Addressing the gender gap in science: What can be done?
While the life sciences industry is booming in the UK and across Europe, there are undoubtedly areas that need addressing and improving. With a skills gap that’s growing wider and Brexit looming, there’s never been a better time to take stock of the talent currently within the industry and consider how we can future-proof the market for upcoming challenges. As part of this, we need to take a closer look at the gender imbalance that exists within life sciences.
Where are we currently?
The outlook for women in life sciences is much improved on where it has been throughout history. The past four decades have seen considerable strides taken in terms of women undertaking science-based courses, earning degrees and taking up professional positions, with women now making up 49% of the life sciences workforce globally. However, while half of entry-level positions in the field are filled by women, they make up just 10% of boards and 20% of leadership teams, suggesting a lack of opportunities for women at the more senior level of the industry. While women are entering life sciences at the same rate as men, their representation dwindles at the C-suite level – and there is a significant lack of female Big Pharma CEOs. This isn’t just a problem for closing the gender pay gap – it’s a real threat to overall staffing levels. When skilled, qualified and experienced life science professionals are either not being promoted to more senior levels, or are leaving the industry entirely, this creates a significant issue for life science’s talent pipeline.
Diversity isn’t simply a box for big corporates to tick. It is not only an essential part of a high-functioning organisation – and society – but it also presents big business benefits. Businesses with diverse workforces are 21% more likely to perform at an above-average level financially than less diverse organisations, while those with diverse management teams have 19% higher revenue due to innovation. It makes sense, then, to encourage women to not only enter the life sciences industry, but also to climb the career ladder. By ensuring teams at all levels are filled with people from different groups and backgrounds, you’re building cross-functional groups with different perspectives and approaches to problem solving, which is proven to be more effective than groups of people who all have the same background and approach.
Removing barriers for women in life sciences
One of the most critical elements in closing the gender gap is encouraging and supporting women to pursue leadership positions. As part of this, employers need to consider the existing barriers that impact women’s career progression. These barriers are not exclusive to life sciences: they are things like a lack of work-life balance, reduced access to flexible and remote working, unconscious bias and a lack of female role models within organisations and the wider industry. Organisations should actively encourage women to progress in their careers and create opportunities for vertical and lateral movements. Mentorship programmes, women in leadership initiatives and internal groups and collectives can all help to drive diversity, as can an active focus from hiring managers and business leaders to remove bias during recruitment and promotion. In addition, return to work programmes, support for working parents and flexible work conditions can make all the difference in retaining top female talent.
For women who are already life sciences leaders, there are many opportunities to address diversity in the field and encourage more girls, women and gender-diverse people to get into life sciences. By mentoring, networking and being professionally visible, you are showing others that life sciences isn’t – and shouldn’t be – a man’s world.
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