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From Scientist to DEI Leader: The Inspiring Journey of Cherise Bernard

Analysis  |  By HR Daily Advisor  
   February 27, 2024

Cherise Bernard, head of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at Invitae, followed an unconventional career path to her DEI leadership role.

This article was first published on February 26, 2024, by HR Daily Advisor, a sibling publication to HealthLeaders.

As the Head of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at Invitae, Cherise Bernard’s journey from a scientist to a DEI leader in technology and advertising is as unconventional as it is inspiring. Her story is not just about career transitions but about a deep-rooted passion for driving positive change and fostering inclusive environments.

Early Career and Transition into DEI

Cherise Bernard’s education and career began in STEM, a foundation that set her on a path of scientific rigor and discovery. “I grew up a scientist, earning my BS, Mini-MBA and Ph.D. credentials in the chemistry, biopharma, and molecular biology spaces, but wound up in technology at Spotify, followed by the advertising industry at McCann—not a traditional career path at all!,” Bernard says, reflecting on her journey. This path led her to roles where her scientific acumen met with her burgeoning interest in DEI.

At Spotify, Bernard’s focus on early career talent strategy marked the beginning of her foray into DEI. “Out of academia, my early career kicked off at The Rockefeller University, Mount Sinai Innovation Partners, Elsevier and then Spotify,” she says. “Here, I focused on the global intern and early career talent strategy with a focus on strengthening equity and access to underrepresented students,” Bernard recounts. This role was a stepping stone to a more profound commitment to DEI, as she later transitioned to the DEI team at Spotify. There, she says, “I focused on scaling and sustaining inclusion best practices globally.”

Bernard’s work at Spotify was transformative, not just for her career but also for the organization. Her efforts in addressing the Black Lives Matter movement and securing funding demonstrated a commitment to holistic diversity and inclusion strategies. This experience was pivotal, shaping her DEI approach and philosophy, which she carried forward in her subsequent roles.

Role and Achievements at Invitae

Cherise Bernard’s tenure at Invitae marks a significant chapter in her DEI journey, building upon the foundation laid by her predecessor, Rayshawnda Madison, someone Bernard acknowledges as having a pivotal role in establishing DEI as a cornerstone at Invitae. “When [Madison] was a part of the Talent Acquisition team and recruiting employees to Invitae, she noticed that diversity, equity, and inclusion weren’t consistent parts of the conversation,” Bernard shares. Embracing this legacy, Bernard has continued to propel DEI initiatives forward, contributing to Invitae’s progress in programming, employee resources groups, and recruiting.

At Invitae, Bernard has led several key projects, particularly focusing on equity and inclusion strategies. Her work involves collaborating across the organization to form a DEI task force addressing solutions around engagement, culture, accountability, and the employee experience. “One of Invitae’s timeliest projects that I’m very proud of was the focus toward our equity and inclusion strategy,” Bernard states. These efforts are not just about shaping the organization’s culture but also about enabling employees to bring their best selves to work, ultimately benefiting the patients Invitae serves.

Promoting DEI Throughout the Organization

Promoting DEI at Invitae goes beyond traditional approaches. Bernard has been instrumental in increasing the frequency and continuity of inclusive and equitable language within the company. “We are launching an Inclusive Language Guide, which is a deep dive into the nuanced differences between cultural nomenclature that may show up for us in the workplace,” Bernard explains. This initiative is part of a broader effort to normalize DEI conversations and foster an environment where diversity is celebrated, and inclusion is a lived experience.

In addition to the language guide, Bernard is planning a speaker series titled “Difficult Conversations About…”, leveraging storytelling to bring awareness to different aspects of identity and its impact on the employee life cycle at Invitae.  

Through these initiatives, Bernard plans to equip teams with the tools to confront challenges in DEI areas, thereby better serving the diverse needs of their patients. Her efforts are a testament to her commitment to embedding DEI into every facet of Invitae’s operations and culture.

Employee Resource Groups and Their Impact

At Invitae, Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) play a crucial role in promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion, an aspect Bernard passionately champions. “I’ve been privileged to witness the transformative impact of ERGs on our organization,” she says. These groups are more than just forums, she stresses—they’re dynamic communities that provide a platform for diverse voices and intersectionality, fostering a sense of belonging and active participation in DEI initiatives.

Bernard emphasizes the tangible support Invitae provides to these groups: “One key aspect of our commitment is evident in the dedicated budget allocated to support ERGs annually,” she says. This financial backing is crucial, enabling ERGs to organize events and programs that resonate with their members and contribute meaningfully to the company’s broader DEI goals. “In my role, I actively engage with ERG leaders, providing guidance, support, and acting as an advocate across the business,” Bernard explains, highlighting the collaborative nature of these efforts.

Unique DEI Strategies and Support for Employees

Bernard’s approach to DEI at Invitae is characterized by innovative strategies and a deep commitment to supporting the organization’s employees. “We have a few strategies in play and in development around standing out to potential talent and current employees,” Bernard notes, underscoring the proactive nature of their DEI efforts.

A key aspect of Bernard’s philosophy is the shared responsibility for DEI across the organization. “What’s important to Invitae is that DEI doesn’t just live with me. Everyone has to hold a piece of DEI close to their professional philosophies,” she asserts.

Bernard also focuses on ensuring that DEI principles are integrated into Invitae’s services. “With policy and research, we constantly evaluate how we’re ensuring that precision medicine includes diverse and underrepresented populations,” she says, highlighting the company’s dedication to making genetic testing more inclusive and accessible. This comprehensive approach to DEI underscores Bernard’s vision of creating an environment where every employee, regardless of their background, can thrive and contribute to the company’s success.

Bernard’s journey at Invitae exemplifies a holistic and impactful approach to DEI. Her innovative strategies and collaborative efforts have fostered a culture where diversity is celebrated, and inclusion is a lived experience, setting a benchmark for DEI practices in the corporate world.

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