While a small sampling, BIO's third diversity report provides 'benchmark' for data-focused industry to further analyze
The numbers are somewhat in and biotech diversity looks relatively similar to what it has been for years.
A 2021 sampling paints a very limited picture of the industry, with BIO’s third annual diversity report including only 99 respondent companies. Most questions were not or could not be answered by every single organization, meaning many went unanswered, such as insight on board-level demographics.
Nonetheless, the survey provides a benchmark for industry and its leaders to begin understanding, analyzing and continue monitoring progress on DEI initiatives, Sheila Gujrathi, member of multiple biotech boards and OrbiMed venture advisor, told Endpoints News.
“I applaud the efforts. I think it’s great that we’re having this report and getting these surveys done and making an effort to address this very important topic for our industry,” Gujrathi said.
She and others, including Angie You, asked if the survey is a true representation of the industry and whether there was selection bias among the respondents.
“I tend to be an optimist but I wonder if those who did respond are more proactive about DEI which could lead to inflated diversity numbers. For example, I’m surprised that women make up 20% of CEOs in our industry,” You, who sold her immuno-oncology biotech Amunix to Sanofi late last year, told Endpoints in an email.
Gujrathi and Travere Therapeutics CEO Eric Dube emphasized biotech is a data-driven industry, and leaders will likely pour over the numbers as a starting point.
“As a science-based industry we know the power of data. The annual BIO DEI report should serve as a catalyst for every biotech executive in order to achieve a more equitable world. We must now move from statements about DEI to actions that reflect our commitment,” Dube told Endpoints in an email.
Dube previously told Endpoints he is working with other San Diego-area biotech leaders to start an OUTbio chapter in the region for the industry’s LGBTQ community.
Out of the 91 companies, 84 reported data on CEO gender. Men led 66 of the companies and women led 17. Fifty of 71 CEOs were white, 10 were Asian, seven were Hispanic/Latinx and three were Black.
Shao-Lee Lin, CEO of Los Angeles-based Acelyrin, put biopharma’s numbers in a broader context, noting a March 2021 Bloomberg report found 15% of top 500 publicly listed US companies were led by women.
“Those numbers underscore how much American industry must improve not only to achieve greater diversity in the workforce but also to realize the promise of greater innovation that diverse talent can contribute,” Lin told Endpoints in an email. “The 2022 BIO diversity report highlights that despite its small size and shorter history, the biopharma industry is making relatively good progress in its DEI efforts. But we have a long way to go.”
Diversity should be infused throughout the entire company, Lin, You and other executives pointed out.
Women comprised 49% of overall employee bases, across 36 companies that reported such data for the BIO survey, conducted with nonprofit think tank Coqual.
“Representation of non-binary professionals remained negligible, as many organizations do not yet collect data about employees who identify outside of the gender binary of men and women,” the BIO report said.
Out of 39 companies, women comprised 34% of executive teams and men made up 66%. One-quarter of executive teams, out of 32 respondents, saw a decrease in women in the C-suite from 2020. Executive teams were also largely white, at 72% of 31 respondents.
Workers were slightly more diverse, with white employees comprising 56% of staff, Asian employees making up 21%, Hispanic/Latinx workers at 7% and Black employees at 6%. Native Hawaiian/Pacific Island and Native American/Alaskan Native workers made up a total of 0.6% of workforces.
The report did not include data on other demographics, such as LGBTQ+ individuals, though BIO noted 21% of respondents tracked LGBTQ identity of their employees, a jump from 10% in 2020.
“We again endeavored to explore several areas of interest, such as LGBTQ representation and partnerships with women-owned and/or minority-owned suppliers but did not have sufficiently high response rates to these questions,” the report noted.
Jake Becraft, CEO of Strand Therapeutics, said founder-led biotechs could help pave the way for a more diverse industry going forward. He noted investors and leaders in the industry will often say management needs to have “gray hair.”
“These are of course broad strokes, but what is important to note is that any time there is a small collection of decision makers at the top, and those people roughly come from the same backgrounds, they will pattern match to more of the same. Time to shake the mold,” Becraft said.
Notably, the report only included results from 99 companies out of an industry that includes thousands of biopharmas. Most of the responding companies are based in the US, at 85%, and a few are located in Europe, Asia, Canada, Australia and South America. No biopharmas from Africa were included.
Becraft said he was unsure if companies like his had received the survey when it was being conducted from November 2021 to January 2022.
“BIO is committed to ensuring that all people are able to participate in – and benefit from – the biotech industry’s efforts to cure patients, protect the climate, and nourish humanity,” BIO president and CEO Michelle McMurry-Heath said in a statement. “This commitment begins with ensuring that the workforce reflects those our industry serves. We have more work to do, and BIO plays an important role as a thought leader and resource for the biotechnology industry.”
Gujrathi said BIO is offering to provide educational and best practices resources for biopharmas looking to increase their DEI efforts and the industry executive believes diversity, equity and inclusion are “coming more to the forefront.”
More awareness is coming thanks to stats similar to the ones cited in the BIO report, Gujrathi said. She, You and others have brought together more than 100 female executives in drug development over the past few months, including a March retreat, and are sprouting up regional events to network and build up sponsorship of fellow female leaders. Some members of the group, which Gujrathi refers to as the “biotech sisterhood,” are coming together Wednesday night for dinner on the outskirts of the BIO convention, she said.
In addition to sharing industry stats, the report included DEI communication strategies and recommendations for ramping up DEI. Communication can occur via quarterly town halls, monthly emails and outreach directly from CEOs and other executives, the report noted. For broader DEI efforts, data should be collected, tracked and shared.
Pay equity, intersectionality, feedback, sponsorship and employee resource groups should all be considered as well, the report concluded.