CAMBRIDGE, MA – In an updated edition of the State of Racial, Ethnic & Gender Diversity Report, life sciences trade group MassBio found that gender diversity in leadership roles across the life sciences ecosystem in Massachusetts has increased while communities of color remain largely underrepresented. The organization also expressed frustration in survey engagement among members, with fewer companies participating compared to its inaugural report in 2021.
The report highlights reasons for optimism about the impact of DEI initiatives in the life sciences industry, including increased recruitment and development of women for executive teams and boards of directors, ongoing use of MassBio’s CEO Pledge as a framework for action, and greater adoption of internal DEI dashboards and metrics. The report also identifies key areas in which the industry still needs to make marked improvements, especially in bringing more people of color into the workforce at all levels, and addressing chronic underinvestment in DEI programs at companies.
“Our hope with this report is to continue to provide a measure of where we are as an industry on diversity, equity, and inclusion which can inform strategic decisions and lead to dramatic change, though we’ve been constrained by the level of engagement from companies,” said MassBio CEO and President Kendalle Burlin O’Connell.“Although market conditions in our industry have changed, making DEI work more challenging to prioritize, we can’t lose momentum on the important progress we’ve made in recent years. I know MassBio’s and our members’ commitment to DEI has not waivered, but we must hold ourselves accountable through trackable metrics and do everything we can to advance health equity and attain a workforce that reflects the patient populations we serve.”
The report reveals notable progress toward gender parity in the life sciences industry, particularly in leadership positions. Women now make up 52% of the overall biopharma workforce and comprise 46% of executive management teams – up 9% from the 2021 report. There was also a 9% increase in women holding positions on boards of directors, up to 33% in 2023 versus 24% in 2021. White women’s representation in executive roles grew from 27% in 2021 to 36% in 2023, but there was no increase among women of color.
Racial & Ethnic Diversity
The data revealed vast underrepresentation among employees of color in the biopharma industry. Only 14% of the biopharma workforce is Black, Hispanic/Latinx or Native, compared to 32% of the population in Massachusetts. Consistent with the previous report, white employees continue to account for 60% of the workforce.
White employees continue to dominate executive management positions, rising 13% to 76% of executives. The percentage of board of directors identifying as white (70%) continues to significantly outweigh those identifying as BIPOC.
Asian employees, for consistency with the 2021 report, were given their own category outside employees of color, though this will change going forward. Asian employees again are overrepresented in the overall workforce (23%) against the Massachusetts census data (6%). The percentage of Asian board directors increased from 13% in 2021 to 16% in 2023.
Black, Hispanic/Latinx and Native American employees were the only group to lose proportional representation at the executive management level, decreasing from 8% in 2021 to just 6% in 2023. Their representation on boards of directors, however, has risen to 12% from 8% in the last report.
Industry Initiatives & Commitments
The report also found that industry organizations are engaging in DEI practices and initiatives more than ever before. 69% of companies have systems to recruit, retain, and advance diverse employees; 28% are intentionally recruiting from minority-serving institutions (HBCUs, TCUs and HSIs); and 47% are sourcing employees from external affinity organizations like Latinos in Bio and OUTbio.
More biopharma companies than ever (75%) now have company-wide diversity, equity, and inclusion statements, up from 56% in 2021. The percentage of companies using a diversity dashboard or diversity scorecard, meant to establish DEI goals and track progress towards them, has more than doubled to 50% since 2021. The report also found a rise in the share of industry organizations that have incentivized DEI initiatives and conducted employee engagement surveys with DEI priorities, while the share of those with established supplier diversity programs remained steady.
“We need to ensure that the diversity of our industry as well as its DEI initiatives are both improved and sustained,” said Tom Browne, director of diversity, equity and inclusion at MassBio. “We cannot lose sight of the urgency and benefit of creating an equitable and inclusive workforce and this report acts as one reminder that we’re not there yet. Now more than ever, the industry needs to stay committed and invested in every way possible.”
As a convener and catalyst across Massachusetts, MassBio continues to lead the state’s life sciences ecosystem towards a more equitable and diverse future, understanding the organizational benefits, moral imperative, and collective responsibility to build a workforce that represents those it serves and reflects the talent and demographics of the population.
This includes launching Bioversity, MassBio’s new nonprofit organization and workforce training center that seeks to diversify the life sciences landscape, creating career pathways and eliminating barriers to entry through its state-of-the-art lab and classroom space in Dorchester. Through upskilling programs, certifications, and hands-on experience, Bioversity aims to open doors in the life sciences field for communities that are traditionally underrepresented in the industry. Its inaugural cohort begins studies in January 2024 with a goal of graduating 100 students in its first year.
MassBioDrive is the nonprofit’s industry accelerator, empowering diverse founders and innovators to thrive through business curriculum, mentorship, and grants. And its purchasing consortium, MassBioEdge, helps member organizations conserve funds on critical supplies, offering a 1% rebate for products and services purchased through small and diverse businesses.
To further the industry’s progress toward a diverse and equitable workforce, MassBio outlined a number of recruitment practices in its Open Letter, encouraging member organizations to consider diversity sourcing and removing unnecessary employment barriers.
The full report is available here.
MassBio’s mission is to advance Massachusetts’ leadership in the life sciences to grow the industry, add value to the healthcare system, and improve patient lives. MassBio represents the premier global life sciences and healthcare hub, with 1,600+ members dedicated to preventing, treating, and curing diseases through transformative science and technology that brings value and hope to patients. Founded in 1985, MassBio works to advance policy and promote education, while providing member programs, events, industry thought leadership, and services for the #1 life sciences cluster in the world.