Banner Default Image

Blog

The 2021 Life Sciences Diversity Outlook

21 December 2021

By Jay Freeman

The 2021 Life Sciences Diversity Outlook

In the Life Sciences 2030 Skills Strategy report, a key recommendation for achieving future growth was to attract and retain a diverse workforce.

Diversity and inclusion efforts have been increasing across industries, and the life sciences is no stranger to a demand for greater diversity.

As an industry relying on innovation and creativity, having a homogenous workforce is unlikely to thrive to its full potential without diversity and the enhanced collaboration it can bring.

Why is diversity and inclusion so essential for the life sciences industry, and what is the current outlook?

Why does diversity and inclusion matter?

Put simply, diversity is a competitive differentiator, shifting market share toward more diverse companies over time.

The companies in the top quartile for gender or racial and ethnic diversity are more likely to have financial returns above their national industry medians. 

Companies that are more diverse are better able to win top talent, retain staff, have high employee satisfaction, and have a competitive advantage.

The life sciences industry has a high demand for top talent, which requires a larger talent pool that diversity and inclusion can provide.

Gender diversity

Women make up a greater percentage of the global life sciences workforce than other STEM industries at 49%.

The proportion of women working within the industry has increased from 40% to 44% over the past 5 years in the UK, yet in the industry, women account for only 24% of C-suite positions and 14% of board-level positions.

Though more women are entering the industry, and there are more young people studying STEM courses at university – presumed to be a heightened interest in science roles as a result of the pandemic – the data is still showing disparities.

52% of entry-level positions at pharmaceutical and medical products companies are filled by women, in comparison to the small percentage of women in high-level roles.

Women also make up 70% of the administrative and secretarial occupations in life sciences, but only 21% of skilled trades occupations.

The key takeaway is that, though the number of women entering the industry may be increasing, women are leaving the industry at every step of the career ladder in greater proportions than men.

Without efforts towards diversity and inclusion from life sciences companies, the increase of women in the industry will amount to very little in the grander scheme of diversity.

Racial and ethnic diversity

Less than 1% of life sciences employees are ‘Black/African/Caribbean/Black British’ compared with around 3% in the wider economy.

In the average composition of employees, representation of minority ethnic groups is 32%, dropping to 15% and 14% for executive and board levels respectively.

Though the representation of minority ethnic groups has increased over the last few years, it is clear that much like with gender representation, a wider effort needs to be made to address diversity on a larger scale.

Research also points towards the disparity in diversity depending upon the type of organisation – privately held organisations are more likely to have a person of colour as CEO.

Additionally, pre-revenue organisations are more likely than profitable organisations to have people of colour make up one-quarter of their executive level workforce.

Shifting priorities

Research into diversity within biotech organisations found that responding companies reported that 80% of their employees and 73% of their leaders demonstrate a commitment to creating an inclusive environment. 

Globally, 87% of organisations are committed to implementing a diverse workforce, and it’s risen on the agenda for candidates too, with 67% of job searchers considering diversity to be an important factor to consider with new employment opportunities. 

It should be noted that the results from the above survey were published in 2019, and diversity has considerably risen on the agenda for organisations since.

Diversity and inclusion are no longer considered to be a box that needs ticking so much as it is an asset for any life sciences organisation.

After all, diversity brings a fresh perspective to the collaboration that is integral to the industry, whilst also increasing an organisation’s capacity to attract and retain employees.

What does 2022 hold?

After the turbulent year that was 2020 and the continued changes throughout 2021, it is expected that change will be on the horizon.

The high demand for diversity and inclusion coincides with the Great Resignation, meaning that many life sciences companies will be looking to fill the skills gaps that the industry has been struggling with.

This, alongside the drastic shifts in our ways of working, means that the hiring process as we know it is already undergoing change.

Work/life balance and diversity are both higher on the agenda than ever before, which means that there may be some significant progress in 2022 towards diversity and inclusion efforts.

Looking to make diversity a priority for 2022?

Most life sciences organisations will have already undertaken some form of diversity and inclusion strategy, which means that the next step is to conduct a diversity and inclusion audit.

You can read more about the process of a D&I audit in our blog post here, but the aim is to uncover data around the diversity across the organisation, barriers that may be arising that prevent D&I efforts, and the attitudes towards diversity in the organisation.

Primarily, given the Great Resignation, a key area to focus on will be recruitment.

Life sciences organisations will have to consider their approach to job advertisements and interviews for potential bias if they wish to increase diversity.

One of the many ways to effectively accomplish this is to work with a diversity-led life sciences recruiter, which can streamline the recruitment process and give organisations time to focus on their workplace culture from a diversity perspective.

In conclusion

By all accounts, diversity is still in the early stages as a priority in life sciences.

The disruption brought by the pandemic, however, has put diversity under the spotlight in life sciences organisations and highlighted the necessity to take action sooner rather than later.

Whilst positive changes are being made, it is far likelier that 2022 will be the year where more widespread, significant action is taken to ensure that the industry is an equal opportunity environment for all.

If you’d like support in creating an inclusive recruitment process, get in touch with the Panda team today.

Share this article