As of right now, there is a huge lack of women in C-Suite roles in life sciences industries including pharma, healthcare, and biotech. However, as gender equality issues see the light of day, there will be more and more opportunities for women in life sciences to step up and take on these roles.
The executive role has a gender problem in general. Not only are there few women in C-Suite positions in life sciences, but it’s also a problem in every industry. According to the New York Times, the number of women in executive positions at Fortune 500 companies fell by 25% in 2018, even though it was already pretty low.
In the life sciences, including healthcare, pharmaceuticals, and biotech, this problem persists. Even though 42% of the scientific workforce is now female, only 24% of positions at the C-Suite level in life sciences are held by women, and only 14.4% of board members at life science companies are women.
Of the top 10 pharmaceutical companies, only 22% of their executives are female, with some companies having only 8% women in their executive staff. When it comes to healthcare, the statistics are not much better. Even though women represent 65% of those employed in the field, they only represent up to 35% of C-Suite positions and only 13% of CEOs. In Biotech, just about 1 out of 10 board members are women.
We can only guess about what causes the lack of women in C-Suite positions. Some people believe that while women’s equality has come far, and more women are now accepted in the workplace overall, there is still an institutional and unconscious bias that prevents them from reaching higher roles. Others wonder if the lack of female leadership is a self-fulfilling prophecy: women don’t see other female leaders at their company, so they don’t push for promotions because they don’t think (either consciously or subconsciously) it is possible to advance.
Other industry experts believe that it could be due to the fact that there are so many men in executive positions, making it hard for women to socialize due to potential suspicion. Some worry women and men alike may be concerned about how it would look if a female employee was having a drink or schmoozing with a male executive to work their way up the ladder.
Still others believe that it is because women are effectively penalized for taking more time off than their male counterparts to start a family. Businesses can address this issue by encouraging men to take paternity leave, and helping women stay connected to essential work information while they are still at home caring for the baby.
The term “glass ceiling” is applicable to this situation. There seem to be unspoken barriers that prevent women from advancing, and identifying what they are is the first step towards shattering them!
Now that this issue is revealed, and experts are working on figuring out the causes, more women are getting the support that they need to advance in life sciences. For example, one biotech company in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Akcea Therapeutics, has instituted a policy of having a 50% female board and 50% female management team. In an interview, CEO Paula Soteropoulos mentions that it wasn’t about cutting men out, it was simply about making sure that women were included equally in the talent pool and hiring process.
If more companies take such action, perhaps the gender gap in the life sciences will become gender equality sooner rather than later!