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Diversity Questionnaire Response

Candidate for Overseer 

John C. Lechleiter AM ’80, PhD ’80

Retired President, CEO, and Chairman, Eli Lilly and Company
Indianapolis, Indiana 

1. How important should diversity be at Harvard? What strategies should the University pursue regarding this? (Please discuss specific programs and policies if you can.)  

I believe that Harvard students benefit enormously from being part of a diverse student population. Harvard should strive for diversity in the most complete sense of the word, considering not only attributes like race, nationality, and gender, but also other aspects of diversity including socioeconomic status, non-traditional backgrounds, and first generation college applicants. 

Harvard’s strong reputation will always make it attractive to students of all kinds; the university must be equally attentive to creating and sustaining a climate on campus where its students can engage with one another in meaningful and helpful ways.

2. How can Harvard encourage more diversity among its alumni leaders and activities? (If not discussed above.) 

If this is an important goal for the university, greater numbers of diverse alumni should be approached directly about getting involved in alumni affairs and assuming leadership roles. This requires active involvement on the part of the university and current alumni leaders.

3. Please state your views on affirmative action and race-conscious admissions. 

Affirmative action has been the law of the land for many years. During my 37 years at Eli Lilly and Company, including nearly nine years as CEO, the company had an exemplary record in this regard and is today an enterprise with increasingly greater numbers of women and people of color represented at all levels.

With respect to the question of race-conscious admissions, it is difficult for me to see how one creates a diverse student population if the admissions policy is not conscious of race, gender, socioeconomic status, and other important areas of difference.


4. What do you think Harvard's role should be in creating a more equitable, inclusive and just society? 

Harvard’s primary role as an educational institution is to educate young people to think and to reason for themselves, with the broadest possible exposure to the ideas and principles upon which civilized society has been built. I am a strong believer in a liberal arts education that includes study of the major currents of thought throughout history. The campus should also encourage free and healthy debate among its constituents.

Given Harvard’s prominence, the university can play a significant role in helping create a more equitable, inclusive, and just society. It must do this through its words and actions. It can put forth ideas and concrete proposals into the public forum. It can work to imbue its students with an ethos that predisposes them, in their subsequent lives, to seek these ends as well.

5. What steps have you taken to bring diversity and inclusion to your workplace or to an organization that you have been involved with?


As a senior executive and ultimately chief executive officer of a major public company, I was personally involved in annually setting the company’s diversity strategy and ensuring its execution.  I am proud of our record of accomplishment in all aspects of diversity at Eli Lilly and Company.

The company’s progress in this area has been recognized in recent years in a number of ways.

In 2017, Lilly was named by DiversityInc as a Top 50 Company for Diversity (No. 16); by the Human Rights Campaign Foundation for a perfect score on the 2017 Corporate Equality Index; by Forbes to The Just 100 (No. 28), America’s Best Corporate Citizens; by the National Association for Female Executives as a Top Company for Executive Women; by Working Mother magazine as a Working Mother Best 100 Company; by Science magazine as a Top 20 Employer (No. 4) in the biotechnology and pharmaceutical industry; and, for the second consecutive year, by Ethisphere as one of the World’s Most Ethical Companies.

This is a sample of the recognition the company has received, and many of these awards and others have been recurring for multiple years.


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