Massachusetts is a leader in life sciences because our companies meet the greatest scientific challenges of the day. We must apply the same vision, energy, and commitment to meeting the social, equality, and equity challenges of our workplace and our world. Diversity and inclusion provide opportunities to people of all backgrounds and make our companies stronger. And as leaders, we must be the role models and we must be accountable in this effort.
To be clear, many leaders in the local life sciences cluster have been out in front of these issues and have made important progress. But real, lasting change, especially on racial equity, requires the work of leaders across all of our companies and not just from a select few.
Critical self-reflection is required to address issues of inequity. In 2016, MassBio brought focus to gender equality, seeking to understand and begin addressing why women were not advancing to senior levels, C-suites and boards of biopharma companies at the same rates as their male colleagues. We collected (and continue to collect) data to identify root causes and developed a set of actions for all our member companies to use for improving gender diversity at all levels, including programs to increase female representation on corporate boards. This remains a work in progress. For example, MassBio is collaborating with former MIT president Susan Hockfield and members of the Boston Biotech Working Group, to assist in their initiative to increase female representation on biotech boards to 25 percent by the end of 2022.
In early 2018, MassBio hired its first Director of Diversity and Inclusion to serve as a resource for member companies as the organization seeks to develop, scale and strengthen their internal D&I initiatives. We were one of the first trade associations in the U.S. to establish such a role. With strong D&I leadership in place, MassBio increased its focus on the issues of racial and ethnic diversity, reaching out to other like-minded organizations to collaboratively identify and act on solutions.
In early 2019, in conjunction with Life Science Cares, Mass Life Sciences Center, MassBioEd, and Bottom Line, we launched Project Onramp, an innovative and forward-looking program that aims to create access and break down barriers for high-achieving students from minority and other underrepresented groups to get coveted life sciences internship positions. Providing these students a foot in the door to the Massachusetts life sciences industry is a practical and impactful way to build a more diverse talent pool.
In its first year, Project Onramp placed 52 underserved and minority four-year college students in paid summer internships at 30 different Massachusetts life sciences companies. Although the COVID-19 pandemic made year two of Project Onramp more challenging, we have more than 30 students participating this year including nine who are returning as interns to the same companies that hosted them in 2019 – demonstrating the mutual benefit gained by the students and companies alike. This is a great first step, but we must do more.
As we look toward MassBio’s future D&I initiatives, our efforts must be bigger and bolder. We must use this moment as an opportunity to act. As the outgoing Chair of MassBio, I am asking the leaders in our life sciences community to broadly re-think how they are approaching D&I at their companies. Our leaders must align their words and their deeds. We must commit to measurable, demonstrable, and meaningful improvements. We must commit to best practices to improve and achieve equity, diversity, inclusion, and culture.
In the coming weeks, MassBio will be issuing an industry-wide call to action to join this effort. We will outline how companies and their leaders can promote change and demonstrate accountability. I look forward to adding my signature.
This is a time when our work in biotech and pharma has never been more valued. With more than 1,300 members, MassBio has a real opportunity to build momentum and create change across Massachusetts and beyond – and I know our new leadership is up to the task. I ask all my fellow executives to use this time and our collective energy, compassion, and ingenuity to better our industry and hold ourselves accountable for driving toward greater racial and gender diversity throughout our companies.
Immediate Past Chair, MassBio Board
President & CEO, Frequency Therapeutics