Insights Mallory Zaslav Valuing the differences in backgrounds and experiences


Four years ago, Mallory Zaslav created what’s now known as Salk’s Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (DEI) office under the guidance of President Rusty Gage. She conceived it with a clear mission: engage members and supporters of the Institute in initiatives that honor and further the diversity of the Institute’s campus community, reinforce its values, and foster a sense of belonging.


As vice president of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion, Zaslav’s forward thinking and advocacy on this issue have given shape to a range of impact-driven programming and outreach, furthering Salk’s mission of bettering humanity by pushing the boundaries of innovation and discovery.

The DEI team aims to ensure there are structures in place to both attract diverse talent and support them once they have joined.

“Everyone should have agency in their own career path and feel their contributions matter,” Zaslav says.

Establishing a foundation and setting priorities

During the unit’s earliest stages, Zaslav understood the importance of joining forces with like-minded organizations. One of her first priorities was for Salk to become a member of an action collaborative formed by the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine. The collaborative is proactively developing promising practices to prevent sexual harassment in higher education—a critical part of which is recognizing the needs of diverse campus populations. Today, Salk is one of approximately 60 organizations participating in this collective and one of only a few independent research institutions.

Another initial area of focus was conducting Salk’s first campus climate survey. Zaslav championed the effort and ensured a confidential and transparent process to encourage high rates of participation. With survey results in hand, Salk is now embarking on the follow-up process of engaging its community in focus groups to socialize recommended core values and advance other initiatives.

Additionally, Zaslav has spearheaded mentoring programs and supported the formation of affinity groups. Grassroots in nature, the affinity groups aim to bring awareness to individuals with a range of personal identities, while aligning this awareness-raising with Salk’s training and research mission. The mentoring programs are designed to facilitate relationships that open doors through support, advocacy, and sponsorship.

Zaslav maintains that multifaceted DEI programming provides and widens opportunities for outreach and for individuals to come together and share their personal journeys. While this can take the form of offline conversations, it can be further encouraged by programs and offerings, from research fellowships to speakers’ series and more.

Making the journey to Salk

Early in her career, Zaslav found available job opportunities less than gratifying. She decided to complement her liberal arts education with an MBA in human resources while working full-time recruiting physicians for hospital emergency departments.

“Balancing school and work allowed me to apply what I was learning to understand how companies operate, how people work together, and how that intersection can yield mutual benefit,” she said.

Zaslav went on to earn a law degree from the University of San Diego. She spent several years in business roles within law firms before seizing the opportunity to join Salk’s HR department in 2009.

“Working with people from around the globe, with a broad array of personal identities and myriad life experiences, is enriching, and certainly the case at Salk,” Zaslav says. “The experiences and roles I had during the early stages of my career infused in me the value of having exposure to different points of view, different ways of thinking, different backgrounds, and different approaches to tackling challenges. In many respects, my role at Salk is a culmination of all those experiences and I’m grateful for the opportunity to have a very tangible impact on the Salk community and the Institute as a whole.”

Experiencing the richness of life, outside work

Beyond the walls of Salk, Zaslav’s personal interests are equally diverse, as she enjoys live theater, reading, hiking, and traveling, and aims to combine all of them whenever possible. She has two active dogs that serve as excellent companions to her and her husband. Although she enjoys traveling, Zaslav’s trips have been limited since the emergence of COVID-19.

“We went to Asia in December 2019, and I vividly remember reading an article right after we arrived about this perplexing virus and thinking, ‘This definitely does not sound good…’” Zaslav says.

Looking to the future

Salk is well-positioned to enter the next phase of its DEI and cultural journey, Zaslav says. The department has added more staff and is excited to support all members of Salk who are embarking on DEI initiatives. The Institute has also been actively developing policies that foster a respectful work environment and recognize the value of remote work.

Zaslav believes the work championed by her and others in her field will, over time, become more widely understood as a critical stand-alone discipline.

“Committed people have been doing this work for decades while wearing many different hats. In recent years, more resources have been allocated to it, which indicates a greater understanding of the criticality of dedicated DEI functions,” Zaslav says. “This is part of the employee value proposition. It is critical that leadership teams listen, learn, and actively participate, acknowledging that people are organizations’ most valuable assets.

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