Life Sciences Executive Gender Gap

There are more female Executives in the Life Sciences industry today than there ever has been. But whilst progress has been made, this number is far from equal to male counterparts. So what are the key reasons why this number is still low and moreover, what is being done to ensure that the leadership gender gap gets smaller? 

Notable progress

In April 2017, Dame Emma Walmsley made history when she assumed the role of CEO of GlaxoSmithKline. She was the first woman to become CEO of a major global pharmaceutical company. But Yvonne Greenstreet, CEO, Alynylam Pharmaceuticals poignantly highlights, “It’s incredible that in 2023, if we look across biopharma companies, there were only six female CEOs of biotech companies that have market capitalizations of more than 5 billion.”

And across all industries, The Women in the Workplace McKinsey report 2023, does show a steady increase over the last five years for women that hold C-suite positions – in 2018, 22% of Executives identified as female compared to an increase to 28% in 2023. If this trajectory holds true, then we are looking at Executive gender equality in approx. 20 years.

In the Life Sciences industry however, there are slightly more women with a seat at the table, with 34% of Executives identifying as female, according to the 2022 BIO DEI report. However, this percentage does not reflect the original 49% of women entering the industry at the beginning of their careers. So what is leading this number to decline so significantly?

Changing workplace behaviours

Whilst we can attribute multiple reasons for the Executive gender gap, a large reality is that women continue to be the primary caregivers to family, often making the sacrifice of pausing their careers to start and raise a family. Further, historically companies have not had the infrastructure nor flexibility to support remote working or varied hours. Ultimately, it’s not a pipeline problem but a system problem.

But thanks to the recent pandemic, increased organizational prominence of DEI and gender gap initiatives including the growth of paternity leave and increased workplace flexibility, developing female leaders are finally being provided with an ecosystem to manage both family and work – and this ecosystem extends to allow men to help enable this too.

As a company that speaks to multiple Life Sciences Executives daily, it’s been incredibly refreshing over the last couple of years to hear more and more men saying, “Sorry I can’t make that interview time, it’s my turn to pick up the kids from school”, or, “What is the culture at X company around flexible working hours? My wife works too and it’s important for us to have flexibility for our family”.

With the balance of childcare shifting to be a joint responsibility between parents, this has created a change in workplace environments to be accommodating and flexible to both genders. Not only does this pave the way forward, it shows that equality is not just about focusing on women in business but providing men with the same flexibility too.

Federal changes

It isn’t just companies alone that have a responsibility to ensure that they are supporting women climb the ladder to the top. The recent Nasdaq legislation change in 2023denotes for every company, one board member must be a woman and the other must identify as an underrepresented minority of LGBTQ+. Companies listed on Nasdaq’s Capital Market tier, focused on smaller firms, have until the end of 2026 to ensure they have this representation.

But what more can be done?

This is the question that we must keep asking ourselves to ensure that companies are setting their female employees up for success and providing the ecosystem to both excel in the workplace without having to sacrifice family or feel compelled to ‘choose’.

At the end of the day, we all know that it shouldn’t be what your gender is to have a seat at the table, it should be what you’ve achieved with the opportunities you’ve been given. But let’s make sure that women get that opportunity for merit in the first place.

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