Survey Says There is a Disconnect Between Good Intent and Action in D&I Initiatives

D&I Survey

Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) have been at the forefront of the national conversation during this momentous year, so BioSpace felt it imperative to reach out to employees in the life sciences industry on this subject in our wide-ranging Fall 2020 Diversity and Inclusion Survey.   

The survey looked at D&I generally and broke it down by gender, race and ethnicity, political affiliation and organization size. The results of the survey showed that while the industry is making important strides toward creating more diverse and inclusive work environments, there is a disconnect that needs to be addressed. 

While correspondents agreed – to the tune of 72% - that their organizations appeared to be committed to promoting D&I, the fracture appears to occur between good intentions and what employees are actually experiencing. 

Diversity and Inclusion Image

There are multiple reasons why this might be. Either discrimination is simply not occurring, it is and nothing is being done or companies are handling complaints quietly. The third possibility could be difficult to resolve because discretion is of paramount importance when managing complaints of a sensitive nature.

Christine Lindenboom, Senior Vice President of Investor Relations and Corporate Communications at Alnylam Pharmaceuticals, said that it’s important not only to react to major events, but also to follow up with action.

“When the unfortunate murder of George Floyd happened, we very quickly put out a public statement, quickly admonished any sort of racism or police brutality of any sense,” Lindenboom said. “Since then we’ve actually done a lot of action and activity internally focused on race in the workplace. We’ve done training sessions. We’re forming an employee resource network for people of color. I think the important thing is not only to take a stance, but to actually follow that up with concrete action as well that engages our employees in the solution for the problem, not just the statement.”

It is also possible that larger organizations are being crippled by size as it can be more difficult to allow all voices to be heard. Only a quarter of workers at these organizations strongly agreed that their opinion is valued when they speak up, while 40% of those employed at smaller companies agreed with this statement. 

BioSpace dug deeper to look at what may be a more subtle disconnect between the official line and policies on D&I and an employee’s feeling of value. 

A conclusion evident throughout the survey is that the concept of discrimination is much more complex than derogatory comments or overt sexual harassment. While these issues are hurtful at the time, more systemic issues like compensation disparities and ethnic inequality in the C-suite, along with more subtle ones such as the sense that one is not truly understood, can really cut to the core, negatively impacting confidence and performance. 

A Not So Subtle Gender Income Gap:

Male and female employees have vastly divergent views on the state of D&I within their companies in terms of an upwardly mobile career path and performance evaluation. Only 17% of female respondents felt that their position was compensated fairly, as opposed to just over one-quarter of men. 

This is not an illusion. The salary gap between men and women in the life sciences industry is significant.  According to the BioSpace 2020 U.S. Life Sciences Salary Report, men receive salaries that are 19.3% higher, on average, than their female counterparts. Where the numbers really become staggering are in the healthcare and academia sectors, where men reported salaries 47.6% and 39.9% higher, respectively. 

Perception Based on Lived Experience?

It is evident that lived experience may be playing a role in employees’ perception of diversity and inclusion. Just over half of African American/Black workers either strongly agreed or agreed with the statement “at my company, I know of employees who have experienced discrimination.” This is in comparison to 33% of Asian workers and 32% of white/non-Hispanic workers. 

In the opinion of African American/Black workers, there was a disconnect between reporting incidents and appropriate action being taken to resolve them.

The responses of this group also indicated that they felt a lack of inclusion at a general, or intrinsic, level.

Less than half of all survey respondents felt that there is a strong career development path for all employees at their company. Carolina Alarco, co-founder of Latinos in Bio and founder and principal of Bio Strategy Advisors shared her views on this.  

“As co-founder of Latinos in Bio, I get to speak to a number of Latinos and Latinas in biotech and the life sciences and it is clear that what they would like most is to have access to career opportunities at all levels, but based on merit and not on connections,” Alarco said. “Most Latinos/as do not have strong networks in the industry. A large number of Latinos are immigrants or first/second-generation Americans. More so, some are first-generation college graduates. So, we don't have relatives or friends in STEM or in the life-sciences companies in the U.S.”

Democrats and Independents Feel Marginalized

Responses by political affiliation appear to reflect higher discrimination felt by the average ethnic makeup of the Democratic and Republican parties.  Given the vastly greater ethnic diversity of the Democratic party, it is not surprising that nearly half (47%) of survey respondents identified as being affiliated with this party. 

It is also not surprising that when considering new employment opportunities, D&I issues are a key factor for 80% of life sciences employees identifying as Democrats, while only 39% of Republicans reported taking this into consideration. The responses of those identifying as Independent (31%) largely mirrored that of Democrats. 

With such a large percentage of respondents, including women, minorities and Democrats reporting feeling marginalized, their viewpoints on these issues are something that organizations from the C-suite on down would do well to promptly address. 

The good news is that the life sciences industry is already on the right track. A few tweaks to disclosure and awareness will result in greater awareness of D&I initiatives, by both employees and the industry.  These include detailing D&I practices and programs in company profiles featured on industry websites and quickly working to rectify any negative online reviews reporting discrimination.

“Strong, visible leadership from executives on corporate D&I initiatives is key to success. So is sharing these initiatives externally - it signals a real commitment,” said Ramsey Johnson, VP of Operations for Phoenix Tissue Repair and President & Founder of OUTbio. “Minority representation among leadership is a separate though overlapping topic. Visible role models are an incredibly powerful way to empower a community, as examples of success and sources of potential mentorship."

Alarco added that D&I initiatives should not appear to be forced.

“I believe that D&I needs to be done the right way and needs to happen as naturally as possible,” Alarco said. “For example, it is better to ensure a system of meritocracy for promotions and advancement vs. internal networks. This ideally needs to be driven from the top of the organization.”

To resolve the perceived inequalities where some employees feel their opinions are not respected or are uncomfortable discussing their beliefs and values, mentorship programs involving individuals of different ethnicities or genders can go a long way toward bridging this gap and finding common ground. 

It really all comes down to a feeling of being valued for one’s work and for who they are. As Johnson shared:

“Listen to what minority groups are looking for from the company - it's often as simple as acknowledgment and a listening ear."

About the Survey

Research for the 2020 Fall Diversity and Inclusion Survey was conducted via an online survey tool in late summer 2020. Respondents were asked a variety of demographic questions as well as the extent to which they agree/disagree with statements towards diversity and inclusion within the culture at their current life sciences company. The survey was distributed via a range of channels - email, on-site advertising and social media channels.

To see all the insights and statistics from the 2020 Fall Diversity and Inclusion Survey, you can download the report here.

About BioSpace

Since 1985, BioSpace has provided essential insights, opportunities and tools to connect innovative life sciences organizations and talented professionals who advance health and quality of life across the globe. BioSpace continues to be the leading source for careers and news for life sciences professionals in the United States.

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