MassBio’s Commitment to Gender Diversity: Actions We Will Take

Nov 02, 2017

A note from Bob Coughlin: 

It’s no secret that the life sciences industry suffers from a lack of gender diversity – just look at the c-suite and boards at the top biopharma companies around the world and you’ll see a male-dominated group. The real question then is why? What are the causes behind the lack of gender diversity within the life sciences sector, and how can we reverse whatever it is that’s forcing women to drop out?

That was the question we asked ourselves as we teamed up with Liftstream to develop what we consider to be the most extensive gender diversity study of its kind – one that examines the perspectives of both life sciences organizations and also individuals within the industry in Massachusetts.

It was no small undertaking, but the results were eye-opening. We found there’s no single factor impacting women’s careers, but it’s an accumulation of factors and a system-wide effect that leads to the gender gap at the top of companies.

That means there’s no silver bullet to remedying – it’s going to take a lot of small changes and a commitment from leadership at the very top to implement, and measure, real change. As CEO of MassBio, I’ve fully committed myself to this endeavor, and I can confidently say that our entire leadership team, and all our employees, share in this commitment. 

Real change is going to come when life sciences companies – from the big pharmaceutical giants to the biotech startups – are willing to stand up and publicly commit themselves to changing their institutional cultures, whether that’s implementing some of the 50 recommendations outlined in our report, or coming up with their own plan.

At MassBio, we want to use our leadership position as the voice of the life sciences industry and take the lead. We are committing to several recommendations from the report, some of which we’re already doing, and others that we’re implementing as formal company policies moving forward.

We’re happy to say that MassBio is already doing the following, as suggested in our report:

  • Recommendation #2: “Companies should seek to implement balanced recruitment and promotion measures for all functions, intentionally making all functions more diverse and therefore more attractive to women and men.”
  • Recommendation #5: “In order to reduce disruption of women’s careers due to childcare breaks, companies should introduce shared parental leave and advocate that men participate.”
  • Recommendation #16: “To attract candidates, companies need to pay attention to how their leadership and management is viewed, including its diversity. The board of directors should be diverse to more effectively recruit women. The board of directors, senior management, and leadership should make clear commitments to gender diversity in their organizations.”
  • Recommendation #19: “Interview teams drawn from company management and staff should be gender balanced.”

But it’s not enough to simply continue doing what we’re already doing, so I’m committing MassBio to the following:

  • Recommendation #30: “Companies should publish internally, and preferably externally, the data relating to gender representation by level and function, showing progress over time.” MassBio will be collecting this information over the next few weeks and plan to publicly share our data related to gender representation. We’ll then set goals for both our internal team and our board to ensure we’re moving in the right direction.
  • Recommendation #32: “Companies should actively promote mentorship and sponsorship, either as a formalized program, or more generally. Such programs should be accompanied by clear goals and metrics to assess their effectiveness.” We’ve already begun partnering with some of the best organized mentorship programs in Massachusetts and beyond, recognizing that they already have the infrastructure and resources to guide women in their careers, and MassBio can act as the facilitator. We will use our network to help grow the influence of these programs and direct our members to participate, starting with one in December.
  • Recommendation #49: “Companies should discourage their employees from participating on panel discussions at events, conferences and symposia unless women and men are participating on the panel.” One of the first questions I ask when being invited to sit on a panel is, “what is the makeup of the panelists?” If it’s not gender and ethnically diverse, I offer to help balance it by tapping into my own networks. I’m now going to take this a step further and refuse to sit on any panel that does not ultimately reflect a diverse group, despite any efforts that are made, and my leadership team will do the same. We’re also going to take a close look at our own events, both Signature Events and forums, to ensure we’re leading by example.

MassBio cannot enact change on our own. We need our member companies and the industry at large to join us, and publicly commit to taking action.

I want to hear from you about what your companies are doing to improve gender diversity in the life sciences industry. Help MassBio lead by example and share your stories.


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