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Diversity and inclusion in the pharma industry

Is there equality in the workplace?

DiversityI’ve walked into a lot of meetings in the world of pharmaceuticals and biotech and have always noticed one thing: the lack of people ‘like me’ – people of colour, people from working class backgrounds and people who are women in senior positions. This is even more surprising as I don’t work at the ‘bench face’ of science where the shortage of women is now acknowledged, but on the marketing side of the business which is seen as a more female-friendly specialism.

Now at a time when diversity and inclusion (D&I) are finally on the agenda, or at least there is government-driven introspection on the gender pay gap (GPG) and a growing societal awareness of inequality, as well as the business and wider community recognising the value that a more diverse leadership and workforce bring, there is some insight and discussion about the nature of our industry and whether it offers a positive career experience for more diverse talent.

But first let’s be clear, D&I is more than gender and more than the GPG, and while anyone with an interest in more diverse teams would welcome action in thisarea, they would also agree that recent UK GPG reporting addresses only one small part of the inequality challenge.

Diversity and inclusion: value to the business

Should we care about D&I in our industry and if so, why? Jodie Morrison, CEO of Tokai Pharmaceuticals and Robert K Coughlin, President and CEO of MassBio, in a recent article on GPG in STAT, summed up why it is important: ‘The global biopharma industry is one of the most powerful and important industries today, directly affecting the lives of billions of people around the world on a daily basis. In order to understand and meet the critical unmet medical needs of patients, the industry must represent the population it serves.’

Luckily most senior industry leaders are now on message about the value of diversity – a step forward in itself – with all calling for a more diverse workforce. As with all industries, this was not always the case and the debate continues in other sectors, but this is a welcome change of attitude. At a time when business needs innovation, disruptive advantage, global understanding and less ‘group-think’, we need to address our talent pipeline and ask the question,  are we attracting talent that builds the new global businesses of the future? And does that talent find a collaborative, inclusive and fair workplace? Diversity could be a win/win for our industry, our talent pipeline and our people; creating teams who accurately represent our customers and our patients, who offer new thinking and who don’t bring ‘one-size-fits-all’ cultural attitudes
and opinions could be a critical part  of the solution as we look to modernise and succeed.

If, as GlaxoSmithKline CEO Emma Walmsley said, talking about diversity to Business Insider UK, ‘‘You cannot be a modern employer in an industry that should be future facing and modernising arguably much more aggressively than it is without being very demanding on this topic”,
surely diversity should be a priority business strategy?

And if you don’t see the business value or question whether diversity can make a positive difference to our industry? What about the need for the sector as global, ethical businesses  to do the right thing?

Measurement and transparency

So how is the pharmaceutical industry doing when we look across the D&I mix? Well, we don’t actually know, which is why I started this article with my personal experience – because on the bigger questions we mainly have  to trust our gut feelings. And therein lies the heart of the challenge.

If the industry is truly committed to change, and the action that drives it, we need to measure D&I and be transparent about what the numbers tell us. As the saying goes, if we don’t measure it, we can’t manage it. Without data, how do we understand the challenge the industry faces, assess effective strategies and realise a best talent approach? GPG reporting and discussion provides us with a moment in time to look across diversity, beyond just gender alone and with measurement and transparency as key principles to quantify the situation, agree on the need for new approaches and then act.

Gender pay gap: not an equal paying ground

Regulatory driven though it may be, GPG reporting provides a snapshot  of gender diversity in pharma and biotech industries and across corporate UK.

When we look across leading UK companies from a range of industries we find that all of them have a GPG. Driven by a range of factors and historical practices, most companies reported pay, bonus and senior leadership gaps. Many pharma companies reported the same findings which, if doing as badly as everyone else, allowed management to breathe a sigh of relief, but that won’t always be the case as businesses seek to make a difference.

Taking a closer look at the details, some companies did slightly better than the UK average on mean GPG numbers, but several have GPGs considerably higher and, when we look at the bonus pay gap, it’s not unusual to find that gap between women’s and men’s bonuses to be between 20% to nearly 50%. Not exactly equality.

