As spotlight trains on biopharma diversity, most companies kept their C-suites exactly the same in 2020 — report
The past year has cast a harsh spotlight on the biopharma industry’s lack of diversity. And though most companies list diversity and inclusion as one of their key values, a whopping 67% of companies saw little or no change in representation by race or ethnicity at the executive level, according to a recent BIO survey.
As part of its second annual diversity report, BIO partnered with Coqual (formerly known as Center for Talent Innovation) to survey 100 companies from October to December 2020. They received organization-level diversity data from 18 companies, and executive-level diversity data from 16. Seventy percent of respondents listed D&I as one of their stated values, BIO said. But only 13% actually increased representation for executives of color by at least 5%.
Two-thirds of companies enacted little or no meaningful change at the executive level, and one in five companies actually saw a decrease of more than 5% in diversity in the C-suite, BIO said.
“For more than a year, the biotechnology industry and the world have faced a public health crisis. BIO’s member companies have responded tremendously, demonstrating the power of collaboration and innovation to create life-saving vaccines and therapies,” Michelle McMurry-Heath, CEO of BIO, wrote. “But the crisis also highlighted the healthcare disparities facing Black and Brown communities.”
On average, employees of color account for 32% of the total workforce, but just 21% of executives and 24% of CEOs, BIO reported. Black professionals account for 7% of the total workforce and 3% of executive teams, despite representing about 12% of the US adult population. Similarly, Latinx professionals make up a mere 4% of the workforce and executive teams, despite accounting for 16% of the country’s adult population.
Indigenous professionals are “all but missing from the biotech industry,” according to BIO, with Native American, Alaskan Native, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islanders comprising 0.3% or less of reported employee and executive composition this year and last.
Biopharma’s diversity problems extend far beyond the workforce, with clinical trials historically leaving out communities of color. Of the 53 drugs approved in 2020, Black patients represented about 8% of participants in the trials regulators based their decisions on (and for which data on race was collected).
“The way in which biomedical research works is contaminated by structural racism,” NIH director Francis Collins said at a Milken Institute event earlier this year.
That isn’t to say companies aren’t listening. According to BIO’s calculations, the respondents were 2.5 times as likely to have a D&I program this year compared to last year’s sample. And one in five respondents saw significant progress in gender representation at the executive level (with one in four achieving what BIO deemed moderate progress).
Women account for 47% of total employees in the industry — and between this year and last, 36% of respondents saw an increase of at least 5% in female employees. That number shrinks the higher up you look, though, with women representing 31% of executives and 23% of CEOs.
Only 18% of respondents said their organization has hiring targets for women and professionals of color, with larger companies more than twice as likely to have them. And just 7% of companies reported having blinded resume reviews (up from 3% last year).
When asked to describe the programs they believe have had the greatest impact in diversity, equity and inclusion at their organizations, respondents came forth with a variety of answers:
“We do not post a job opening and wait for applicants. We directly contact the scientists and leaders that we want who are [women] or [people of color],” one respondent wrote.
Another said: “We do not shy away from talking about the unrest in the world right now. We talk about it in our monthly corporate updates with every employee. We have an anonymous link people can use to send in questions to cover at the meeting.”
BIO issued a set of recommendations for companies to improve, including collecting and tracking data, committing and following through on pay equity, piloting sponsorship initiatives, and supporting a culture of feedback.
“There is no one-size-fits all approach to DEI strategy,” BIO wrote, adding later: “The speed of growth in the industry is reason enough for companies to view DEI as an imperative today, not an issue to be addressed down the line.