BioSpace, BIO Reports Reflect Diversity Struggles in Biopharma

Representation of women in biotech is nearing parity, but this is not reaching the executive level, where there is still stark disparity.

This week, BIO (Biotechnology Innovation Organization) and Coqual, previously known as the Center for Talent Innovation, released their 3rd Annual Report measuring diversity in the biotech industry. The data reported was collected from 99 respondents, representing 99 different life sciences companies in the industry. The data demonstrated many similarities to BioSpace‘s own 2022 Diversity in Life Sciences: Current Perspectives report.

Among its key findings is that despite almost all organizations stating that attracting, recruiting and promoting diverse talent are priorities for their Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) programs, there remains a lack of representation amongst their workforces.

On a positive note, BIO and Coqual reported that gender representation nearly reached parity with companies reporting that 49% of their total employee base was female and 51% male. There still remained a stark gender disparity at higher levels in the organization, however, with women reportedly making up only 34% of executive teams and 20% of CEO roles. Additionally, many organizations neglect to collect data about non-binary individuals, completely leaving their representation in the companies behind.

The disparities only continued when looking at employees of color within the companies. The report shared that people of color made up only 38% of all employees, 24% of executive teams and 28% of CEOs. This was a meaningful improvement from the reported 2020 data according to BIO, with four in ten companies reporting that they have increased representation of people of color on their executive teams by more than 5%.

When taking a closer look at the racial data provided by BIO, the results come out quite white, with this group making up 56% of all employees at life sciences companies and 72% of all executive positions, while Hispanic/Latinx individuals make up 7% of all employees and Black people make up 6%. Indigenous individuals are extremely underrepresented, making up only 0.6% of all employees.

BioSpace reported similar discrepancies in race in our report, which included responses from 1,352 individuals. The report included data from both BioSpace’s life sciences community as well as data from Pew Research Centre. The data showed that 65% of the life sciences workforce is made up of white people, with Black individuals accounting for 6% of the workforce and Hispanic/Latinx individuals making up 8%. BioSpace also provided context which showed that the representation of these groups is not in proportion with their representation in the U.S. general population, with white and Asian people being overrepresented while Black/African American and Hispanic/Latinx people are underrepresented.

BioSpace also noted that white respondents were 5% more likely to agree with statements that related to their inclusion while people of color were 9% less likely to agree with the same statements. Overall, only 66% of respondents felt that they were included and respected for who they truly are. In comparison to 2020, there was an 8% decrease in the belief that executive leadership supported diversity and inclusion initiatives.

This is in slight contrast to BIO’s report, in which 88% of companies included in the sample said their employees consistently demonstrate a commitment to creating an inclusive environment. However, BIO did report that 70% of leaders in the life sciences industry demonstrate a commitment to creating an inclusive environment, a 14% drop from 2020.

Interestingly, although DEI seems to be of high importance to companies surveyed by BIO, only 23% of large companies and 2% of small companies say that diversity and inclusion metrics impact performance evaluations and/or compensation for leaders. To put it another way, leaders are not being held accountable DEI initiatives, leading one to question who is accountable for making sure that employees are treated, hired, compensated and listened to in a fair and just way – especially when the majority of life sciences executive boards are made up of white individuals.

Additionally, less than half of the companies BIO surveyed indicated that they conduct manager trainings on how to behave inclusively and less than half said they train employees on unconscious bias. Fewer companies stated that they provide leadership development programs for employees from underrepresented groups.

This could help to explain why BioSpace reports that 38% of those surveyed have experienced discrimination in the life sciences community. In fact, 45% of those surveyed also reported that they know someone who has experienced discrimination in the industry, with only 34% of people reporting that appropriate action is taken for such discrimination reports. If leadership is not evaluated for their ability to upstand DEI values, there is little incentive to resolve issues.

One needn’t look very far to understand why such discrepancies and underrepresentation of minorities remain pervasive in the life sciences industry. BIO’s report itself shows that 96% of life sciences companies are devoted to recruiting and hiring diverse talent, but very few companies report hosting career fairs, conferences or events to target women or people of color and very few have hiring targets for underrepresented minorities. 87% of companies instead reported that they rely on recruiting diverse talent from the referrals of current employees, who are more likely to recommend people who share their similar backgrounds.

However, it isn’t just hiring practices that are pushing diverse and talented individuals away from the life sciences industry. Recently, BioSpace interviewed Latinx individuals about their experiences in the life sciences industry. Those interviewed shared that they experienced a myriad of challenges when it came to being employed in the industry, including lack of educational opportunities, lack of awareness of available jobs and a lack of mentors. Unsurprisingly, one individual shared that Latinx individuals have supplied life sciences companies with actionable solutions to systemic issues, but that the industry didn’t seem ready to accept them.

A more sinister reason that diverse individuals may not be eager to join the life sciences workforce is the largely problematic past the industry suffers from. In April, the Pew Research Center shared that Black Americans feel that misconduct by medical research scientists is a moderate or a very big problem. People of color, in particular Black Americans, have been subject to abuse from pharmaceutical companies and other health institutions in the not-so-distant past, leading to mistrust of these agencies.

According to 85% of respondents to BioSpace’s diversity and inclusion survey, diversity is an important factor when considering a new position, which should not be taken lightly by employers. In short, it’s time for the life sciences industry to put its money where its mouth is. BIO recommends a DEI maturity curve, which suggests companies gather data to define the current state of DEI, educate on DEI principles, launch pilot programs and grow programs to broad use and embed DEI principles. Other recommended DEI initiatives include pay equity, considering intersectionality and forging a feedback culture.