Good morning. So Irina, will you tell us a little bit more about yourself, your family, your background, your identity, anything that you’d like to share?
Irina: Oh, for sure. So born and raised in Argentina, I come from Buenos Aires. My mom is actually Russian, so I was first-generation of, of Argentinians. Which was, it’s an unusual immigration that my mom had. So it was always like I had like the mom who, you know, who spoke Spanish with an accent. And now, you know, I’m the mom who speaks English with an accent, in my, in my household.
So grew up in, Buenos Aires, came to the United States for grad school, for what I promised would be a couple of years and then ended up being almost 30 now. You know, my family’s here. I have two beautiful daughters, 18 and 21. And, you know, that’s kind of who I am: half Latino, half Russian, and a lot of other mixes there as well.
Jackie: Right. Irina, thanks for sharing that. Let’s talk a little bit about your career. Tell us about Horizon Therapeutics and what you do there in your role. You’ve got a big role, so I’d love to hear a little more about.
Irina: So, Horizon Therapeutics is a bio-pharmaceutical company and we are in the space of solving problems in rare diseases. And what’s important about that is that, as a company, we focus on, on, on places where Big Pharma would not go. So, you know, we look for solutions or we look for medicines, and we have 11 medicines in the market, that are usually in a space where there are very few patient populations.
So, you know, as you think about our mission and our patient centricity, it’s really going where others don’t go. Because if you have, you know, we have some medicines that have 500 patients, in the world. These are, these are very hard medicines to develop they’re hard medicines, to sustain in the marketplace.
We have to have very close relationship with our patients. So we’re a very specialized type of a pharmaceutical company, and we’re very proud of what we do.
Jackie: Amazing. And Irina tell us a little more about your role specifically and what you do, if you would.
Irina: So I lead Human Resources at Horizon and I’m also the Chief Diversity Officer. You know, I joined Horizon in 2017 and when I joined, we were about 700 employees. You know, very US-based in terms of our commercial execution, we did not have an R and D organization. And the company was shifting from, from being a commercial driven company, into being much more of a research and development company.
So how do we acquire and develop medicines that can provide solutions to these medicines. So at the time I joined, we had just acquired a new potential medicine. At that time, it had to go through a trial to see if it worked and we didn’t even have an R and D organization. So the last five years, Jackie, have been a tremen… You know, tremendous growth for these organizations.
So we’re now almost 1800 employees, you know, we’re starting to. We’re starting to expand internationally. We’re building our manufacturing facility. So if I think about what happened to these company in five years, it has experienced unprecedented growth. And that allows us to have a much broader reach in, also in the communities, in where we, we operate. You know, back to my role.
You know, my role has been to put the foundational elements in place. When I got here five years ago, we knew how to hire. We knew how to pay employees. When you, how to fire those that were not performing at the right levels, but we really had to put a lot of programs in place. And how do we engage employees in the workplace?
How do we develop people in their roles? How do we drive a really purposeful inclusion and diversity strategy? That was all new for us. We were working intuitively, we were much more on startup mode. And over the last five years, it really has been putting a whole system, talent strategy in place that would allow us to sustain and continue to grow and make talent one of the foundational elements to deliver on, on our mission. So that’s what the job is.
Jackie: That’s amazing. And Irina, you’ve mentioned that you’ve been in your role since 2017. How has the workplace landscape changed in the last few years with COVID, the Great Resignation, a spotlight on racial injustice from a human resources perspective? How have you had to shift during that five years in your role?
DEI Navigator offers access to our award-winning team of proven business leaders and certified diversity executives, along with expert curated content, how-to guides, specialized training, and a community of peers sharing their ideas and lessons learned — all at a fraction of the cost of hiring a full-service DEI consultancy.