| February 6, 2020

Diversity and Inclusion in the Biotech Industry Needs Improving, Report Shows

Anca Spanu

Anca's career in journalism spans over 2 decades. She has served as staff writer, editor and deputy chief editor at... Anca's career in journalism spans over 2 decades. She has served as staff writer, editor and deputy chief editor at various media outlets all over the world. At Healthcare Weekly, Anca writes about current events, innovations in the healthcare space and events/ conferences with a focus on investing & startups.

On January 30th the Biotechnology Innovation Organization (BIO) released a comprehensive report on diversity and inclusion in the biotech industry. The conclusion of an extensive survey of biotech companies, the report  “Measuring Diversity in the Biotech Industry: Building an Inclusive Workforce” analyzes where companies stand on gender and race/ethnicity representation and assesses measures taken to improve diversity and inclusion.

Data from a survey of nearly 100 BIO member companies

BIO is the world’s largest trade association, representing biotechnology companies, academic institutions, state biotechnology centers, and related organizations in the United States and in over 30 other nations. BIO member companies are not only involved in innovative research and development in healthcare but they are also focused on agricultural, industrial and environmental biotechnology products.

One of the most important BIO events is the BIO International Convention, the world’s largest gathering of the biotechnology industry. Some of the best startups in the industry are among the 4.800 companies expected to take part in this year’s convention.

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The report BIO made public compiles and analyzes data from a survey of nearly 100 BIO member companies, conducted online from May to June 2019. The results demonstrate that although gender parity is being approached by the responding companies, with 45% female employees overall, far fewer females are leading said companies – 30% of the executives and 18% of the board members are women. People of color are even less represented, 32% overall, with only 15% of executives and 14% of board members belonging to this category.

“BIO will continue to publish an annual survey to track industry progress as it works to expand representation at all levels,” said Joanne Duncan, BIO’s President of Membership and Business Operations Division. “BIO has developed resources available at RightMixMatters.org such as BIO’s Diversity and Inclusion toolkit and the BIO Boardlist, that aim to help biotech companies achieve their diversity and inclusion goals. These resources can be particularly helpful for smaller companies that don’t have the staffing or resources to dedicate to diversity and inclusion efforts.”

Diversity and inclusion, still in the early stages

Smaller, private companies have increased representation, according to the report’s findings.  Pre-revenue organizations are more likely than profitable organizations to have a female CEO and 25% of their executive-level workforce are people of color. Small organizations are more likely to have a female CEO; privately held organizations are more likely to have a person of color in that position.

The best part of the report’s findings is that BIO member companies are favorable to being more diverse and inclusive. Responding companies reported that 80% of their employees and 73% of their leaders are committed to creating an inclusive environment. About half of the responding companies say that diversity and inclusion is one of their organization’s stated values or priorities, and almost one-third have a stated goal about creating an inclusive environment.

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The reported data shows that diversity and inclusion programming is still in the early stages at most responding companies – many of which are still assessing the benefits of such programs.

Efforts to ensure equal treatment within the industry

Building on three years of work by BIO’s Workforce Development, Diversity and Inclusion Committee (WDDI), this report is a baseline for the understanding representation of diversity and inclusion within BIO member companies. “While these numbers show progress in some areas, we know that as an industry, we can do better,” said Helen Torley, chair of BIO’s WDDI Committee and CEO of Halozyme Therapeutics. “What is hopeful about this report is that many BIO member companies express a strong desire to do better – and a commitment to take the needed actions to get there.”

Efforts to ensure equal treatment within the industry include provisions to make sure candidates for different positions are selected according to equal criteria. A data science health innovation fellowship program, the first of its kind in San Francisco, has carefully formulated the conditions potential fellows need to meet so that no discrimination should be possible when selecting people. Inclusion is not the only issue women face. Sexual discrimination and harassment are also frequent accompanying considerations.. Despite the fact that this type of behavior is usually tied to lower education and unsafe work environments, qualifications or degrees do not keep women safe. A female doctor has spoken out about her experiences with sexual discrimination at work, and the struggle colleagues across the United States face.

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Among the recommendations of the report, specialists mention the assessment of the current situation relating to diversity and inclusion within each company. The companies can subsequently expand the collection and tracking of data on representation and implement various diversity and inclusion programs as leadership development and inclusive behavior training, investment in pay equity, networking opportunities, reviewing hiring/career progress practices and more. The report recommends that companies pay particular attention to representation at the board level.

The full report can be consulted here.


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