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What Does Diversity & Inclusion Mean & Why is it Important for Life Sciences Companies?

17 February 2021

By Jay Freeman

What Does Diversity & Inclusion Mean & Why is it Important for Life Sciences Companies?

Better performance, greater innovation, happier employees, and talented candidates — the business case for diversity and inclusion in the life sciences is stronger than ever. 

So, why is one of the most forward-thinking, cutting-edge industries in the world lagging?

In this month’s blog series, we’re tackling the topic that should be on everyone’s lips: diversity and inclusion. We’ll be asking the tough questions while providing actionable answers to help the life sciences industry push forward. 

This week - what do diversity and inclusion mean and why is it essential for life sciences companies?

What do diversity and inclusion mean for life sciences? 

First, let’s cover the basics. 

Diversity refers to the variety of different characteristics within your workforce. There are two main types of diversity to be aware of:

  1. Acquired diversity - experience-based traits, such as education, employment and economics. 

  2. Inherent diversity - demographic-based traits, such as age, gender, race and sexual orientation. 

But diversity in the life sciences is much more than hiring a group of people with different acquired and inherent traits. Diversity in life sciences requires inclusion. 

Inclusion is creating a culture where employees can be themselves, be heard and be developed. It’s about allowing everyone an equal opportunity to contribute, perform, and exceed - regardless of their acquired and inherent traits.  

Diversity and inclusion go hand-in-hand to recognise everyone as unique individuals who bring something meaningful and different to the business. 

The current state of diversity and inclusion in life sciences

The life sciences have certainly advanced in the realms of diversity and inclusion. A recent report from the Biotechnology Innovation Organization found the industry is rapidly closing the gap on gender equality, with females now employed in 45% of roles. 

However, there’s still work to do. 

The same report found significant gaps elsewhere, including:

  • 30% female board members.

  • 32% people of colour (overall).

  • 14% people of colour board members.

Interestingly, the problem is more pertinent across larger organisations, with pre-revenue, smaller, and private life sciences companies employing more representative workforces. 

While these figures are alarming, what’s more worrying is the life sciences’ attitude to diversity and inclusion. Only 73% of the leaders surveyed showed a commitment to creating an inclusive culture, and only half of the organisations have D&I as an organisational value priority. 

“Overall, the findings show that diversity and inclusion programming is still in the nascent stages at most responding companies–with many companies still assessing the benefits of diversity and inclusion programs.”

The benefits of diversity and inclusion in the life sciences 

With this in mind, what are the benefits of diversity and inclusion in life sciences?

Talent pools and attraction

The life sciences job market is buoyant. Employers are investing in their workforces significantly, to win the race to find new drugs, develop new technology, and revolutionise alternative treatments. It’s a candidate’s market, which makes attracting talent challenging. 

Diversity and inclusion can help. 

Two-thirds of active and passive job seekers say a diverse workforce is essential when evaluating companies and job offers. Candidates want to work for inclusive companies for all the benefits we’re about to go into - and this can help you attract the best talent out there. 

Speaking of talent - there’s a shortfall in the industry. The demand for candidates is outstripping supply, with talent scarcity now one of the biggest worries for 85% of leaders. Diversity and inclusion immediately widen your talent pool to include outstanding candidates from various backgrounds and experiences. This makes it easier and quicker to find exceptional candidates, reducing your recruitment costs at the same time. 

Employee performance and retention

Employee retention is another big problem within the life sciences sector. The growing number of vacancies is leading 30% of workers to consider changing roles in the next 12 months. 

But it’s not just attractive jobs and lucrative benefits that are capturing the attention of your workforce. Over half of employees believe their company should do more to increase diversity among the workforce, which means over half of employees aren’t happy with their existing business culture. 

Inclusive cultures make employees feel valued, respected and rewarded. Studies show this fosters employee engagement, which leads to better performance, loyalty and retention.

Company innovation and success

According to Scott Page, professor of complex systems, political sciences and economics at the University of Michigan, “diversity drives innovation.” Innovation lives inside people’s heads - the more diverse the heads, the better. 

An inclusive culture combines people from different backgrounds, age groups, locations, and employment to bring different perspectives, information, challenges and discussions. It keeps people on their toes and disrupts the status quo to generate new ways of thinking, innovating and succeeding. 

Studies show diverse groups outperform non-diverse groups in decision making, performance and innovation. In the Life Sciences, this is huge and it begs the question - why aren’t we doing more?


There is no doubt that diversity and inclusion aren’t just morally right - they’re good business sense. And there’s a lot more to be done in the life sciences sector. 

What does doing more look like? Stay tuned for next week’s blog on how to create a meaningful D&I strategy. 

If you’d like help to implement an inclusive resourcing strategy to foster diversity in your business, get in touch with the Panda team for expert help. 

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