When it comes to gender diversity in pharma leadership, research has found that the pharmaceutical industry is lagging far behind. What’s being done to get more women into senior roles?
Gender diversity remains one of the biggest challenges in employment leadership today. Men taking up the majority of senior roles is a common theme in the working world. In 2018, the share of female chief executives in the Fortune 500 had declined to 24, after reaching an all-time high of 32 in 2017. In total, this equates to a 5% share of the available leadership positions. In this article, we’ll take a look at the number of women in leadership roles, specifically in the commercial pharmaceutical industry.
Gender disparity is ripe within the pharmaceutical industry, particularly in the commercial world. In 2018, an online pharmacy investigated the gender makeup of the leadership teams (both the executive committees and the boards of directors) from the 10 biggest pharmaceutical companies by revenue in the world. The research by Assured Pharmacy found that in these companies, the number of men greatly exceeds the number of women in senior leadership roles, in both the executive committees and board of directors.
Within these 10 pharmaceutical companies, only 34 of the 133 positions on the executive committees are held by females. Johnson & Johnson and Pfizer lead the way with 40% of women holding roles.
When our attention turns to big pharma’s boards of directors, the pattern of gender disparity continues. Similarly to the executive committees, only 34 women sit on the boards of directors of the biggest pharmaceutical companies in the world, compared to 82 male directors. The companies with the most diverse boards are GlaxoSmithKline and Sanofi, in which women make up at least 40% of their boards of directors.
Why is this the case, particularly when there’s a strong representation of women in much of the pharmaceutical sector? It has been suggested that the gender disparity in leadership roles in commercial pharma can partially be attributed to women getting the ‘wrong’ degrees.
One article highlights that, although the number of women studying sciences outweighs men, more men study degrees such as business and economics that are arguably more suitable for the corporate pharmaceutical world. In addition, research outlined on Pharmaceutical Online states that as seniority of the degree increases, the number of men achieving these qualifications greatly exceeds the women doing so – which is a recurring theme of progression.
Despite academia generally laying the foundations for people’s career paths, a large proportion of university graduates go on to work in an industry unrelated to their degree topic. Moreover, businesses looking to employ staff generally look at experience as well as academic qualifications, thereby making the argument that women aren’t studying the right degrees to become leaders in pharma questionable.
Other sources suggest that companies’ recruitment and retention process may partially be to blame for the lack of female representation at leadership level. A report commissioned by Massachusetts Biotechnology Council highlighted that 61% of women thought their previous companies’ recruitment process was gender biased.
Despite this evidence against diversity in the senior pharma workplace, there seems to be some light at the end of the tunnel for women wanting to work in the senior roles at the biggest pharmaceutical companies. Specific organisations, such as Lilly, have recognised this disparity and have made particular efforts to improve diversity in leadership. After digging deeper into why gender disparity exists in business leadership roles, Lilly has made a concerted effort to get more women into leadership positions. By creating intervention schemes and changing their company culture, Lilly saw a rise of women leaders from 38% to 41% last year. In addition, women made up 61% of promotions in 2017, while the amount of women directly reporting to their chief executive increased from 31% to 43%.
Consequently, can we say that gender diversity in leadership positions within the commercial pharmaceutical world is improving? If you look back to 30 years ago, the answer is a resounding yes. However, one would expect diversity to improve from a time where much of society’s view of women was archaic and old-fashioned. It appears that the right steps are being made to achieve fair gender representation in senior roles, however, there is still a long way to go, evidenced by several of the biggest companies in the world.
Seb Burchell is PR & SEO Outreach Manager for the Assured Pharmacy group.
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