Making a Difference: EVP and CRO LaShonda Anderson-Williams Follows Her Passion in Global Healthcare and Life Sciences
December 10, 2021
LaShonda Anderson-Williams, EVP and CRO of Global Healthcare and Life Sciences, talks about the moments that piqued her interest and led her to join Salesforce after 15 years at Microsoft.
“There were conversations with other leaders, some who’d left Microsoft and came to Salesforce and stayed, and a few that came and left. But the difference that really created curiosity for me was the culture, how people described this special place called Salesforce.”
As an African-American woman, Salesforce’s values spoke to her. “Their values align with mine, especially our core value of Equality. It told me a lot about who we are as a company, understanding the importance of opportunity and access [for all], and the potential of really making a difference in the community.”
Making a Difference with Healthcare and Technology
The last three and a half years that LaShonda spent in her previous role were dedicated to building the company’s healthcare and life sciences (HLS) practice.
“I fell in love with healthcare. We all age. We all have parents who’ve gotten older. It made me aware on a personal level where the intersection of technology and healthcare can make a difference.”
When LaShonda was in high school, healthcare organizations in Texas were offering a $5,000 signing bonus to registered nurses (RNs). LaShonda applied to several nursing schools and was accepted to the program at Texas Woman’s University. But, after her first conversation with a career counselor, she realized she hadn’t asked enough questions. “I don't like needles,” she says. “I'd prefer not to be in the same place as one if I can help it.”
So, LaShonda switched to the university’s business program. Upon graduation, she took a paid internship with IBM. 25 years later, she’s still working in healthcare — without touching a needle.
Creating the Future of HLS
Since LaShonda first joined the industry, healthcare organizations and technology companies have come to realize how tech can improve the quality of the patient experience while reducing cost across the care lifecycle. This supports better clinical decisions and introduces innovative therapies faster.
“At Salesforce we are creating a way for our platform to be transformative in the healthcare space. Today’s healthcare consumers are far better educated than they were even a decade ago. Our expectations are different in terms of what we’re willing to accept from clinical professionals. The engagement model is outcome-based. Salesforce wants to use its platform to democratize the ability for all of us to have better outcomes.”
Today’s Biggest HLS Challenge: Vaccinating the Unvaccinated
So what’s the next big task to tackle? LaShonda believes the biggest healthcare challenge facing us today — domestically and abroad — is increasing the proportion of those vaccinated against COVID to those unvaccinated. And the challenge is twofold: vaccine supply chain optimization and vaccine education.
“I'll speak for many African-American communities. There’s hesitancy. ‘Am I going to take the vaccine? Do I know what's in it?’ And we're trying to help our customers confront this challenge.”
Of course, LaShonda acknowledges there are plenty of challenges in healthcare writ large, but response to the pandemic encapsulates many with an added sense of urgency.
“We need to understand how our platform can help accelerate manufacturing and streamline supply chains. We need to create awareness and education systems, organize medical affairs teams to engage with communities, and distribute vaccines. Then there’s vaccine tracking, and, with vaccine mandates, that conversation becomes even more complex.”
Business as a Platform for Change
Often emphasized by CEO Marc Benioff, “Business is a platform for change.” In HLS that means talking with physicians, healthcare payers and providers, regulators, medical equipment manufacturers, and pharmaceutical companies, who turn research into life-saving vaccines. “Salesforce plays a role in every one of those spaces,” notes LaShonda.
Moderna, a biotechnology company pioneering messenger RNA therapeutics and vaccines – including a COVID-19 vaccine – recently became a Salesforce customer. LaShonda comments, “We want to help them create the future of vaccine development and distribution. This is a cloud-first company that’s a pioneer in modern medicine.
Equality in the Workplace and Having Candid Conversations
In addition to Salesforce’s notable presence in the healthcare industry, the company’s core value of equality and commitment to drive diversity and inclusion in the workplace largely resonate with LaShonda.
“It's not just what we do; it's who we are. We’re committed to equality. Now, do we have it right yet? Nope. But guess what? No one else does either.”
She believes there’s a tenacity and commitment to getting it right and notes Salesforce’s recruiting efforts to build a more diverse workforce.
“I have an internal recruiter, I have an external recruiter, and I have an equality recruiter. Never in my career have I had a recruiter focused just on equality. One of the biggest challenges tech companies face is when a person like me has an informational interview, they look across the table, and don’t see anyone who looks like them.”
Furthermore, Salesforce has 12 Equality Groups focused on underrepresented groups and issues that matter to them. As a new employee, LaShonda sat back and observed, “Wow, we're talking about these issues. It's not taboo. We’re having those difficult conversations. We're actually putting some meat on the bone.”
The Bucket List
Just as she does in her professional life, LaShonda also pushes herself to grow personally. If you search the term “bucket list” online, you’ll get over 500M results – and nearly as many opinions about their value. Whatever you want to call it, people like to challenge themselves and try new things, especially if they’re goal-oriented. LaShonda checks all those boxes, and she and her husband were pulled toward the adventure of bodybuilding.
“We got into it late, nowhere near the optimal age. But we quickly learned how dramatically your mind can transform your body. We have this mantra in my house: If you think you can, you can; if you think you can't, you can't.”
LaShonda takes her training, diet, and recovery seriously. She’s already won several competitions and prides herself on sticking with the required discipline. “Thankfully, I have a job that I love. But when I’m not doing that, I’m in the gym. And when I’m having a rough day, I just go pound some iron.”