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12/13/2022

Walgreens Boots Alliance’s Alethia Jackson on providing health care for all

Alethia Jackson puts sustainability and health equity front and center at the company.
Hannah Esper
Managing Editor
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Alethia Jackson
Alethia Jackson

In October, Alethia Jackson was named Walgreens Boots Alliance’s senior vice president, ESG (environmental, social and governance) and chief DEI (diversity, equity and inclusion) officer for the U.S. Joining Walgreens in 2011, Jackson most recently served as vice president, federal government relations for the company. 

Drug Store News talked with Jackson about what’s to come in her new role. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

[Read more: Walgreens launches free Paxlovid delivery services with DoorDash, Uber]

Drug Store News: Why has sustainability become top of mind for Walgreens and what initiatives do you plan to pursue in this area? Will you seek any partnerships to make headway in this area? 

Alethia Jackson: Sustainability has become top of mind for Walgreens because we know that human activities cause climate change, which negatively impacts human health. All companies must do their part to safeguard a healthy planet, which is particularly important for us as a healthcare company.

There are several priorities I am excited about pursuing that center sustainability, and we undoubtedly cannot pursue them without our partners. I’ll start with these three priorities: Health Equity, Environmental Justice and Supplier Diversity. 

Health equity
With our large footprint in communities in every corner of the country, we have a unique ability to reach people where they are, which is what we did with the Vaccine Equity clinic. Globally, we need to apply that same sense of urgency from vaccine equity to health equity because it is crucial. It has always been critical. People are dying every day, and that is why we’re going to underserved communities to provide them with the treatments and care they need so we can knock down access barriers and affordability issues. 

We’re also addressing health equity through our 8+-year partnership with Vitamin Angels. This partnership has helped over 350 million women and children access essential health care by providing vitamins and minerals to fight against malnutrition worldwide. 

Environmental justice
The COVID-19 pandemic has disproportionately affected Black, Hispanic and Indigenous communities and amplified how systemic racism has led to health disparities in communities of color. Relatedly, climate change has also disproportionately impacted socially vulnerable populations in the United States. One of the reasons is the lack of access to clean water, proximity to environmental hazards, and lack of green space in urban areas. Those things take a significant toll on health, and as one of our partners likes to say, “You can’t have healthy people on a sick planet.”

Through our global, enterprise-wide climate target, we pledged to reduce our absolute Scope 1 and Scope 2 greenhouse gas emissions by 30% by the end of fiscal 2030, compared with a 2019 baseline.

With nearly 9,000 retail pharmacy locations across the U.S. and Puerto Rico, we’re investing heavily in energy efficiency projects and energy management systems for Walgreens. We’re making good progress. In 2021, we cut carbon emissions by 14.9% — improving on an 8.3% reduction the previous year.

Supplier diversity
At Walgreens, our mission is to thread diversity into everything we do. When our shelves reflect our local communities, it benefits everyone, providing customers with access to a broader selection of products and services while expanding our network of diverse suppliers. Last year, our textured hair care business grew 14% year to date versus the prior year, and this year, we are introducing even more textured hair care brands. In fiscal year 2021, we spent more than $520 million with diverse suppliers, including Mielle Organics, Black Girl Sunscreen and Lorenzo’s Frozen Pudding.

DSN: Why is it important for WBA to have a chief officer dedicated to DEI?

AJ: Diversity, equity and inclusion are in our DNA and reflect our mission. At WBA, we know that diverse teams improve our performance, drive our growth and enhance engagement among ourselves and our customers, suppliers and the communities we serve. I am here to help WBA maintain a healthy and inclusive workplace and reimagine health care and well-being for all.

DSN: How do you advocate for healthcare inclusivity and foster women’s leadership?        

AJ: Before my new role, I served as Walgreens vice president, federal government relations and chair of its task force to deliver COVID-19 vaccine equity. We knew our pharmacists would be at the center of helping the world fight the pandemic. We rapidly implemented a vaccine equity taskforce in the U.S., which held more than 1,200 vaccine events in medically underserved locations. We set up mobile vaccination clinics in 18 cities across the U.S. and have also installed programs to combat pediatric asthma and Type 2 diabetes in the most vulnerable communities in Chicago. 

As chair, I led efforts to provide education and information via Walgreens pharmacists alongside organizations like the League of United Latin American Citizens, Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc., the National Coalition of 100 Black Women, Faith for Black Lives, local National Urban League chapters and more than 600 different churches, community groups and elected officials. 

As captured in a recent study, COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy among communities of color has dropped since the start of efforts like the Walgreens Vaccine Equity Initiative in December 2020.

[Read more: Walgreens Boots Alliance strengthens commitment to expand disability representation]

I consider it my purpose to champion women inside and outside of WBA, whether through increasing the representation of women in leadership at WBA or as a mentor to young women. As an active member of the Women of WBA Business Resource Group leadership team, I led efforts supporting its objective to drive and inspire inclusivity, advancement and development opportunities for women. 

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. We need more women leaders because women are consensus builders, insightful and have the ability to truly see the outliers. 

DSN: What’s the most important advice  for others seeking to promote inclusivity and diversity?

AJ: I believe that everyone should be heard. Whether you’re a leader or a contributor, I recommend connecting with people from all different walks of life to understand their perspectives, needs, ambitions and desires. I believe diverse perspectives help make for better collective ideas and a solution-driven approach.

DSN: As the year draws to an end, if you could make one wish for 2023, what would it be?

AJ: I wish for access to health care for all. Every year, millions of U.S. adults skip a medical visit, test, treatment, follow-up or prescription fill because of cost. At WBA, we’re committed to championing all patients’ health and becoming the leading partner in reimagining local health care and well-being by making health care more accessible and affordable.

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