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3 ways biotech companies can improve DEI in the workplace

Good Day BIO
July 1, 2021

“You will have a better, stronger company which makes better decisions if you have diversity.”

That’s how Dr. Ted Love, President and CEO of Global Blood Therapeutics (GBT), summed up the importance of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) to the success of biotechnology companies during a session at BIO Digital 2021.

But: “We all have to recognize we need to do a better job,” said Biogen CEO Michel Vounatsos during a BIO Digital keynote.

“It's not an objective in order to be politically correct. It's a mission in order to better perform—in order to better create value,” he added.

The state of DEI in biotech

During BIO Digital, BIO launched the second-annual survey on DEI in biotech, Measuring Diversity in the Biotech Industry: Advancing Equity and Inclusion, which found that while progress has been made on integrating DEI in biotech companies, significant work remains.

What can we do? Here are three practical, concrete things companies to do to start improving diversity, equity, and inclusion in the workplace—and in doing so, improve patient outcomes with innovation.  

1. Create pipelines of talent from underserved communities.

It’s of the utmost importance to create opportunities for career growth for members of underserved communities in the biotech workforce.

But the first step: we need to create pipelines of talent so members of those communities can join the biotech workforce to begin with.

Biogen set metrics including increasing the number of managers from minority populations by 30%, the company’s chief executive explained during his keynote.

While it helps to “put the bar somewhere,” we need to address the root cause, specifically the talent pipeline, he noted.

“We need to work proactively...with community colleges and more diverse universities" and consciously work on the pipeline "in a sustainable manner.” To that end, Biogen has trained more than 250 Black scientists in the Boston area, Dr. Michelle noted.

2. Reach down, reach up.

 “You have two hands in a corporate ladder—one to pull up and one to pull somebody else up behind you,” said Todd Sears, Founder of Out Leadership, during a session on growing LGBTQ leadership in biotech. BIO is the first advocacy association member of Out Leadership, which is the first and oldest global LGBTQ+ business network providing global businesses with tools for innovation and transformation.

With this analysis of the ideal structure of the corporate ladder in mind, recommendations for increasing DEI in companies include establishing and championing Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) which are employee-led, voluntary groups made up of individuals who come together based on backgrounds or demographic factors such as race, ethnicity, gender, or common interests. Another recommendation is to implement sponsorship programs to educate both leaders and rising talent about the importance of sponsorship to career trajectory, with an emphasis on empowering underrepresented employees.

3. Collect data and learn from it.

During a session on the future of DEI in biotech companies, Gisselle Perez, Head of Workforce DE&I and People Relations at Biogen, said that to improve DEI efforts in the future, it would be ideal to get “more information on our employees.” This lines up with a survey recommendation to collect employee demographic data on an annual basis and track improvements and work needed to be done.

“Data matters,” said Juliet Choi, JD, President and CEO of the Asian & Pacific Islander American Health Forum, during a session on standing with the AAPI community. Data can not only demonstrate representation, but also ensure the visibility of these communities.

It is worth noting that from 2019 to 2020, 1 in 5 companies decreased their representation of employees of color at the executive level by at least 5%, according to BIO’s new report. In addition, just 13% increased executives of color by at least 5%. This is just one example of how collecting and analyzing data can help your company understand progress made and work to be done.

…for as long as it takes.

BIO is committed to achieving the goals in the BIOEquality Agenda to oppose injustice against underserved communities and to counteract systemic inequality. Investing in the current and next generation of minority scientists and expanding opportunities for women and other underrepresented populations in the sector are two key pillars of this agenda.

BIO’s second-annual report on DEI in biotech, Measuring Diversity in the Biotech Industry: Advancing Equity and Inclusion, was published in June 2021 in partnership with Coqual. Read the full report here.

Learn more about the importance of clinical trial diversity and how we can ensure trials are representative of the diversity of the population as a whole.