The Life Sciences industry has a gender-diverse workforce at lower levels in organizations, with women making up half of the entry-level positions. However, this diversity has yet to filter up to senior leadership positions. Women make up about ten percent of the boards of directors and twenty percent of senior leadership.
The encouraging aspect of the growth of female employees is that these young women serve as role models for girls still in school contemplating a professional career. Current female Life Sciences professionals are paving the way for young women to join them in the future. Additionally, having women in leadership roles involved in the selection process will help ensure that females are given fair consideration when hiring decisions are made.
Because many women in the Life Sciences workforce are relatively newcomers, they are more subject to layoff if there is an economic downturn. Typically, companies will protect more senior employees in those situations, and the senior employee group tends to be male dominated. This will change over time, but COVID-caused layoffs more heavily affected female professionals, setting back previous progress.
Looking at women’s progress into middle management roles in Life Sciences is a good news/bad news scenario. Women are filling entry-level positions and increasingly moving into middle-management positions. However, thus far, that progress has stopped at middle management, and the glass ceiling has proven to be real.
Mentoring programs are an approach that helps young female professionals climb the corporate ladder by encouraging participation in skill/experience-building assignments and positive exposure to senior management.
In the past, there were several reasons why employers practiced non-discriminatory hiring. Some did it because they considered it the right thing to do. When non-discrimination laws were implemented, many employers did it to avoid legal sanctions resulting from biased hiring and promotion practices. Ultimately, employers realize that it makes business sense. Companies with a diverse workforce serve a diverse customer base much better, from product design to customer contact. Customers like to buy from people with similar interests, so female employees guide companies to create products and services that attract female customers.
A diverse workforce impacts an organization’s reputation as an employer and makes it easier to attract female and minority candidates. The same logic applies to customers; people want to work with people with similar interests.
In response to the need for gender equity in the Life Sciences industry, the Life Science Women’s Network grew as a grassroots effort to give women a voice. Among its services are professional development opportunities and the annual Life Science Women’s Conference, which hosts over fifty speakers and provides networking opportunities each year. In addition, LSWN strives to promote a welcoming, collaborative, and inspiring environment for women in the Life Science industries.
The Life Sciences industry is more gender diverse than many other industries. However, until there is balance at all levels of organizations, there is still a need for focus on initiatives to give female employees opportunities to succeed… from the entry-level to the Board of Directors.