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The Role of Diversity in Teams: Why Diverse Specialists Matter for Biomedical Project Success

The Role of Diversity in Teams: Why Diverse Specialists Matter for Biomedical Project Success

Unlock the power of team diversity in biomedical projects. Explore the benefits of diverse teams, enhanced problem-solving, and fostering innovation. Learn strategies to promote diversity in biomedical recruitment for a brighter industry future.


The value of diversity in teams is proven and its benefits are numerous. For companies, it increases innovation, develops skill sharing, raises productivity and improves the bottom line. For the biomedical sector having a diverse team can broaden the discussion and lead to wider developments that benefit more of humanity. Here we look at why diverse specialists matter for biomedical project success and ask why is diversity important?

Embracing diversity for biomedical breakthroughs

Diversity in all its forms, whether that’s age, ethnicity, religious beliefs, gender, disability or sexual orientation, has long been proven to enable commercial organisations to outperform their rivals. The latest McKinsey report suggests that its importance is being recognised in industry due to societal factors, customer demand, increased attractiveness to investors and the competition for talent. In the biomedical field, its importance is heightened due to the wide-ranging nature of the subject and its far-reaching applications. 

In this blog we’ll look at how diversity is defined in the context of biomedical projects, what impact it has on them and the challenges managers of diverse biomedical teams face. We’ll also look at some successful real-life examples of diversity and consider what the future might hold. 

Understanding diversity in biomedical teams

Diversity in biomedicine is important for two reasons:

  1. To have inclusivity in teams conducting research, development and practice

  2. To ensure that those suffering from health inequality are represented.

It’s not simply enough to ensure that there are ‘x’ number of women or disabled people or people from an ethnic minority working in biomedicine (although that is important on its own). What is vital is to consider the effects of biomedicine on everyone in the population – when the standard measure of research is a white man, women, ethnic minorities and disabled people will respond differently to treatments and medicines that are simply not designed for them. 

Diversity in the context of biomedical projects can be defined as:

  • Those involved with research and development

  • Those who receive medical care

In a paper entitled ‘Diversity in Clinical and Biomedical Research: A Promise Yet to Be Fulfilled’ Esteban Gonzalez Burchard, MD, MPH, a Professor at the Department of Bioengineering and Therapeutic Sciences at the University of California San Francisco, explored how ‘making medical research more diverse would aid not only social justice but scientific quality and clinical effectiveness, too’. Professor Burchard’s research notes that health disparities still continue across racial and ethnicity lines, and that many people do not benefit from biomedical advances because they are not the default (white and male). Ignoring diversity, he argues, misses the opportunity to understand further the reasons why people become ill. 

There are different types of diversity. Some characteristics are protected by law – organisations cannot discriminate on the grounds of age, race, sex or gender, sexuality or disability. Other, less tangible but equally important, include such things as someone’s socioeconomic background, their education, their previous life or work experience, and the culture they’ve been raised in. 

The benefits of diversity in the biomedical sector cannot be underestimated. Any team that is diverse, that brings together people from different backgrounds, that values their opinions and actively listens to their disparate ideas automatically has an advantage over those that don’t. People within a diverse team bring fresh ideas and new perspectives and this gives rise to improved innovation, greater productivity and more understanding and cooperation. 

Diverse teams also enable racial and cultural disparities in healthcare to be addressed – scientists from ‘minorities’ will be more familiar with healthcare issues from within their own communities, and more motivated to both help understand and remedy them. 

The impact of diverse specialists on biomedical projects

It’s clear that biomedical specialists possess unique problem-solving abilities – they are tasked with some of the greatest challenges facing humanity and are creating solutions that will help billions of people around the world. However, adding diversity into the mix brings another layer of understanding, empathy and creativity. By creating wider team diversity, biomedical employers expand their potential for solving current and future health and environmental problems and positively impact the results of research and development. 

