MassBio and Liftstream Study Shows Gender Gap in Life Sciences Sector Perpetuated by Companies’ Culture, Processes and Talent Management

Sep 20, 2017

Data finds 46% of women say they’d reject an employer because of having an all-male board, all-male management, and because they were interviewed only by men

September 21, 2017 (CAMBRIDGE, MA) – The Massachusetts Biotechnology Council (MassBio) and executive recruiting company Liftstream today released a new report, “Opening the Path to a Diverse Future,” a study examining the cause behind the lack of gender diversity within the Massachusetts life sciences sector. This report, the most extensive of its kind, explores the experiences, motivations, and actions of both companies and employees to evaluate why gender gaps exist at every level of an organization, and offers a set of recommendations to help companies increase diversity and inclusion. It shows just how much the current lack of diversity impedes companies’ ability to attract talent, with 46% of women saying they’d reject an employer because of having an all-male board, all-male management, and because they were interviewed only by men.

Women enter the industry in equal proportion to men (49.6% women vs 50.4% men) but the gender-gap grows at all career stages, despite women aspiring to the C-suite and board positions the same as men. The data shows that by the time women reach the C-suite, they account for just 24% vs 76% men, and at the board level, just 14.4% vs 85.6% men. Women who hold SVP or VP positions, a prime talent source for the C-suite, are the most affected group. 

“Not only does this report provide quantitative evidence of the visible gender inequality in the life sciences industry, it also explains how a confluence of factors harm women’s career advancement at all stages despite women entering the pipeline with equivalent potential and motivation,” said Karl Simpson, CEO of Liftstream. “The findings challenge some longstanding assumptions and deepen our understanding of why the gender-gap exists. The industry needs to fix these problems so women can participate equally throughout the talent pipeline, thereby ensuring the future leadership at the top of companies is gender diverse and fully includes women.”  

The report identifies the following key factors that contribute to the loss of women at each stage in their career, including:

  • Recruitment of new employees is too often a result of professional networks and not a more structured and comprehensive talent search which increases the possibility for diversity.
    • Twice as many women (25%) as men (13%) perceive the recruitment process in their companies as biased.
    • Companies do not emphasize career development when recruiting women while women report future career development as a top reason for joining their companies.
  • Men and women prioritize different factors when deciding to stay at a job, and companies are not offering a menu of compensation and benefit options to tailor to individual preferences.
    • Women value flexible working significantly more than men (37% vs 25%).
    • 64% of women vs 74% of men say they are fairly compensated.
  • There is a major disconnect between what companies believe is working to improve diversity and what women see as happening in reality.
    • Only 9% of women view their companies as fully inclusive vs 40% of companies claiming this.
  • Despite proactive efforts to accelerate their careers, women believe they receive less recognition than men.
  • 33% of women view the performance evaluation/review processes as biased and unfair vs 19% of men.
  • 48% of women believe the wrong people are being promoted vs only 29% of men.
  • 63% of C-level women change careers regularly to scale the ranks vs 21% of C-level men.

“MassBio has long recognized gender diversity as a major problem in the industry, and now we have the data to quantify why women are not advancing in their careers at the same rate as men,” said Abbie Celniker, Chair of the Board of Directors at MassBio & Partner at Third Rock Ventures. “The ability for life sciences companies to continue to grow and succeed largely depends on how well they can attract and retain the best and brightest talent – and that means supporting a more diverse workforce. While this report focuses on Massachusetts, we believe that as the world’s leading biotechnology cluster, the findings presented here are reflective of the industry at large. To truly enact change, we need commitments from both companies and employees.”

The report also includes seven broad approaches companies can immediately apply to address the gender gap along with 50 actionable solutions to improve participation of women in their companies.

To download the full report, visit


This study involved over 900 participants from the Massachusetts life sciences sector, including individuals who are currently working in the life sciences sector, those who are unemployed and looking for work, and those who have left the sector. In addition to individuals, the report surveyed 70 companies in the industry, with responses segmented by company sizes: Start-ups (1-30 employees), SME (31-1000 employees) and Large companies (1000+ employees).

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About MassBio

MassBio is a not-for-profit organization founded in 1985 that represents and provides services and support for the Massachusetts life sciences industry. MassBio is committed to advancing Massachusetts' leadership in the life sciences to grow the industry, add value to the healthcare system and improve patient lives. Representing more than 1000+ biotechnology companies, academic institutions, research hospitals, and service organizations involved in life sciences and healthcare, MassBio works to advance policy and promote education, while providing member programs, events, industry information, and services.

About Liftstream

Liftstream is an executive search recruitment practice focused exclusively on board and executive appointments in the global life sciences sector. Our clients benefit from the advanced sector knowledge we possess and the exceptional people we’re able to recruit for them into positions of leadership.

Since 2003, Liftstream has been strengthening company boards, executive teams and functional management across international bioscience clusters, improving the leadership and governance standards of our clients. We achieve this through comprehensive searches and rigorous candidate assessments to identify and appoint the person most suited to our clients’ requirement.

Liftstream is committed to equal opportunities, diversity, and inclusion. For more information about Liftstream, please visit


For media enquiries:

Jennifer Nason
Director of Communications
Massachusetts Biotechnology Council

P: (617) 674-5103

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