Workforce

Want to start fixing the gender diversity problem in your biotech company? Put down the silver bullet

There’s plenty of evidence to underscore the lack of gender diversity in senior positions at life sciences companies and the snail’s pace of change. But MassBio is taking another step today, trying to explain not just why women and men typically travel down two different career paths, but what companies need to do to spur a positive change to their company culture and build a better and more diverse workplace.

Working with Karl Simpson’s executive recruiting firm Liftstream, which has been focused on this issue for years, the authors of this new report interviewed hundreds of life sciences workers in and around the big Cambridge/Boston biotech hub.

They start with the conclusion that men and women enter the industry at almost exactly a 50/50 rate. But their experiences are often quite different from the time of their first job interview.

Instead of a structured interview process designed to find the best and the brightest, women are much more likely than men to see the process as fundamentally biased, often leaning to networks and connections. Companies often don’t emphasize career development — exactly what more women than men view as central to what they’re looking for. And there’s a disconnect over flexible working hours, which more women than men see as important.

While 40% of the companies interviewed consider themselves inclusive, only 9% of the women agreed.

A third of all the women felt the company job review process was unfairly biased compared to 19% of men. Close to half of the women concluded that the wrong people were being promoted, compared to 29% of men.

And the higher you go in the C-suite, the more women feel they are forced to change careers to get ahead.

“Women would largely reject companies that didn’t have gender diversity,” Simpson tells me.

“But they’re looking at a number of factors beyond diversity, where organizations demonstrate a stronger commitment to increasing gender diversity in the company in specific actions; that clearly is going to entice women. That is an organization they might like to join.”

Karl Simpson

The full report includes a map for companies that would like to find a better way to create workplace diversity, some of which is obviously suggested by the women’s views about what ails life sciences companies. But it’s not a quick or easy task.

“What companies are looking for is a silver bullet solution,” says Simpson. And there isn’t one. Instead, the report offers dozens of suggestions for fixing the problem. It’s worth a check.


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