Diversity and Inclusion in Life Sciences: What Is Equality? 

Diversity and Inclusion is a topic that is being actively discussed more and more in the clinical research space. From both an employment opportunity and clinical trial participation perspective the need is evident for a comprehensive adjustment to turn D&I from a back-office buzzword to an integrated philosophy throughout the space. This blog will look at the current picture of diversity within life sciences and the benefits that a diverse and inclusive workforce brings, from a business management and representative clinical research perspective, and strategies to increase D&I from initial hiring to career progression.

A picture of diversity within biotechnology company’s workforces

At present, companies in the clinical research space do not represent the populations they produce research for. According to an article by bio.org, 70% of executives in biotechnology that are male and people of colour comprise of 21% of an executive team. From this research it seems the higher up the career ladder you go the less diverse the workforce becomes. A factor for this suggested by the ABPI is that a large proportion of executive hires are made through personal networks and people may exist in circles of people similar to them, leading to an unconscious bias within recruitment and upward mobility within the biotechnology industry. 

Within the ABPI article, 45% of companies reported basic data collection with no real analysis around D&I data thus the implementation of a D&I philosophy is based on the goodwill of a few individuals rather than an overall statistically backed company approach. Analysing the data we collect allows for the removal of bias when generating a D&I approach and ensures that we are addressing actual needs rather than the perception of an individual. Life sciences prides itself on systematic data approaches in every other facet, why exclude D&I within this.

The conclusion from these articles is that there is a slow-moving shift in the sentiment for D&I within a workforce, however at the moment there is no real analysis done on the workforce to allow for actionable insights within both initial recruitment and producing clear routes for progression. 

Benefits of D&I within a workforce 
L.E Gomez and Patrick Bennett wrote an article in 2019 reviewing the link between diversity, financial and clinical outcomes within healthcare. Within their meta-analysis they concluded several strong links between executive diversity, overall revenues, innovation outcomes and overall company reputation. 

There has also been a school of thought around the need to widen the net of clinical research and therapeutics to historically under-represented populations. According to an article by Chalachew Alemayehu, there is currently a large disparity in clinical research in ethnic minority and developing countries.  Having a culturally diverse workforce can work to address these issues, as companies become more representative of the populations they serve. There is also a strong health outcomes initiative with this, as therapeutics produced with populations that are more diverse have the potential to be more effective thus more sought after. As well as producing therapeutics that have the potential to be blockbusters within developing countries with large financial benefits to companies.

How to improve D&I within the workforce: 

  • Work to actively promote your company’s outward visibility regarding D&I. Companies have inherent reputations. Actively showing that you are working to increase D&I with real commitments and results will encourage people from marginalised backgrounds to apply and fully engage in the recruitment process. Often people rule themselves out of applying for a role, in spite of being a good fit. In the UK less than 3% of pharmaceutical companies current share their goals and measures publicly.
  • Collect and care about the D&I data you collect. It is essential that D&I data is collected at every level, while a lot of companies are actioning this, it seems that this data isn’t being analysed beyond reporting (according at ABPI). Delving deeper into the data you have to look at patterns and producing insights with this allows for D&I initiatives to come from data, not ideals. 
  • Provide clear routes and standards for upward progression within a company. We have seen a clear trend within the workforce that the higher you progress, the less diverse the people are around you. This could be due to numerous factors, including a less developed workforce, smaller candidate pools or unconscious bias within hiring. Allowing the full time for a comprehensive view of your applicant pool as well as a formal hiring and promotions process will act to prevent this and ensure that equal opportunity is provided for people to move up the corporate ladder. Ensuring that there are clearly defined standards for people to be promoted, ensures that upward progression is standardised and not on individual feeling or whim. 
  • Ensure that D&I training is provided within every level of management. Rather than D&I being the responsibility of one person within a company, it needs to be implemented throughout an entire company at every level. Having training in place for all levels of management ensures that D&I becomes a whole company principle at all levels. 

To conclude, it is evident that the sentiment and appetite for D&I implementation is growing. However, there is still a large amount of work to do in order to harness this. We need to transition from D&I being just the responsibility of HR or an individual professional, to a systematic and fully implemented approach to how companies approach hiring and internal progression.







Written by Danial Ikhwan-McCabe – Senior Partner

Connect with Danial on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/danial-ikhwan-mccabe/

Follow Kapia on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/company/kapia-io/

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