BIO Promotes Diversity as a Key to Success in Biopharma

diverse hands in a circle each holding a lightbulb

A recent report published by McKinsey & Company titled “2018 Why Diversity Matters,” found that the companies that ranked in the top 25% for gender diversity and top 35% for racial diversity were more likely to have better financial returns than companies that were less diverse.

In response, the Biotechnology Innovation Organization (BIO) announced on April 16 that it was implementing a program to improve gender, racial, ethnic and LGBTQ diversity on the boards of directors, executive suites and functional leadership positions in the biopharma industry. Part of the program is the “Right Mix Matters” campaign, which includes the Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) Toolkit, BIO Boardlist and much more.

The D&I Toolkit offers “a set of practical tools for developing programs, procedures and best practices to build the right mix for your team.” This includes Dashboard Metrics companies can use, which includes things like “Percent of women/men with Individual Development Plans completed,” and “Number/percentage of all succession plans (including non-VP) that include a woman.”

Another is the “Diversity & Inclusion Dashboard,” which includes graphical presentations of looking at the data regarding D&I. There is also a presentation that makes the case for advancing women in leadership roles. Some of the arguments are simply demographic: 60% of undergraduate and master’s degrees are granted to women and women are 57% of the U.S. labor force. Since 2015, two-thirds of undergraduates are women and 13 of the 15 fastest-growing jobs in the U.S. are already dominated by women.

BIO’s program is significantly more extensive, with information on family care solutions, maternity and paternity leave, how to develop mentoring programs and case studies.

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The biopharma industry has been pretty good at cultural diversity over the years. Pfizer created a “Driven to Discovery” effort in 2016. In 2018, it launched a new advertisement that celebrated diversity in its employment. The video opened with a mother waking up to her mixed-race child jumping on the bed, to two men eating breakfast, and a woman in a hijab heading to work, in addition to other images of diversity.

The people in the ad were actual Pfizer employees. The company placed an internal casting call to find the 18 staffers featured in the ad.

It’s not always clear how the biopharma industry as a whole ranks on diversity. Anecdotally, you would expect in the scientific ranks, ethnic diversity is widespread. It’s also clear that the industry struggles with gender diversity. A 2017 Fortune 500 list of biopharmaceutical companies showed, of the top 10 biopharmaceutical companies, none were led by a woman. That’s changed since with Emma Walmsley taking over as chief executive officer of GlaxoSmithKline in April 2017, but it’s certainly not representative of the broader population demographics.

And in 2016, the industry got into some trouble when provocatively-dressed models were hired to attend pharmaceutical industry convention parties during the JP Morgan Healthcare Conference, particularly those hosted by LifeSci Partners. In 2016, the response was an open letter opposing it signed by more than 230 industry executives.

LifeSci took the criticism to heart, apparently, and worked with some of the women who initiated the letter and complaints to push for diversity in leadership positions within the industry.

In a February 2018 Life Science Leader article, Rob Wright, chief editor, wrote, “Leading biopharmaceutical companies are on par with other large publicly traded companies in a variety of other industries. While the biopharmaceutical industry is not in ‘horrible shape’ when it comes to ELT (executive leadership teams) gender diversity, there is certainly need for improvement. As this comparison illustrates, none of the 10 biggest biopharmaceutical companies are the worst, or the best, which isn’t very surprising as the pharmaceutical industry is traditionally considered fairly conservative. However, as an industry which consistently boasts of being one of the most innovative in the world, you’d think it would be striving to lead in other important areas as well.”

Human Rights Campaign (HRC) has a Corporate Equality Index (CEI), which is a national benchmarking tool on corporate policies and practices related to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer employees. In order to get on the list, you need to score 100%, which gives the distinction of “Best Places to Work for LGBTQ Equality.”

HRC President Chad Griffin notes on their website, “The top-scoring companies on this year’s CEI are not only establishing policies that affirm and include employees here in the United States, they are applying these policies to their global operations and impacting millions of people beyond our shores.”

The three pillars of the CEI index are: 1) Non-discrimination policies across business entities, 2) equitable benefits for LGBTQ workers and their families, and 3) supporting an inclusive culture and corporate social responsibility.

Although not comprehensive, here are just some of the biopharma companies that made the list for 2019: AbbVie, Amgen, Astellas, Baxter, Bayer, Becton, Dickinson and Co., Biogen, Celgene, Eli Lilly, Genentech, Gilead Sciences, Merck, Pfizer and many others.

In regards to BIO’s campaign, Helen Torley, chief executive officer of Halozyme and chair of BIO’s board-level Workforce Development, Diversity, and Inclusion Committee, stated, “Our industry is stronger than ever before and there is a collective sense of excitement about the future of biotechnology. Continued progress requires an unprecedented level of innovation and problem solving—and this is best achieved by tapping into multiple and diverse perspectives and experiences. The new tools address specific barriers biotech leaders tell us they face today in building diverse and inclusive teams and boards and will, I believe, lead to improved development and increased visibility of talented, diverse leaders.”

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