What Women in Life Sciences are Looking For

Published: Jul 13, 2017

What Women in Life Sciences are Looking For July 11, 2017
By Jennifer Fink, BioSpace.com

A look at what female life sciences professionals value in employers

What’s the biggest challenge facing women in the life sciences? According to a recent survey of over 2,400 life sciences professionals, it’s work/life balance.

Both women and men say the opportunity to do meaningful work at a well-respected company for a fair wage is vital in their careers. In fact, according to BioSpace’s 2017 Life Sciences Ideal Employer Survey, both genders rank the same three employer attributes as most important: interesting and meaningful work, competitive salary and good reputation.

Both genders also value flexible working opportunities and manageable hours. But for women, the largest gap between what they value and look for in an employer and what they perceive as strengths of their ideal life sciences employers is in manageable working hours. Seventy-nine percent of female respondents list manageable working hours as important, but fewer than half (43%) consider that attribute a strength of their ideal employers.

Work / Life Balance

Women in the life sciences are acutely aware of the challenges of juggling family responsibilities and employment in a demanding industry.

“Women are still highly burdened by the ‘second shift’ of home life,” says Lisa Espinosa, a 28-year-old research associate in Southern California. “This is something that persists in our society, and I don’t think it’s the sole responsibility of employers to fix this. However, giving women the flexibility to manage their personal lives is extremely valuable.”

It’s a struggle that Espinosa has experienced first-hand. Though she doesn’t have children, she says employers often assume she will—and frequently assume that she’ll be a less-dedicated employee if she does. “At worst, people assume I will leave my career,” she says. Life sciences companies that strive to accommodate employees’ multiple roles and responsibilities are likely to attract and retain talent.

“I value a company that understands I have a life outside the job,” says Sarah Rattigan, a research scientist at Knopp Biosciences and the mother of a 15-month-old. “I’ve really appreciated working for a company that values me as an employee and provided time and space for pumping to help in my breastfeeding journey, and allowed me to reduce my hours right after my daughter’s birth.”

Susan Vong, a life sciences veteran with a decade of experience working for companies such as Genentech , Amgen and Sunovion, sees a direct link between companies’ purpose, culture and family-friendly policies. “In life sciences, it’s very important to have ultimate respect and compassion for human life,” says Vong. “The sincerity of this mission is reflected in the company’s actions to meet their employees’ work/life balance.”

More Women in Leadership

In the life sciences (and other industries), the leadership ranks are still predominantly male. That’s something women would like to see change.

“Without females in leadership roles —CEO, COO, directors, managers—it’s hard to imagine, much less aspire, to higher goals,” says Amy Duguay, a senior scientist in biologics development and manufacturing at a Palo Alto startup. “It’s a shame, because adding women (or diversity in general) often times leads to great success.” Duguay, in fact, left a large life sciences company for the startup in large part because she was frustrated by what she saw as a lack of opportunity. In her current position, she says, “I have more of a voice, there’s more diversity and everyone is working on the same level as a team.”

Casandra Murphy, an associate director of sourcing and procurement with more than two decades of experience, believes companies could attract more female employees if they are “willing to put more women in C-suite positions and on boards.” Genentech (#1 on BioSpace’s 2017 Life Sciences Ideal Employer list) is a “great place for women to work,” she says, because they “promote women and have many women in leadership positions.”

Jyotika Varshney, a postdoctoral scholar at UCSF and former Genentech employee, agrees. “Genentech is a great place to work as a woman! My work at Genentech was highly collaborative and every group was very inclusive and attentive to my opinions and ideas.”

Working to eliminate gender bias and improve work/life balance —for all employees—is a smart business move for life sciences companies. “Companies should create environments where the playing field is level for anyone, and ensure that growth and success truly come from people’s contributions to the organization,” says one anonymous female finance manager at a large pharmaceutical company. “A strong management training program for equality in the workplace can go a long way and do a lot of good.”

Follow Ideal Employer news on BioSpace over the coming months as we dive deeper into this multi-faceted research and provide insights valuable to both professionals and hiring managers.

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