How and why we should all be supporting diversity in life sciences and pharma
Author: IntaPeople | Date published: 11/02/21
A quick Google search will show women account for 45% of the overall UK STEM population. However, when we delve deeper into this figure, we can see that these numbers are far from equal.
Looking at the STEM industry as a whole; women in core-STEM account for only 24% of the work force, in Engineering it is even less at 10% and in Tech, we see a decrease in women in the industry from 17% in 2018, to 16% in 2019. Yet women dominate in industries such as healthcare. In 2018, the NHS was comprised of over 77% women.
Women in pharma
Focussing on the Life Sciences and Pharma branch of STEM, women make up 49% of the overall workforce, yet only 10% of these women are in board–level positions and only 20% of leadership roles are occupied by women. Why is this the case when studies have shown that entry–level positions in life sciences are pretty evenly split?
Diversity in the pharmaceutical industry:
The topic of gender diversity in the pharmaceutical industry is particularly poignant, and the huge disparity cannot be fixed overnight, nor is it solely fixable within the industry itself. To really impact change, we need to tackle this issue from all angles, including diversity regarding BAME and LGBTQIA+ people. This will take time, money, education and potential controversy, so most companies try to avoid the conversation altogether.
However, implementing more support for the women in the industry and tackling the diversity imbalance will create a domino effect to encourage more women to pursue a career in science. Not only this, but studies have also proven that a more diverse workforce will increase overall staff happiness, productivity, and improve the lives of everyone involved (not just the women).
Family or career?
One key factor to the gender imbalance is that the STEM industry fails to provide support for women when it comes to childcare. Women are often faced with the decision between family or their career and because the STEM industry fails to put support measures in place, women struggle to re-enter the industry and continue up the career ladder after maternity leave and subsequent childcare needs. This means women often sacrifice their careers to become a primary caregiver in a way men are rarely expected to.
This isn’t entirely STEM’s fault… Society puts pressure on women to take on the lion’s share of domestic duties, which the multiple lockdowns in 2020 only reinforced. Surveys across the US, UK and Italy during the pandemic have shown this expectation for women to step in as teachers and full-time caregivers for their children has only increased as when couples were forced to work from home, many full-time working mums took the brunt of childcare duties.
However, by offering employees equal leave following childbirth, it puts the power into the parents’ hands and allows them to decide who takes time off and when. This will allow women to go back to work sooner should they wish – making them as entitled to promotions and pay increases as their male colleagues. Allowing men to have more time off following the birth of their child also gives them an invaluable opportunity they often don’t get. Offering more flexibility and support for parents will also allow for more equal progression, as women won’t be solely expected to take leave to care for the children and miss out on career progression opportunities.
Other factors impacting women in STEM and gender inequality in science:
- Gender-based harassment in the workplace: 52% of women report experiencing some form of workplace harassment in the UK. This means ensuring a strong policy against this behaviour is a MUST for all businesses and educating the male staff about what is acceptable and unacceptable behaviour. Following through with disciplinary action is also required as it will only continue if it is not addressed fully.
- Unconscious (and conscious) bias regarding promotions, pay rises and hiring: Making decisions from stereotypes and assumptions related to competencies and characteristics of women will perpetuate the imbalance. Instead, blind interviews and assessments will help to eradicate these biases. Creating strategies with HR to incorporate more support and training surrounding the advancement of staff is also needed.
- Lack of diversity from the outset: An all-white, male team isn’t an attractive trait in a business and will stop strong candidates applying in the first place. Ensuring a diverse leadership team and board will encourage people of all backgrounds to apply, which will in turn create a more diverse workforce. Homogeneity will always be a limitation for potential growth. As the famous saying (often attributed to Albert Einstein) goes ‘the definition of insanity is doing the same thing repeatedly and expecting different results’.
The benefits of gender diversity in STEM:
Its all well and good being told to diversify your team because it’s the ‘right thing to do’. But why should you want to diversify the team – especially if you’re already happy with the performance and work you’re getting from your current staff. Much research has been conducted as to why diversity is important, here are just four reasons:
- New perspectives and ideas: 85% of the world’s leading global enterprises stated that diversity is the key to innovation. A more diverse team will allow for a more diverse perspective. Whether this be in approaches to the task, ideas for where the company can grow, or just how to boost morale in the lab or office. The more types of people you have on board, the more dynamism and potential the business will have.
- Increased revenue: Studies have shown that teams with equal numbers of men and women generate 41% more revenue than their gender imbalanced competitors.
- Hire the best of the best: Companies who restrict themselves to homogenous hiring are limiting their talent pool and therefore missing out on developing the strongest team possible.
- It will allow for a better work–life balance for men too! Better support structures in place surrounding mental health, paternity leave, holiday allowance, healthcare and flexible working will also mean that men are able to take a step back and focus on themselves, their families, and their wellbeing. This is vital if we want to tackle the higher male suicide rate.
If you are interested in learning how to tackle the gender imbalance in your team then get in touch! We are working hard with life science companies across the UK to create a more positive, productive, and diverse workplace for everyone!