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The State of Gender Parity in Biopharma

Updated: Nov 3, 2021

- How We Can Get Further, Faster

Words by Laurie P Cooke, President and CEO, of the HBA, talks to us about the state of gender parity in biopharma

In 2017, the biopharmaceutical industry reached a gender parity milestone when GlaxoSmithKline’s Emma Walmsley became the first female CEO to head a major pharmaceutical company. Yet, senior female executives still represent just 17% of management teams in the top 20 pharma companies (as ranked by sales). At the current pace of change, the World Economic Forum in its Global Gender Gap Report 2017, estimates that it will take 100 years to achieve global gender parity in the workplace. Unfortunately, this is even longer than the 83 years estimated in the 2016 report.

“Senior female executives still represent just 17% of management teams in the top 20 pharma companies”

Many biopharma business leaders, including the partners of the HBA’s Gender Parity Collaborative, have recognised that we must do more to dramatically speed up the pace of progress. Achieving gender parity will not only ensure that women can realise their full potential as leaders but it will also allow organisations to leverage the benefits of diversity and inclusion (D&I). This will enable women to realise their full potential in overcoming today’s biggest healthcare challenges while meeting the industry’s biggest opportunities.

Gender parity is not a female issue; it’s a business opportunity. Evidence shows that companies perform better when they have greater diversity in leadership positions. In fact, McKinsey & Company’s 2018 study, Delivering through Diversity, has reinforced their previous findings that gender diversity on executive teams correlates with both short-term profitability and long-term value creation.

Successfully integrating D&I starts with a commitment at the very top. This means tying diversity goals to senior executives’ compensation. It means creating diversity councils, led by senior executives, in order to develop incentives that encourage a rich and diverse talent pipeline and create opportunities for all employees to have a voice. Also, it means ensuring the organisation’s CEO is both personally connected to and actively engaged in D&I initiatives.

From here, D&I must be woven into the fabric of the organisation at every level. This will create a foundation of D&I principles that can be rigorously integrated into people, philosophies, policies, practices, and procedures that build trust. The progress of principle integration should then be measured and reported on to gauge its impact.

An inclusive culture generates new ways of thinking and promotes cross-pollination of ideas. To harness this innovation, companies can bring cross-sections of employees together through internal think tanks. Then, task these employees with tackling specific business opportunities and provide them with insights to inform recruitment and retention, customer outreach, strategy, and more.

“Women make more than 80% of healthcare decisions, they can offer critical perspectives and ideas for optimally engaging with customers”

Considering 80% of healthcare decisions are executed by women, critical perspectives and ideas for optimal engagement are ever-present. Therefore, biopharma companies stand to gain much from the insights of their female leaders and employees.

With a firm foundation of measurable principles, consistent support, engagement from the top, and avenues for leveraging innovative thinking, biopharma companies can make D&I a widely accepted norm that benefits both their employees and their business.

Visit to learn more about the state of gender parity and how you can get involved in speeding the pace of progress.

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