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Diversity initiatives pick up across biotech industry, but women, people of color still lack representation

June 19, 2021
Life sciences

The good news is that the biotech industry is trying to improve diversity and inclusion. The bad news is that the measures do not yet seem to have moved the needle on getting women into the C-suite and people of color into any level at companies.

Seven in 10 biotechs now list diversity and inclusion in their value statements or as a priority, according to a new report from the Biotechnology Innovation Organization (BIO). This is up from 46% in 2019. The survey included 100 respondents, representing a separate BIO member company, answering based on data they officially collect only. The sample between 2020 and 2019 was similar.

Women make up 47% of total employees at biotechs headquartered across the U.S., Canada, Europe, Asia and Australia. And yet they make up just 31% of executive teams and 23% of CEOs at the companies surveyed. The glass ceiling women hit from entry-level to the C-suite is not unique to biotech, the report noted.

The representation of women at the organizational level did improve slightly over 2019, although the majority of companies questioned for the survey did not see much change. A small percentage even saw a decrease. At the executive level, progress was much more notable, with one in five companies reporting “significant progress.”

Employees of color fared worse in overall employment: they make up just 32% of the workforce and 21% of executive teams. People of color had a tiny advantage in C-suite representation compared to women, at 24% of CEOs. Diversity in the C-suite declined compared to 2019, the report said.

“This past year demonstrated how the biotechnology industry can step up to a challenge,” said BIO President and CEO Michelle McMurry-Heath, M.D., Ph.D. “The survey provides the information we, as an industry, need to develop programming that supports progress for diversity and inclusion.”

McMurry-Heath pledged to aid member companies as they develop best practices to support a more diverse workforce.

More companies said they had rolled out diversity programs, including accountability and reporting, mentoring, training and networking opportunities.

“Given how biotechnology itself can be used to solve for inequities in broader society, it is urgent that companies prioritize DEI internally,” said Coqual Executive Vice President Pooja Jain-Link. Coqual, a nonprofit think tank that addresses diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives in the workplace, conducted the survey for BIO in October to December last year.

Jain-Link said the survey provides a baseline for companies to work from and holds the industry accountable for change.

“To be the voice of science and for science, we need to understand where we currently are as an industry and how we can grow,” McMurry-Heath said.

The survey also noted that the onus is often on employees to run diversity and inclusion initiatives without any formal accountability. While senior leaders are speaking up more about these initiatives, they could be reporting additional diversity metrics publicly. In 2019, 28% of companies reported that their leaders spoke openly about diversity, and now, 58% say their leaders have engaged in the conversation. The number of leaders tasked with specific diversity and inclusion initiatives fell from 53% to 39% since the last survey.

One blind spot in the report is on LGBTQ+ identity in the workplace because companies do not typically report that data. BIO recently became the first biotech member of Out Leadership, a global LGBTQ+ business network that provides resources to companies to support the community.

by Annalee Armstrong

Source: fiercebiotech.com

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