scorecardBiotech execs share the 3 most important steps companies can take to increase diversity and inclusion in the industry
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Biotech execs share the 3 most important steps companies can take to increase diversity and inclusion in the industry

Leah Rosenbaum   

Biotech execs share the 3 most important steps companies can take to increase diversity and inclusion in the industry
LifeScience3 min read
Photo_Concepts/Getty Images
  • Nearly 8 out of 10 biotech companies say that diversity is a priority.
  • But executives and CEOs in the industry are still overwhelmingly white and male.

It's not news in 2022 that diversity and inclusion are important tenets of running a successful company. Reports from McKinsey and Harvard Business Review have shown that companies with a diverse workforce are more profitable, for example.

But in the biotech industry, there's still plenty of room for improvement, according to a new survey from industry group BIO and nonprofit think tank Coqual. On Monday, the pair released their third annual survey measuring diversity in 99 biotech companies.

Some of the survey results were encouraging: Women now make up half of all employees at biotech companies, and 42% of companies surveyed said they increased the number of non-white executives.

The upper echelons of the industry, however, still remain homogenous. Nearly 80% of biotech CEOs are men, and 70% of CEOs are white, according to the survey. The lack of leadership diversity costs women in the biotech and pharma industry an estimated $532 million a year, according to an Insider analysis published last year.

However, there are some solutions. At the 2022 BIO conference in San Diego, biotech executives laid out three concrete steps that companies can take to increase diversity in their ranks and instill confidence in their workers.

Increase diversity in clinical trials

Veronica Sandoval, principal of patient inclusion and health equity at Genentech, said companies need to think about patients, not just workers. She said biotech firms need to start recruiting more diverse patients in clinical trials. Right now, she said, "we are not representing the patients that we want to treat."

It's a sentiment that was recently echoed by the US Food and Drug Administration. In April, the agency released draft guidance for companies to include more diversity in biomedical research.

Companies often go to academic medical centers to recruit people for clinical trials, Sandoval said, which results in over 90% of clinical trial patients being white. She suggested that companies instead bring clinical trials to community centers, and compensate participants for their involvement.

Recruiting diverse patients has also helped Genentech move through the recruiting process more quickly, she said. For a study that enrolled only Latino and Black patients to study multiple sclerosis, Sandoval says they completed enrollment two months faster than normal.

Hold CEOs accountable for their companies

While nearly 8 out of 10 biotech companies surveyed said that recruiting and keeping diverse employees was a priority, only 11% of companies said that their CEO's evaluations and compensation are linked to diversity and inclusion metrics.

"Adding diversity considerations to leader evaluations sends a clear message that the ability to lead employees of all backgrounds is a requirement of growth and seniority at a company," according to the BIO report.

Eric Dube, president and CEO of Travere Therapeutics, said it's essential for executives and boards to not only talk about diversity, but also measure it. He said that every company executive should have a stated objective on how to address diversity and inclusion within their company

"I can guarantee you that your employees are listening to your silence," he said, "and they will vote with their feet whether this is the company or industry for them."

Analyze and address pay inequity

According to the executives, there is one factor that makes the biggest difference in promoting diversity within a company: equal pay.

"Many of our research studies have shown that if you do not offer pay equity, many of your other DE&I initiatives are for naught," said Jyoti Agarwal, managing director of Coqual. 61% of companies that responded to the survey said they conduct a pay equity analysis, and only 58% said they take steps to ensure pay equity. More companies should be conducting these analyses, according to Coqual, because they are linked to perceptions of fairness at work.

"If we have to say what is the top thing an organization should do if they're not doing it now, pay equity would be right at the top of that list," she said.