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Good prospects

Pharma has much to offer, but needs to remind people about the fact

The pharmaceutical industry is one of Britain's leading manufacturing sectors, creating a trade surplus of GBP 3.4bn in 2005. Not only are Britain's two largest pharma companies among the most successful in the world, but an analysis of the world's top 100 drugs has also revealed that Britain's pharma firms' market share is greater than all European competitors combined.

In 2004, the industry invested GBP 3.2bn into UK R&D, which equated to approximately one quarter of the entire research spend by the manufacturing sector almost GBP 9m every day. Whichever way you look at it, the UK is a global leader in this sector, and a huge investor in the Britain's future.

Tarnished image
It seems surprising then that it has such a poor public image. How and why has UK pharma become the devil that everybody loves to hate? It has been heavily criticised from every angle; the media, the professional community, and even government bodies. This negative publicity has led to uncertainty among consumers and resulted in the credibility of expert opinion being called into question.

What has caused all this cynicism and mistrust? Popular culture has certainly had an impact on the healthcare industry's image and reputation. Films that portray companies in an unfavourable light often spark highly controversial responses in the media. Following the release of The Constant Gardener, USA Today published an article claiming giant drug companies are increasingly outsourcing drug trials to Latin America, Eastern Europe, Asia and Africa. This negative publicity combined with mishaps, such as the 2006 Parexel trial, results in a public perception of abuse of medical education and selective publication of clinical trial data.

In June this year, a film that will potentially cause the most damage to healthcare's reputation, is due to be released. Michael Moore's Sicko is a mocumentary investigating the US healthcare system with a focus on large American pharma companies and Moore's perception of corruption at the Food and Drug Administration.

Although such films raise awareness of important healthcare issues society really needs a serious debate based on facts, not a one-sided sensationalist drama. These films, in effect, put pharma in the same category as the tobacco industry.

Improving Conditions
When it comes to recruitment in healthcare, such a negative image is likely to scare potential candidates away. Individual firms need to position themselves not only as positive places to work but, more importantly, as great career choices. It is for this reason that the industry desperately needs to improve its public perception, and fast.

Part of the problem is that pharma doesn't talk enough about the positive side of what it does, but rather tends to be more reactive to scare stories and focus more on crisis management.

Instead, companies need to take the initiative and talk about all the positive things they are working on. Reminding the public, and more importantly potential candidates, that it is primarily about saving lives and benefiting the community is absolutely vital to changing public perception.

Greater transparency on safety and conflict of interest issues is also crucial in rebuilding public trust. If negative publicity does arise, companies need to respond efficiently and honestly. A completely open dialogue with the public will only result in greater trust and respect.

Highlighting Benefits
However, it is not just the industry as a whole that has a fair bit of work to do. In order to attract potential employees, individual companies also need to improve their image. Most importantly, they need to communicate openly and honestly about not only specific role requirements, but also company culture and values.

They need to be enthusiastic and highlight all the attractive opportunities and benefits that exist at the company and in the healthcare industry in general, of which there are many. The biggest challenge for pharma is changing current negative perceptions. By initiating positive press coverage, and communicating effectively, it has every chance of achieving this. After all, the sector still represents a solid, reasonably secure, well paid and structured career opportunity.

It can attract good calibre graduates because it can offer a competitive and progressive future. By highlighting these benefits, the pharmaceutical industry will find it easier to recruit and retain the talented people it needs to encourage further innovation and growth in the sector.

Eric Potts is director of eMedCareers an online recruitment site for the pharmaceutical industry click here

Top 10 UK companies
Napp Pharmaceuticals and Bristol-Myers Squibb (BMS) have both made it into The Sunday Times Top 100 Companies to Work For, 2007. Napp finished nineth in the listing, just weeks after becoming one of only 42 firms in the UK, and the only pharma company to be awarded three stars by Best Companies through its accreditation scheme. Napp is considered one of the best employers in Cambridgeshire and scored highly in all areas assessed in the Best Companies survey. BMS came 39th in the listing, coming seventh in the category Making the World a Better Place. The ranking follows the award of two stars from Best Companies in January. This year, 351 organisations applied to be in the top 100 medium-sized companies.

Good Experience
Virgo Health PR has been highly commended as one of the Best Work Experience Providers in the UK by the National Council for Work Experience (NCWE). The healthcare communications
agency was chosen from over 230 firms of all sizes and industry sectors and fought off tough competition in the 10-250 employees category. The NCWE Awards, developed in 2003, recognise the efforts of employers who offer fulfilling work placements.

Helping Hand
The Chartered Institute of Marketing has produced a new booklet A Practical Guide for Marketing Managers for Effective Individual and Team Development, to give marketing managers tips on how to get the best out of their teams and individualmembers. The booklet looks in detail at what training and development can bring to a company and indentifies training needs. It also explores how recent age discrimination legislation will affect the training an development needs of each employee.

No room to move
Many workers believe the glass ceiling is still damaging female career progression. The days of women being expected to stay at home and forgo a career are long gone, and there are many successful women in the business world. However, some people believe these women remain in the minority and many workers in the UK and Europe feel a glass ceiling still exists for women in the workplace, a recent survey by Monster.co.uk has revealed.
According to results in the UK poll, 56 per cent of workers took the view that advancement of women in the workplace was limited and often based on gender discrimination.

European Commission statistics suggest that 80 per cent of women complete secondary education compared to 75 per cent of men, and more than half of university students are women. Despite this, women on average are earning 15 per cent less than men and hold only a third of managerial jobs.

This was reflected in the 2006 Female FTSE report, which showed that the number of female board directors had fallen from 121 in 2005 to 117 in 2006. However, there was some good news for pharma, with AstraZeneca topping the list with four female non-executives, which account for 29 per cent of its corporate board. Yet at GlaxoSmithKline, there were no female board directors, when the survey was conducted.

Another 2006 report, Women Board Directors of the Largest Healthcare and Pharmaceutical Companies, revealed that the percentage of women executive officers in healthcare and pharmaceutical companies (9.8 per cent) is lower than the percentage of women directors serving on the boards of those companies (11.5 per cent), creating a limited pool from which to draw future directors or CEOs.
In the Monster survey, 7,797 workers were asked: Do you feel a glass ceiling still exists for women in the workplace? Although 17 per cent of respondents thought the glass ceiling was a thing of the past, 35 per cent believe it will never go away.

This is also reflected in the number of women taking science-based degrees at university. Although women now make up more than half of university students, they account for just over a third of science and engineering graduates, according to recent statistics from the University and Colleges Admissions Service.

The UK Resource for Women in Science, Engineering and Technology (UKRC) says the first step is for universities across the UK to increase their recruitment and retention of women in science and engineering. The UKRC said it is essential that the number of women not only entering but also progressing into science increases.

There is still optimism however, that things are changing and the lack of top females will not continue, with 45 per cent of respondents in the Monster survey saying there are signs that the situation is improving.Our poll shows that the traditional barriers to women progressing at work are gradually being broken down, said Rob Brouwer, CEO, Monster UK and Ireland. However, there is still much that can be done to improve career progression for women.

30th April 2007

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