“We can do better”: Diversity in the Biotechnology Boardroom


November 23, 2022

From agriculture to medicine to helping the environment, the impact of biotechnology spans across all kinds of sectors and people.

With a mission to change the lives of thousands of people all across the world, biotechnology is a transformative sector that’s relevant to people from all walks of life.

However, it has long been a field dominated by just one demographic; white, highly-educated males. A report from Business Insider found that nearly 80% of Biotech CEOs are men, and 70% of CEOs are white. But in a sector that has a real impact on so many people every single day, it’s not productive to only have one type of person in the workforce – especially in those top-level spots like CEO and board member. 

So, what’s the problem, and how can biotechnology companies take a stance on a more diverse, inclusive workforce?

What’s the current situation?

A survey from BIO looked into diversity and inclusion practices in various biotech companies, shedding light on the current situation of the industry.

As it stands, women make up 49% of the biotechnology workforce, and men 51% – an increase of 2% since 2020. Although this is a fairly even split, we see the representation of women decreasing as we head into the top positions; with women making up just 34% of executive teams and 20% of CEOs. 

Representation of employees of colour continues to be a critical issue that needs focused action, as in previous reports. In 2021, people of colour made up 38% of the workforce, but only 24% of executive teams and 28% of CEOs. Thankfully, there has been significant traction compared to 2021’s sample, with executive positions held by people of colour increasing by over 5%.

Yet as we start to approach more equal representation in the general workforce, we must continue to see more women and underrepresented groups in biotech boardrooms.

As Helen Torley, Chair of BIO’s WDDI Committee and CEO of Halozyme Therapeutics states, “We know that as an industry, we can do better”.

Few biotech companies formally collate demographic data regarding their board, meaning that there was not a large enough sample to evaluate gender and race representation at board level. However, based on the statistics above, it’s safe to assume that the representation of minorities holding a seat on the board will be a smaller percentage than desired. 

On a similar note, a different study of 177 biotechs between 2012-2015 revealed that women on biotech boards is at a meagre 10.9%, and reaching gender parity at this level would still take another 40 years. Clearly, there’s still plenty of work to do.

Why should diversity be prioritised?

Whatever industry you’re in, the members of your advisory board play a pivotal role in progressing, building and growing your business. And when it comes to biotechnology, an industry built on innovation, diversity is key to producing these innovative breakthroughs. 

When there’s a whole mix of people from all kinds of backgrounds sitting round the boardroom table, you’re accessing all kinds of varied ideas and perspectives. Without this variety of perspective, you could very well be missing out on your next big break. After all, our population is varied and diverse, just like the nature of biotechnology itself, so why not utilise it?

Research confirms this thinking too, with companies that have diverse teams in senior positions proven to outshine and surpass their competitors. A study from Forbes even demonstrated that diverse teams deliver 60% better results and make better decisions in 87% of cases.

The market for talented, skilled candidates is fiercely competitive in biotechnology, so it seems ridiculous to look past so many underrepresented groups of people in favour of the majority – as these could very well be the people that help forge your path to success.

There’s a misconception that the lack of diversity in biotech boardrooms is due to the lack of available, qualified candidates. Women and people of colour now make up a large proportion of graduates in the life sciences field, with Forbes reporting that women in particular represented 45% of students majoring in STEM fields, up from 40% in 2010. This data shows that there is a wealth of diverse talent to tap into.

Companies that embrace diversity, prioritising gender, racial, ethnic and LGBTQ representation, are six times more likely to be innovative and agile according to a report by Deloitte, which will increase the chances of producing medical breakthroughs that transform the lives of many.

Increasing diversity in the boardroom

Clearly, diversity is key for building a robust, prosperous company. 

Although meaningful change has occurred in recent years and 80% of biotechs state that diversity and inclusion are part of their efforts, more can still be done, especially at board level.

Companies need to invest the time, energy and resources into making diversity a key part of their hiring structure rather than just a box-ticking exercise, both in the general workforce and in those higher leadership positions. 

Biotechs need to begin by determining their current representation situation through data collection and analytics (as we know, board member representation data is not currently tracked and readily available).

From here, companies can implement proper regimes and structures for inclusivity, including behaviour training, reviewing career progression plans and properly appointing diverse members for their board. 

All in all, it’s not just about appointing the biggest name in the field for your advisory board – it’s about finding the right person that aligns with your values and mission. By widening the criteria for your board members, you’re likely to acquire a mixed pool of board members from all different backgrounds. 

How you can make a change

However, without the right connections and an established network of high-level biotech talent, it can be tricky to implement real change. After all, it’s easier to hire who and what you know. 

That’s where we can help. 

We’re specialists in biotechnology executive search, placing top level biotech leaders and board members in leading companies all across the world. 

Our network of talent is unparalleled, so we’re able to match diverse candidates with companies that are the right fit. We’re dedicated to helping you build a diverse, successful board that will work together to create a better place for people worldwide. 

After all, diverse boards that represent everybody are bound to make the best decisions which will lead to the best results, and of course, more profit for your company.
Abstract Tissue Cells

Published on 23-11-2022