The Importance of Treating People Right: ZS’ Human-Centered Approach to Healthtech Consulting

The core values of management consulting and technology firm ZS have powered global growth, systemic change and recognition from world leadership. Built In sat down with some of its team to learn more.

Written by Jenny Lyons-Cunha
Published on Sep. 29, 2023
The Importance of Treating People Right: ZS’ Human-Centered Approach to Healthtech Consulting
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Pune, Japan, Copenhagen, Chicago: ZS’ global presence is sweeping, with more than 13,000 hybrid employees bustling in and out of more than 35 offices worldwide.

No matter where the management consulting and technology firm sets down roots, its innovative spirit and inclusive practices echo across the globe.

“The focus on core values at ZS immediately moved me,” said Praharsha Nuti, a decision analytics associate who joined the company in Pune as an intern. “The importance of treating people right really moved me.” 

It’s a sentiment that reverberates throughout the global team. 

“At ZS, we truly live by our values,” said Anuja Chandan, a decision analytics manager in Pune and member of the Women@ZS community. “And how can the value of ‘treat people right’ be complete without diversity, equity and inclusion?”  

Approximately 3,912 miles away in Osaka, Hisaaki Suzuka, a decision analytics associate consultant, echoed the sentiment on inclusivity.

“We have a culture in which everyone helps each other,” he said. 

Nearly 4,060 miles west of Suzuka’s office in Osaka, senior scientific software developer Freja Fjellerup also described feeling supported as a member of the worldwide team in Copenhagen.

“ZS is a great place to work because we trust our people and give them responsibility,” she said.  

Whether stateside — where ZS is considered one of the best places to work — or abroad, the tech company has established itself as a destination for impact that transcends state boundaries. 
 

What ZS Does

ZS is a management consulting and technology firm focused on transforming global healthcare — and beyond. It strives to leverage leading-edge analytics, data, science and products to help clients make more intelligent decisions, deliver innovative solutions and improve outcomes for all. 

 

 

ZS team members working in open space, one woman standing and talking to a colleague
ZS

 

Academic Roots Give Rise to Global Influence

Before it was a global changemaker, ZS was the dream of two Kellogg School of Management marketing professors, Andris A. Zoltners and Prabhakant Sinha. Since then, the spirit of curiosity imbued in the company’s academic roots has powered over 40 years of innovation. 

The company’s pioneering soul lives on in its perpetual expansion into new frontiers, including life sciences and healthcare at large, for which the company was recently lauded at the second Summit for Democracy. The White House and the United Kingdom jointly dubbed ZS as a winner in a U.S. and UK prize challenge exploring innovations in privacy-enhancing technologies.

The prestigious competition animated the team, said Qin Ye, a principal who works in Washington D.C. 

“We got to collaborate and compete with world-class teams from MIT, Harvard, Carnegie Mellon and more,” he said. “Though it was virtual, we could see the talent, skill and critical thinking from all the participants.”

The win was no small feat: The ZS team built an AI tool that predicts an individual’s risk of Covid-19 infection while shielding their personal data.

 

ZS team members at the second Summit for Democracy in Washington, DC.
ZS

 

“Pandemic forecasting is one of hundreds or thousands of problems the underlying model construct can solve,” Qin said. “The overall architecture behind it can scale to solve problems like federated evidence generation, trial matching or addressing care gaps and health equity.”

As a fitting reward, the ZS team was honored at a jointly hosted roundtable and ceremony at the Royal Society House in London, affirming the firm’s position of global impact. 

 

Healing the Head and Heart of Clinical Diversity

In the realm of clinical trials, there is a gaping void in diversity. According to data sourced by ZS, only 5 percent of clinical trial participants are Black, and still fewer — roughly 1 percent — are Latino. 

With each group accounting for 13 and 18 percent of the U.S. population, respectively, clinical trials and the healthcare they inform are designed to serve a limited population. 

Enter ZS. 

“I’ve always believed in ZS’ unique ability to combine the head (data, analytics and technology) and the heart (patient insights, behavioral science and user experience) to solve tough client problems,” said Sharon Karlsberg, a principal who works in ZS’ San Francisco office.

“Today, we can help companies create more human-centered and inclusive clinical trials that are better for patients, less expensive for sponsors and ultimately help advance life-saving medicines,” she added.

We help create more human-centered clinical trials that are better for patients, ultimately advancing life-saving medicines.” 

 

But the problem extends beyond Black and Latinx communities. Asian Americans, twice as likely as their white counterparts to develop stomach cancer, are inadequately represented in relevant clinical research, ZS found. In response to this disparity and evolving regulations, ZS’ DEI accelerator seeks to align clinical trials with the demographics of those most affected by specific diseases.

Karlsberg’s team employs data analytics, research and collaborations with advocacy groups to shape clinical trial designs, ensuring they resonate with diverse patient populations. Recent trends, like decentralized clinical trials, have emerged, reducing patient travel constraints and facilitating greater diversity in participation. Karlsberg’s endeavors seek systemic changes and imagine a future wherein clinical trial equity becomes standard.

ZS’ work in diversity is an extension of its core values, noted Karlsberg.

“The DEI accelerator in our clinical practice area isn’t about creating something separate or siloed,” she said. “It is about working to embed DEI objectives into everything we do.”    

 

Neurodivergent and Thriving 

When it comes to thriving as a neurodivergent professional, one item floats to the top of Fjellerup’s list: connection. 

“It’s really important for me to connect with other neurodivergent people,” she said. “When I found out about Accessibility@ZS, I quickly got involved.”

As a result, Fjellerup had a hand in crafting an internal article for neurodiversity visibility alongside her equally passionate colleagues. Next, she dove into the offerings that ZS already had in place for its team. Dynamic, fidget-friendly chairs and noise-canceling headphones offered a promising start, but Fjellerup continued her journey, organizing a Copenhagen panel of neurodivergent ZSers to identify and resolve gaps in the company’s offerings. 

“I know a lot of people who have a lot to offer but have struggled early in their lives or gotten lost in the healthcare system,” Fjellerup said of her ambitions to elevate her colleagues. “It’s important that we help everyone to be their best and support those who think differently.”

In her work to advance the efforts of Accessibility@ZS, Fjellerup has been met with incredible trust and a sense of agency.  

“If you have an idea, everybody will encourage you to pursue it,” she said.

 

 

Responses have been edited for length and clarity. Images provided by ZS.

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