“My career journey has been nontraditional at best. I guess that’s true for a lot of people,” says Alethia Jackson, Walgreens’ new Senior Vice President (SVP) of Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) and Chief Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Officer. After witnessing healthcare disparities firsthand early on and committing to the idea that she wanted to do something different, Jackson has held her passion top of mind as she’s navigated a journey that has led her to serve as a leader at Walgreens.
From her time as a young girl growing up in the fast-paced environment of New York City, Jackson considered herself to be born with a confidence streak given her desire to thrive. She calls this aspect of herself “Brooklyn Baddie.” This determination and commitment to her dreams led her to lean into her love for healthcare policy in roles where her technical expertise soared: healthcare insurance, government relations, and more.
She has equally called on this confidence to lead initiatives like Walgreens’ Vaccine Equity Task Force, which has: administered more than 28 million protective vaccines by holding over 1,200 vaccine clinics in underserved locations, worked with more than 650 community organizations on vaccine events, and partnered with Uber to offer up to 10 million free rides to and from vaccination sites in socially vulnerable communities.
Jackson shares more about her experiences at Walgreens, ways she wishes to make an impact in the diversity, health, and environmental equity field along with inspirational tips for those interested in accelerating to new heights in the corporate realm.
Jackson’s Views: The Evolution of Health and Environmental Equity
Over the course of her eleven years at Walgreens, Jackson has born witness to the impact certain human activities can have on climate change. And in response, through her work at Walgreens, she and the Walgreens team have strived to provide resources to communities so they can live healthier and more joyful lives.
For example, in 2021, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) report identified that climate change has had disproportionate impacts on socially vulnerable populations. Findings from the report illuminated that: more Black and African American people are projected to feel an impact from climate change as 34% are more likely to live in areas where childhood asthma would instrumentally increase and 40% are more likely to live in areas with the highest projected increases in extreme temperature-related deaths. Similarly, Hispanic and Latino populations that have historically held higher participation in weather-exposed industries (i.e. construction and agriculture) are 43% more likely to currently live in areas with the highest projected labor hour reductions due to extreme temperatures.
Given these findings, Jackson and the Walgreens team have found that: “sustainability, climate change, and health equity are not disparate issues. Therefore, achieving health equity is in everyone’s interest.” In Jackson’s new role, she aims to empower her team to continue their commitment to improving patient outcomes by focusing on access, partnership, and education.
Celebrating Walgreens’ Strides And Charting a Path to the Future
As Jackson endeavors to explore what the future of the field will look like, she is excited to work with her new team to continue to strengthen Walgreens’ Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) and Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) strategies. And as the team does so, she’s expressed: “I’m especially looking forward to addressing environmental issues, and further advancing our supplier diversity program, our health equity incubator program, our partnerships with companies like Vitamin Angels, and empowering our business resource groups.”
Since 2013, through a partnership with Vitamin Angels, Walgreens has helped over 300 million women and children access essential healthcare by providing vitamins and minerals to fight against malnutrition worldwide. In addition, in 2020 Walgreens launched the Chicago Health Equity Incubator–a pilot program designed to address health disparities with pharmacist-provided and community-centered healthcare resources for its patients including health literacy opportunities. “To date, the program has resulted in a 60% improvement in prescriptions being picked up after dedicating the time to educating patients and offering free same-day delivery,” Jackson shares.
Through the company’s internal Business Resource Groups (BRGs) she and her team are also providing safe spaces and opportunities for more than 3,500 members across the U.S., UK, Latin America, Europe, and Asia to build connections across 20+ intersections of identity. This commitment to diversity is also reflected in Walgreens’ supplier diversity with Walgreens stocking shelves to reflect its stores’ local communities. This has included expanding to a network of over 2,350 diverse small businesses and spending more than $1 billion with diverse and small suppliers, including Mielle Organics, OTIS Dental, and Black Girl Sunscreen.
Jackson’s Tips for Accelerating in the Corporate World
As Jackson has embarked on this new role, she has also endeavored to sow seeds for the next generation interested in accelerating to new heights in the corporate realm. Recommendations she often provides include the following:
- Seek and offer mentorship. In her role on the board of a nonpartisan nonprofit that trains young women and girls to run for public office, she and the team leverage an “I Look Like A Politician” slogan to help change women and others’ perceptions that the archetype of leadership is male. “Women need to see themselves in leadership roles. I’ve benefited by having women mentors who served in leadership roles in Washington, as well as having male allies,” Jackson shares.
- Take your seat at the table. As a young staffer and subject-matter expert on a particular issue, she was invited to meetings with the presidents of various Fortune 500 companies. She expresses: “I would instinctively sit in the chairs along the wall. The CEO of my organization, a woman, came across the room and told me to have a seat at the table.” She’s found that too often, women will forego their seats so that others can be made comfortable. Jackson recalls her CEO telling her: “You were invited into the room because you added value. So, sit at the table because that’s where the decisions were made.” She’s found that to be great advice, both literally and figuratively.
- Embrace diversity of thought and perspective to create better solutions. “I approach my role with a unique perspective,” Jackson shares. She believes everyone should be heard, people in different corporate areas/levels should be connected, and diverse perspectives should be embraced to curate better collective ideas and solution-driven approaches.
- Harness the gift of confidence to reach your goals and dreams. “As you take risks, the more you achieve, the more confident you become. In my case, that confident streak powered me out of Brooklyn. It drove me to college and through law school. Then to every step in a career doing what I love—Washington lobbyist, healthcare expert, political and business strategist, and now SVP, ESG, and Chief DEI Officer It’s what brought me to Walgreens Boots Alliance, Inc. (WBA) and to speak with Forbes today. It’s what led me to take my seat at the table where the decisions are made,” she shares.
And while striving for success has been important to her—from as early as her time as the youngest woman and one of few women of color in lobby insurance—Jackson has too found striking a balance with rest moves greater mountains: “I’ve always been passionate about my work and unafraid of hard work. However, I know that taking a break from work and having balance is key to being the best version of myself.” In Jackson’s opinion, when all leaders demonstrate balance, their teams similarly feel they can prioritize themselves. “We play an important role in our company and communities so we need to take care of ourselves so we can take care of our team members and the communities we serve,” Jackson closes.
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