Reflecting on certain findings in MassBio’s DEI report

Dec 12, 2023

Member interactions provide additional context for data on company level DEI efforts

By Tom Browne, Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at MassBio

(Photo by John Wilcox)

I’ve enjoyed seeing the coverage given in the press to our 2023 DEI report since its release late last month. Anyone who’s produced a report like this knows that it takes months to create, yet seconds to put out in the world without knowing how it’ll be utilized. I’m pleased that it has provided a point of reference to the debate about representation in the life sciences, and the level of commitment to DEI in corporate America.

While this report certainly adds to the larger discussion of DEI in the life sciences industry and can inform decisions, the small number of respondents in the data set does mean it should not be used exclusively to draw conclusions or as a basis for all actions. We’ve shared some reasons for non-completion and part of our charge is to investigate how we can increase participation in the future, especially regarding our data collection methodology. However, it’s important to note that this is only one way we solicit information from our members to gain insights on the status of DEI in the industry and what investments need to be made.

I have the pleasure of consulting individually with our companies, both large and small, and I can say that some are doing incredible work in implementing DEI initiatives and best practices, above and beyond the averages shared in the report. And despite the SCOTUS ruling, many of these companies have told me they won’t be changing their commitment to this in any way. Though many of those companies chose not to participate in the survey themselves, some of the good news coming from the report definitely reflects the individual interactions I’ve had with member companies.

At the same time, with the current season for the biotech companies presenting new economic challenges, I’ve observed that some companies have been unable or unwilling to provide their DEI leads with the bandwidth and resources needed to be successful. I’m hesitant to say that some companies don’t value DEI outcomes that highly, but few have taken the leap to connect executive compensation with those outcomes. When I meet with DEI leads who feel limited in their power to execute, I frequently recommend that they narrow their focus so that they can devote the care and consideration that a DEI initiative needs to be implemented sincerely and effectively.

For this year’s report, I did spot a few surprises that warrant discussion:

  • Only 18% of respondents suggested that the survey identified sustainability [of DEI initiatives] as needing more attention right now compared to the other survey options. Yet my own interactions lead me to believe much concern and trepidation exists with the individuals who are carrying most of the responsibility for their company’s DEI work. How long can they keep going if they aren’t resourced for success? If companies are going to start cutting back on DEI officers as some suggest, what will exist in their place to sustain any DEI progress made?
  • 32% of respondents in the survey suggested “more respecting and accepting the differences of others” would improve the implementation or success of any best practices or new diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives. The majority of the “crises” that are shared with me during member engagements often stem from contentions around the differences of others and a lack of respect or acceptance for those differences. Those experiences would have led me to expect many more respondents to say that improved implementation or success of any best practices or new DEI initiatives is dependent on individuals being “more respecting and accepting the difference of others.” Yet, that response stood at just 32%.
  • I’ve heard countless members tell me about the processes they have in place to make spend opportunities more accessible to minority owned businesses, yet the report suggests that only 21% have a supplier diversity program. That tells me I might need to help members to formalize those processes into something they can confidently call and promote as a supplier diversity program open to interest from diverse businesses.  

MassBio’s report, though not perfect, really is something that contributes to discussions about corporate DEI efforts and if we in the life sciences are making meaningful progress. Going forward I will be working with our partners, members companies, and the DEI and health equity board committee to consider what will be the most meaningful information to collect and share. Are we asking the right questions, in the right way, not only to help our members benchmark, but to ensure we’re providing insights about the industry to support our partners across the state as they look to engage with the life sciences? How can we track the effectiveness of workforce development initiatives like Bioversity in improving representation at all levels in our companies? And how can we influence the implementation of DEI initiatives and the sharing of data so that the pledges made in our open letter and observations I see and hear firsthand are reflected in survey results in years to come?

See all MassBio News