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  1. Blog
  2. Partners in Diversity

She Leads: Grace Niwa Leads Talent Acquisition at Vertex Pharmaceuticals

In the biotech industry, her company’s focus on flexibility helps her navigate work-life integration

Vertex Pharmaceuticals corporate office
Photo courtesy of Vertex Pharmaceuticals

This article is part of InHerSight's Partners in Diversity series. Discover companies partnering with InHerSight to better support women in the workplace.

On InHerSight, seeing high ratings and standout reviews is believing. And when you see that over and over again for certain companies, you can’t help but want to know more. 

Vertex Pharmaceuticals is a prime example. The company, which develops medicines for people with serious diseases, is top rated by women employees in some of the metrics that matter most, like Support for Diversity, Sense of Belonging, and Paid Time Off. 

They’re also celebrated by their anonymous reviewers for prioritizing people over everything. “I was and continue to be excited about Vertex's mission and commitment to patients,” one very satisfied rater says. “But I have also been impressed with their COVID-19 response, the commitment to implement a long-term flexible work policy, and the work being done to advance inclusion, diversity, and equity across the organization. Are there areas that could be improved? Of course, but that's the case everywhere.”

All of that data leaves quite the impression—enough to wonder what Vertex is doing behind the scenes that makes its culture and benefits so stellar. 

We reached out to Grace Niwa, vice president of talent acquisition, to get the inside scoop on the company’s support of employees. Find out how this leader in the science industry is supporting work-life integration, flexibility, and gender equity from someone who’s living Vertex’s values every day. 

Grace Niwa

Vice President, Talent Acquisition at Vertex Pharmaceuticals for 1.5 years 

Her top three must-haves at work:

  • Women in Leadership

  • Flexible Work Hours 

  • Support for Diversity

First, tell us about your career and what you do at Vertex Pharmaceuticals. How did you get where you are and what are your responsibilities now?

I have the privilege of leading Vertex’s talent acquisition and early career team, and we are responsible for telling our story and inspiring the best, most diverse talent to join our company. My team develops and executes our recruiting and hiring processes with a data, inclusivity, and experience-driven approach—all with the end-goal of bringing passionate people on board to deliver on our mission to serve patients.

I have had such an interesting journey in my career and have learned so much from every opportunity that’s come my way. From the age of 4, I trained seriously as a classical pianist for most of my childhood and ended up completing my master’s degree of music in piano performance at The Juilliard School in NYC (after auditioning three times!). Then, life happened, and I decided to change careers. I was lucky enough to start my own PR & marketing agency with Anheuser-Busch as my anchor client with a focus on reaching multicultural audiences—like Asian, Black, and Latinx communities. After a decade, I was introduced through a mentor to an owner of a boutique executive search firm, where I became trained in executive search—which is how I started my third career in HR and talent acquisition!

Why did you choose to work at Vertex Pharmaceuticals? Were there any green flags during the interview?

It’s important to me to work at a company that has great science, has a purposeful culture, and truly cares about patients. Vertex’s uncompromising commitment to patients, science, and innovation is unmatched. I was immediately drawn to the company vision and dedication to patients that is so tangible when you speak with colleagues. I was also so impressed by our Chief HR Officer and her leadership team—they are one of the best HR teams I’ve ever worked with, not just as colleagues but as human beings. 

On a personal level, I also took this job to be a role model for my own community and show my daughter that Asian American women can  reach senior levels of a company. Coming up in my career, there weren’t many people to look up to who looked like me—many of us had great education and backgrounds, but were not showing up at the VP and C-Suite levels. Vertex gave me that chance, which was very significant to me.

Vertex Pharmaceuticals

Vertex Pharmaceuticals is a global biotechnology company that invests in scientific innovation to create transformative medicines for people with serious diseases—most notably those that treat the underlying cause of cystic fibrosis (CF), a rare, life-threatening genetic disease. They’re rated most highly for Support for Diversity, Sense of Belonging, and Paid Time Off. Plus, 100% of raters say they feel they were paid fairly from the start. Explore Vertex’s benefits and culture now!

Learn more ›

You’re responsible for bringing in top biotech talent to the company. What’s Vertex’s approach to inclusivity and hiring diverse talent? 

Recruiting is about building and developing relationships. To attract diverse talent, your approach needs to be intentional—more than posting a role and hoping for applications. We must be proactive and creative to find untapped communities, building relationships at all levels in order to cultivate trust, educate, and also amplify what we do.  

