Diversity: from ideas to action

Words by Isabel O'Brien

The pharmaceutical industry has been on a journey to rethink its approach to diversity within organisations, but the time has now come to take concrete action and address disparities that still exist across the sector


The recent mission to expel inequalities in the workplace and improve diversity can be broken down into three distinct chapters. The unlawful killing of George Floyd and the following surge of the Black Lives Matter movement served as a landmark moment in 2020. Then 2021 dawned, and with it a stream of debate across conferences and boardrooms that sought to address the issues that had been identified. Now, as the world strides into 2022, this must be the year of action as companies translate thought leadership into systemic change to improve their organisations for the better.


While action is imperative for all industries, the pharmaceutical industry is contending with a particularly loud ticking clock as a lack of diversity within its organisations has a direct impact on the quality of innovation as well as access to medicine for the patients the industry serves.

If we have diversity internally that is reflective of diversity externally, then we’re in a stronger position

Speaking at FT Live’s Global Pharmaceutical and Biotechnology Conference, Marc Howells, Vice President, Global Talent and Development, AstraZeneca, says: “If we have diversity internally that is reflective of diversity externally, then we’re in a stronger position to be able to engage, think about and appreciate the perspectives of patients.”


The current reality

While general consensus is that the life sciences sector has a gender divide that is relatively even, a report by the Science Industry Partnership has found a discrepancy in higher-ranking positions: men and women in manager, director or senior roles sits at 60% and 40% respectively.


The report also uncovered that a mere 11% of the life sciences workforce has a disability, compared with 16% of the general population, and less than 1% identify as black, African, Caribbean or black British, compared with 3% in the wider economy. Without a more proactive approach, greater representation could remain a rosy ambition rather than a widespread reality.


Eliminating bias

Also speaking at FT Live’s conference, Lauren Duprey, Chief Human Resources Officer, Takeda, explains the importance of reworking recruitment frameworks for prospective employees. “We’re looking very structurally at our job postings,” she says. “There’s data that shows that certain words and certain types of postings will discourage, let’s say, women from applying.” Her team is therefore investing in technologies that can help recruiters eradicate alienating language from job specifications that could discourage a diverse range of candidates from applying. “We’re also really looking hard at our recruiting processes and interview approaches to make sure that we’re eliminating bias, where possible, from those types of decisions,” she adds.


The why and the how

As companies welcome a broader demographic of candidates into their organisations, it is imperative that their cultures facilitate inclusion by housing forums for sharing diverse thoughts and perspectives. If diversity is the ‘why’, inclusion is the ‘how’.


“Research has proven that it’s not just about getting a perfectly diverse set of people and representation at a table. You also need to generate a culture of inclusion,” accentuates Duprey. And Howells has similar views. “Embed inclusive behaviour and conscious inclusion activities into all aspects of your people processes from the point of entry to the point of exit,” he says. Having well-oiled employee resource groups can enable workforces to tangibly impact an organisation’s mission, values, goals, business practices and objectives.


While overhauling the internal fabric of an organisation is not achieved overnight, the pendulum is swinging, and the industry has a duty to act fast. “We don’t just need to do this because it’s the right thing to do, we need to do it because our ability to deliver for patients depends on it,” concludes Howells. Pharma must transform bright ideas into action, and create an industry that truly reflects the population it serves.


This article features in GOLD 20 – read the full issue here.