Yes, this isn’t the same as equal pay but what it highlights is that the pharma industry is not an equal ‘paying ground’ for female employees. Nearly every company had a distinct imbalance in their senior leadership figures, the main reason for bonus differences. This imbalance has only recently started to be addressed, despite the value of diverse senior teams being acknowledged for several years now. This year McKinsey’s Delivering Through Diversity report reiterated this and showed that the companies with more diverse senior leadership groups are a third more likely to outperform their competitors.

These figures obviously form part of a regulatory request, but there has to be hope that internally they are being carefully reviewed as deeper interrogation and broader thinking are needed. For example, one company seems to have achieved more senior level parity between the numbers of men and women than their peers, yet they still have a gender bonus gap of nearly 20%.

Talent is diverse, as are the strategies to keep it

While GPG reporting and other recent research have laid bare the challenges across the scientific and pharma industry in terms of attraction and retention of women, there is a considerable lack of numbers on the broader challenge of D&I in the healthcare industry; where is the talent from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) backgrounds, with disabilities, from lower socio-economic groups, and so on? The recent Government Race Disparity Audit was evidence of the impact of inequality for people from diverse backgrounds across aspects of life and companies must now ensure their recruitment and retention practices address the full spectrum of diverse talent.

While most GPG reports shared initiatives that addressed the women in leadership, including informal networks and mentoring, as well as a firm commitment to ensuring fair and gender-neutral recruitment, roles and pay, surprisingly few even mentioned other aspects of diversity. Indeed, some reports seemed to imply that gender was their sole diversity focus.

Best practice recruitment processes are just one step in the D&I journey for all types of talent. Once you’re through the door and part of a company, what do people from diverse backgrounds experience and perceive as evidence of equal progression, rewards and senior leadership opportunities?

Again, there is a lack of available industry data and more reliance on personal experience over many years, but I do believe there is more BAME diversity in pharmaceutical and biotech industries than many others, but is the sector retaining and enabling diverse talent to reach its full potential? In other industries there is increasing recognition of the ‘squeezed middle’ of mid-level colleagues who feel they cannot progress in their current role and often leave their jobs in search of more enlightened corporate cultures; effectively a diversity brain drain. Other barriers to progression include unconscious and conscious bias when considering promotions, identifying rising stars and conducting appraisals. This has been acknowledged as negatively affecting BAME employee advancement.

Unless we build inclusive cultures and related HR practices that can consistently support BAME talent in the same way as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender (LGBT) talent or disabled talent, there will be limits to how companies can reshape their talent, regardless of any recruitment or leadership targets.

Leadership for all; all for leadership?

For fundamental D&I change our industry needs leaders to create a culture and senior leadership group that supports open and fair practices with a clear, vocal and actionable commitment to D&I. Without senior sponsorship change will not happen and outdated models of leadership will continue to put diverse candidates at a distinct disadvantage. The lack of existing diverse senior role models, for example, will reinforce the gender and BAME leadership gap, making diverse talent ask if career progression is possible and if the wider culture is supportive of a more diverse leadership group?

Embrace reporting, embrace change

It’s time to look deeper and wider and hold our industry accountable for its performance on D&I.

As a leading business sector that touches the lives of everyone and  often battles to protect its reputation  in wider corporate debates, the pharma and biotech industry should see D&I  as an area where is it perfectly placed as a global, locally driven, health-based industry to set a new standard.
The sector should embrace broader diversity measurement and reporting, and acknowledge that effective  D&I strategies can achieve not  only a fair and equal workplace  but also, through talent and new thinking, be critical in meeting  other business imperatives.

Avril Lee is deputy chair global health practice, Burson-Marsteller, Chair of the Chartered Institute of PR’s Diversity and Inclusion Forum, as well as an ambassador for the Taylor Bennett Foundation and BAME 2020 and a mentor for the joint BME PR PROs/PR Week mentoring scheme.

27th June 2018

Avril Lee is deputy chair global health practice, Burson-Marsteller, Chair of the Chartered Institute of PR’s Diversity and Inclusion Forum, as well as an ambassador for the Taylor Bennett Foundation and BAME 2020 and a mentor for the joint BME PR PROs/PR Week mentoring scheme.

27th June 2018

From: Marketing



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