I’m continuously inspired by the genuine commitment Vertex has to inclusion, diversity, and equity (ID&E). We have long recognized that core to our organization’s ability to create transformative medicines for people with serious diseases is the diversity of our people, regardless of gender, race, ethnicity, age, or any other demographic. Vertex is a company that walks the walk—we hold ourselves accountable to our ID&E goals and equip everyone from leadership to individual contributors with the tools, resources, and processes to make inclusive and equitable hiring decisions that aren’t driven by personal preferences or biases. 

Our hiring process at Vertex is designed with two key goals in mind: the first is to promote an exceptional experience for candidates of all backgrounds, and the second is to meet our business needs by finding talent that complements, supplements, and enhances our workforce to create the best teams. We recognize the importance of ID&E in the Vertex hiring strategy and put a practical process behind it. 

We know home and work are more integrated than ever, but we recognize the benefit of being able to work face to face, too. How does the culture at Vertex Pharmaceuticals support flexibility and work-life integration for women like yourself?

For more than three decades, Vertex has worked to create transformative medicines for people with serious diseases—and, yes like most other companies, during these past few years, COVID-19 changed a lot of that! But what we saw during that time was incredible—Vertexians (what we call Vertex employees) all around the globe relied on what made us successful in the past, while we learned new ways of working to go forward. This included being more flexible about when, where, and how we work—a new way of working that we now call Flex @ Vertex.  

Flex @ Vertex emphasizes flexibility for all Vertex employees. We have a thoughtful, role-based approach to define on-site, hybrid, and remote work. Our approach is really the “best of both”—it provides opportunities for Vertexians to meet the needs of their personal and professional lives, all with the important goal of enabling teams to thrive so we can continue to deliver on our promise to patients. 

Personally, I take advantage of remote work days so I can spend more time with my children who are 16 and 12 years old, have a meal with them or attend their events, or get some exercise by going for a walk with my doodle, Chewie, for some self-care.

Are there benefits or aspects of the company’s culture that have made you feel particularly supported?  

Definitely! There are so many, it’s hard to know where to begin. Vertex’s standpoint on benefits is that they know that to achieve our best and most meaningful work, we have to take good care of ourselves, each other, and our loved ones. It’s critical to our success.    

For me, beyond top-notch total rewards for all employees, including short- and long-term incentive plans, medical, dental, and vision plans, I appreciate the unique benefits to caring for my family, like generous caregiver and bonding leave, access to support for back-up child care and adult care, daycare tuition discounts for families with small children and even pet insurance for Chewie. Vertex also makes it easy for me to get to and be at work—with complimentary commuting and parking, daily breakfast and snacks. Our tater tots are the best! And our benefits also help me think about the future, with support for financial wellness, like planning and counseling perks, generous 401(k) matching, and the ability to purchase Vertex stock at a discount. While my kids aren’t there just yet, it’s also helpful to know there’s a college advising benefit for us to take advantage of when the time comes.

What would you tell women interested in working at your company about the future of the organization or its culture?

The future is bright for the women of Vertex. Our science, innovation, and strong culture are all aligned to ensure Vertex is a meaningful, supportive, and mission-driven place for women to work and make a real difference in the lives of people with serious diseases.  

And our commitment is visible. Our IWILL employee resources network—which stands for “Inspiring Women in Leadership and Learning” is an incredible peer group that seeks to strengthen Vertex’s efforts in attracting, retaining, developing, and enhancing the career satisfaction of Vertex women and contributing to our professional advancement. Moreover, I’m encouraged that 54 percent of our global workforce are women, and 41 percent of leaders from vice president and above are too. And this has been validated through recognition by Vertex being on the Seramount (formerly Working Mother Media) 100 Best Companies list. 

We promote gender equity in everything we do, and while we have made progress, we also recognize that achieving true excellence in ID&E takes a sustained push. But we aren’t stopping there—we’re committed to doing even more to promote gender equity throughout our organization, and that’s what inspires me. 

Inclusion, diversity and equity (ID&E) are core to Vertex’s ability to create and deliver transformative medicines for people with serious diseases. We believe in ID&E not only because it’s the right thing to do, and it is, but also because our business depends on it. We are the most innovative, make the best decisions for patients and attract the highest caliber of talent when we have an inclusive, diverse and equitable workforce and culture. Learn more about Vertex’s ID&E journey, progress and priorities.

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