Diversity in the Life Sciences Industry: More Progress Needed

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The life sciences industry is at the forefront of developing the newest drugs and the most advanced technology to treat millions of patients around the world. But to continue to grow, these companies must also be innovative in how they do business, not just in their products. This includes creating new partnerships, alliances and operating models that allow them to access external expertise and technology.

It also means recognizing the importance of investing in diversity and inclusion as part of an overall growth strategy. Creating next-generation therapies is not just about providing state-of-the-art research and lab facilities; even more significant is bringing together a team of talented people from different genders, ages, backgrounds and nationalities, whose unique skill sets and experiences foster collaboration and creativity.

While our industry is making progress on diversity, there is still a long way to go.

At most pharmaceutical and biotech companies women are equally represented at the manager, director and VP levels. But in the C-suite there are approximately 20% women and even less on boards.

The importance of having diversity at the C-level in life science companies cannot be overstated. It adds a perspective that otherwise may not be present, which can improve health outcomes for all patient populations. How can we possibly truly understand the effects of diseases that afflict minority populations if there are no minority senior executives?

Fortunately, many industry leaders are getting on message about the value of diversity. They recognize that building a successful global business starts with attracting people who represent their customers and who find a collaborative, inclusive and fair workplace.

Companies with diverse cultures also have a competitive edge over their peers. According to a recent The Wall Street Journal report, the 20 most diverse companies have better-operating results on average than lower-scoring firms. In addition, these companies’ shares generally outperform those of the least diverse firms.

Another study from the Boston Consulting Group showed that increasing the diversity of leadership teams leads to more and better innovation and improved financial performance. In other words, diversity is not just a metric to strive for; it is a constant and concerted business imperative that has a direct effect on the bottom line.

So what can be done to ensure more diverse workplaces?

Nurturing the talent that drives innovation is necessary in any industry. In the life sciences, we continually develop our people pipeline by encouraging young women to pursue STEM education and STEM professions. Pharmaceutical companies such as Pfizer and Eli Lilly & Co. are closing leadership gaps for women and people of color by closely tracking career development and quickly responding to troubling trends. These efforts translate into a competitive advantage, which leads to winning products for customers and stronger company performance.

Sponsors play a major role in helping talented female and minority executives rise up the corporate ladder. Being matched to senior leaders who can champion an employee’s cause, advocate on his or her behalf with decision makers and provide practical coaching and guidance can make a huge difference in career advancement.

Industry-wide efforts to enhance diversity are critically important. Many companies have developed best practices for increasing gender diversity, including reviewing hiring practices and providing training. In addition, organizations such as Women in Bio help prepare qualified members for board service by providing certificate training and assistance in seeking public and private board opportunities.

There is certainly more work to be done to ensure the next generation of life sciences workforce is made up of diverse populations. But it’s clear that diversity is a win/win for our industry, our talent pipeline, and our people. And the continuing growing recognition of the need for diversity and inclusion is a win for the entire business community.

Faith Charles

Corporate Transactions, Securities Attorney, and Chair of the Life Sciences Group at Thompson Hine
Faith Charles is a corporate transactions and securities attorney and Chair of the Life Sciences Group at the law firm of Thompson Hine. She serves on the boards of Entera Bio, Amydis, Agilvax, Sandstone Diagnostics and Women in Bio. Faith is based in New York City.

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