There are encouraging signs of progress emerging in the effort to achieve diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) in the life sciences. It has taken a while to get here, but we as executive recruiters are now seeing companies beginning to walk the walk. There are many reasons for this, but the desire to achieve a more fair, just, and equitable society inspired by cultural movements has been a critical factor that has motivated people to act. We are now seeing the results of those actions.
Racial minorities remain underrepresented in almost all STEM fields, particularly in the C-suite. In the life sciences, we have historically struggled with building a diverse workforce as recruiting strategies have been trapped in an antiquated paradigm in which traditional mindsets, policies, and networks have limited the breadth and depth of candidate searches. That is beginning to shift. Over the past year, the topic of DEI has surfaced as a top priority for our client partners when we open discussions about a search. The company leaders whom we engage in these discussions are increasingly passionate in expressing why diversity is in the best interest of their companies. That is a significant change.
The change is driven by the desire to find, recruit, and retain talented minority candidates. Life science companies are realizing that the hiring piece is just the beginning of the DEI process. High-performing women and people of color may accept a position at a promising start-up or an established firm, but they won’t stay there long if they don’t feel valued, supported, and included, so companies are beginning to implement strategies to cultivate a sustainable inclusive workplace culture. One of our client partners, a small start-up company, has enacted a “Racial and Social Pledge,” one of whose tenets is a commitment to internal education and training. The company recently gave its employees a half-day off to attend an anti-bias workshop, which garnered 100 percent participation.
Many other life science companies, large and small, are proactively seeking employee inputs and engagement as they embrace the value of diversity, equity, and inclusion in the workplace. A California-based biotech firm constructed a customized employee DEI survey, which 80 percent of the employees completed, providing leadership with the insights they needed to plan a series of internal DEI workshops, which will foster more learning, discussion, and goal-setting. And, to spark employee interest, the company offers certificates to those who attend and complete all three workshops. Another client, an international biotech company, conducted internal surveys to take the pulse of employees and inform a company-wide DEI strategy. They are holding a series of small forums as a safe space for people to talk and engage, which will surface important anecdotes, data points, and feedback to provide direction to the company’s DEI leadership team moving forward.
Many companies are actively engaged in helping groom the next generation of diverse life science leaders. Executives at several firms with whom we work have volunteered their time and energies to serve as mentors for students in our ENVISION program, designed to help students from underrepresented communities gain the knowledge and confidence they need to build a career in the life sciences. Mentorship programs like this one may well shift the dynamic as more and more young women and people of color begin to envision a future in the industry.
The actions our company has taken in recent months are reflective of industry-wide trends. We have always believed in building a diverse workforce, but we didn’t do all that we could do to achieve it. Midway through last year, we hired our first Executive Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. When she began her work, she quickly discerned that the company’s digital platforms did not illustrate our commitment to diversity. It was unintentional on the company’s part, but it exemplifies the poor execution of a well-intentioned strategy. And it demonstrates the challenges that many life science companies face while strongly articulating the need for DEI, yet failing to achieve it.
Today, we and many other companies operating within the life sciences are becoming more conscientious and deliberate about DEI policies and practices. Most all of us are instigating internal discussions and developing new procedures and programs so that everyone in the organization is informed, inspired, and empowered to create change. Company leaders are intensifying efforts to create a truly inclusive culture where diversity is respected and admired, and where women and people of color are fully valued and supported from day one. Those are the positive trends we are now seeing in the life sciences, and we are optimistic that they will continue in the months and years to come.