Diversity in Biotech in the UK is Improving – But There’s Still a Long Way to Go


November 29, 2023

Recent studies have highlighted the state of equity, diversity, and inclusion within the UK’s biotech industry. The BioIndustry Association (BIA) conducted a survey involving 30 of its member companies, encompassing over 1,200 employees, to provide insights into these aspects. Their report, a first of its kind published in March, reveals both positive and concerning trends in the industry.

The survey results indicate a commendable level of overall inclusivity and diversity within UK biotech and life sciences. On an inclusion scale, measuring factors like belonging, openness, and trust, UK companies scored 72.7%, significantly higher than the global average of 62.2%.

In terms of diversity, the data is encouraging, with women representing 51.2% of respondents and 19.6% identifying as part of a racial or ethnic minority, surpassing the 15% national average. The survey also showed a notable openness in disclosing sexual orientation, social mobility, physical and cognitive abilities, and mental health concerns.

However, the industry faces notable diversity challenges, particularly in leadership roles. Women occupy only 32% of senior executive positions and 26% of CEO roles. The gender balance is similarly uneven in scientific fields, with women holding 35% of biomanufacturing and engineering jobs, and 30% in digital and computational roles.

The BIA has initiated the Women in Biotech program to address this gender disparity. The program offers various supports like events, online forums, content, and resources, including a new mentoring program.

The representation of Black employees in the UK biotech sector is also low, at just 1.6% compared to 3.5% in the UK population, and the number of Black leaders is even smaller. At the senior executive level, only 13% belong to racial or ethnic minorities, with 11% at the CEO level, and none are Black women or from minority ethnic backgrounds.

Support Initiatives

The recent survey highlights that the UK bioindustry is perceived as inclusive, with a culture that supports fair management and career development. However, there is a need for more efforts to enhance diversity, particularly in enabling diverse talent to enter biotech careers.

Several initiatives are underway to improve diversity in the sector. The Johnson & Johnson Stem Scholars Programme supports Black science students in London, and the British Neuroscience Association aids students and early career researchers from underrepresented groups. These efforts are expected to positively impact the sector’s diversity.

Investors are increasingly focusing on diversity and inclusion. The Investor Leadership Network, comprising 12 global institutional investors, has developed an Inclusive Finance Playbook to set performance standards for portfolio companies. Oxford Science Enterprises, in collaboration with the University of Oxford, advises its portfolio companies on diversity and inclusion strategies.

Nevertheless, diversity among investors remains limited. Only 14% of angel investors are women, and less than 11% come from ethnic minority backgrounds. It’s crucial for UK biotech and the investment community to collaborate in attracting more women and investors from diverse backgrounds. This collaboration is essential to ensure that the investment ecosystem mirrors the diversity found in UK biotech.

The survey also sheds light on social mobility factors within the industry. A significant number of senior role holders, over a third, were raised in households with a PhD holder, compared to 21% at lower levels. Enhancing social mobility could be key in addressing the sector’s pressing skills shortage in research, development, and manufacturing roles.

Assisting Improvement

The BIA report serves as a reference for improvement, prompting the association to develop guidance to assist its members in addressing common issues. A crucial suggestion is the increased collection of diversity and inclusion data by UK biotech firms.

The survey indicates that inclusion can be enhanced through focused career development and mentoring. This approach enables employees to feel supported and valued, with senior colleagues actively fostering their growth. Leadership commitment is essential in creating a welcoming work environment, challenging recruitment stereotypes, and endorsing inclusive recruitment practices.

For the UK’s life sciences and biotech sector to flourish, it is imperative to attract and develop diverse talent capable of accessing investments and sustaining competitiveness. Achieving a more diverse and inclusive biotech industry requires a continuous, collective effort.

At Avery Fairbank, we thrive on uncovering excellent people in the life sciences and technology sectors, ensuring your organisation remains a leader in these dynamic fields. Learn more about how our executive search services can help you improve your team by visiting our website. If you require recruitment solutions that are specifically tailored to the unique needs of the life sciences and technology industries, we encourage you to contact us for a personalised consultation.

Biotech Diversity Still a Long Way to Go

Published on 29-11-2023