According to a report by the Centre for the New Economy and Society Global Parity Alliance entitled ‘Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Lighthouses 2023’ studies have shown that the more diverse teams are the more they can focus on facts, interpret those facts more precisely, and generate more creativity and innovation. 

Addressing challenges in managing diverse biomedical teams

For those managing diverse teams it’s important to have structures and processes in place that can both measure the existing culture within a biomedical team, and learn how to improve it. 

Management and team leaders need a range of tactics including:

  • Active listening to include people with different styles of communication 

  • Diverse recruitment, retention and promotion strategies

  • Creating a culturally diverse workplace. 

Above all, managing a diverse team should be about fairness and inclusion. 

Case studies: Successful biomedical projects led by diverse teams

Let’s look at some real-life examples of projects with diverse teams.

OMass Therapeutics, based in Oxford, UK, creates novel medicines to treat immunological and orphan diseases and prides itself on having an inclusive culture, achieved by removing bias in its recruitment processes. It employs an equal balance of genders and people from at least 22 countries around the world. 

Prokarium, based in London, UK, an oncological biotech company working in microbial immunotherapy, is run by a female-led team and is committed to diversity, equality and inclusion. 

The key factors involved in both these companies are that they are actively and openly promoting Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) both as part of their recruitment strategy. These aims and objectives are in line with a recent report from UK BioIndustry Association (BIA) entitled ‘Diversity and Inclusion in UK Biotech’ which highlighted the following diversity gaps:

  • Women are represented equally in biotech organisations until they reach C-suite and CEO positions when their numbers fall

  • There are too few black employees and even fewer black leaders in the biotech sector, and within computational roles there are no black employees at all

  • Junior employees are far less likely to have had a background that provided them with advantageous networking opportunities.

Promoting diversity and inclusion in biomedical recruitment

There are various strategies that biomedical organisations can adopt to attract diverse talent:

  1. Create a strong employer brand – this will signal that an organisation’s culture is attractive, distinct, strong and positive. 

  2. Offer training for personal development – both experienced staff and new hires benefit from support. 

  3. Offer remote working – 5 days a week in the office (or the lab) doesn’t work for everyone, especially if someone has mental or physical health challenges. 

Mitigating biases in the hiring process is one of the fundamental ways of improving it. Most of us have unconscious biases – these may focus on race, sex, age or disability. Some ways of combating this include:

Education and training – training should be given to help hiring managers and other employees understand unconscious bias and how it affects their decision making. 

Change job descriptions and adverts – use neutral words such as ‘cooperation’ and ‘collaborate’ to attract women, people with disabilities, older people, or people from ethnic minorities.

‘Blind’ CVs – removing personal details (such as name/age/sex/ethnicity etc) from a CV helps hiring managers make a choice based on ability and potential. 

Building a culture of inclusion can be difficult but the rewards will be ample. Inclusion means that everyone belongs, is respected and has the opportunity to contribute and thrive. It also means that team diversity brings fresh perspectives, different skills, and distinct lives to a workplace, making it more productive and innovative. Inclusion must also mean that minority employees are given a fair chance to progress in their career, and are not just there to tick a box on an EDI form. 

The future of diversity in biomedical teams

Diversity within biomedical science in the future is essential if the industry is to continue to serve a diverse population. The evidence proves that having diverse teams encourages greater innovation, increases the scale of research and allows novel approaches to be taken. 

The potential impact on future biomedical projects for non-inclusive organisations will be to limit themselves, to restrict opportunities for growth, and to operate in a narrow field which does not serve the population of the world as it should. 

Conclusion

The importance of diversity in biomedical teams cannot be understated. Without representation within the industry women, people of colour, LGBTQ+ people, people with physical or mental challenges, and anyone who varies from the ‘white male’ norm will lose the opportunity to make the world a better, fairer and healthier place.

If you’re looking to make inclusive changes in your workplace and are ready to embrace diversity in the industry, call us now on +31 (0)20 2044 502, email us at partner@panda-int.com, or fill in the form here