As college students start preparing for the fall semester, students at nine historically Black colleges and universities will be attending schools that could give them a direct pipeline to one of the biggest biopharmaceutical companies in the world.

In the past year, Gilead Sciences has launched a concerted effort to recruit from HBCUs and Hispanic-Serving Institutions for paid internships and fellowships that start at $25/hr.

Early career development can be pivotal for young Black people — Larrishia Stanley, Director of Early Talent and University Relations at Gilead, knows this firsthand.

“My first manager was an African American woman at General Electric and she really poured into me,” Stanley told The Plug. “I know if it wasn’t for her from a career perspective, her being open and honest about a career and opening my eyes beyond what I had seen coming from a very small town in Virginia, that I wouldn’t have had opportunities to be set up for success.”

That mentorship experience, along with being an alum of North Carolina A&T State University — “Aggie pride!” she said when mentioning her alma mater — drives her passion to work in early talent. But it wasn’t until after George Floyd’s murder that Gilead had a renewed focus on an initiative to recruit from HBCUs.

“It really helped crystallize the importance of expanding that early talent strategy to include and ensure that we had a high number of diverse talents in our summer program,” Stan Blackwell, the lead of US talent acquisition at Gilead, told The Plug.

In 2019, only 5 percent of the overall workforce at Gilead was Black, falling far short of the 13 percent share of the US labor force Black people constitute. Nobody in the executive vice president level and above is Black except for two of its nine-member Board of Directors.

“When you look at our five percent, our goal is to ensure that we are, first of all, providing the early talent opportunities where there were barriers before,” said Blackwell, who believes there is room to improve.

Though students at any school can apply for internships and fellowships, Gilead hosts special events and curated experiences for 26 partner schools. Of those, nine are HBCUs: Clark Atlanta University, Florida A&M University, Howard University, Morehouse College, North Carolina A&T State University, North Carolina Central University, Spelman College, Tuskegee University and Xavier University.

Each of the 26 schools also get direct liaisons, Gilead employees who build a relationship with school officials who can then recommend some of their star students.

Kel Greene, an alum of Morehouse College, serves as the college’s liaison, Gilead’s regional lead for the English-speaking Caribbean and the North American co-lead of the Black employee resource group.

“I didn’t know Gilead existed when I graduated with my undergrad degree,” Greene told The Plug. “The job I’m doing now wasn’t even on my radar.”

Though he understands young people should have a period of discovery, he also believes Gilead should start engaging with HBCU students early.

This summer, at least 15 percent of the 137 interns identified as Black, more than double the previous year’s cohort. Eight of this year’s interns are from HBCUs. 

In the summer of 2019, of about 100 interns, only two were Black and one of them was from an HBCU, according to Greene.

Beyond recruitment, Gilead has supported HBCUs in other ways. The company said it has donated $5.9 million since 2019 to HBCUs. Some of those donations include $525,000 grants to Shaw University, Claflin University and Spelman College. The company partnered with the Morehouse School of Medicine last summer to create a comprehensive health equity data platform and it has supported an effort by the Human Rights Campaign to create an HBCU Health Center Directory.

But Greene added that Gilead’s efforts to increase diversity do not lie just in recruiting and relationships with HBCUs. The company is also trying to retain and advance its Black employees.

“If you just recruit a bunch of folks like other organizations have done, even prior to George Floyd, but you have no mechanism for keeping them there, ensuring that they feel like they have a seat at the table and they belong, they just end up leaving,” Greene explained. “Your numbers remain abysmal.”

Editor’s Note: This piece has been updated with demographic data on this summer’s cohort.