The United Nations put it best: science reflects the people who make it. Right now, though, that reflection is skewed. Globally, only 30 percent of researchers are women. In education settings, women make up only 35 percent of students studying in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics)-related disciplines. Women of color are even less likely to be represented, accounting for only 14.1 percent of bachelor’s degrees awarded in STEM fields in the United States.
At a recent PRA Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DE&I) Committee meeting, panelists shared their positive experiences at the annual Women of Color in Pharma (WOCIP) conference, held virtually in November 2020.
Despite these small numbers, women in STEM have historically made huge waves, responsible for many of the breakthroughs that brought us modern conveniences like cellphones and personal computers. In the medical field especially, women are responsible for groundbreaking research foundational to modern medicine as we know it.
The International Day of Women and Girls in Science was established in 2015 and is observed yearly on February 11. This year, the 6th International Day of Women and Girls in Science Assembly convened virtually at the United Nations headquarters to discuss Equality in Science for Society, focusing on how the social and cultural spheres can drive STEM innovation.
Gender equality—particularly in science—is vital to achieving the United Nations’ 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, because gender inequality affects everyone. As a company, PRA is committed to those goals. We’re dedicated to advancing health and wellbeing in our global communities, reducing inequality, and promoting sustainable growth. We realize that without diversity, equity, and inclusion, none of this is possible.
From the American Medical Association to the American College of Physicians, medical organizations have recognized the importance of closing the gender gap and have begun taking steps to address inequality in the healthcare field. The biopharmaceutical industry, though, still has some catching up to do. From research and development to the C-suite, women are still struggling to even scratch the industry’s glass ceiling.
According to a 2019 analysis of leading biotech companies, women account for fewer than 10 percent of the industry’s top leaders. On the ground floor, though, women make up most of the workforce entering the biopharmaceutical industry, leading to questions about why these numbers just don’t add up.
Women in the industry find themselves butting up against the pay disparities, implicit biases against women with families, and a lack of workplace flexibility. Women of color face even more barriers, with racism, for example, compounding gender-specific workplace concerns.
The good news is that steps—even slow ones—are being made towards change. Organizations like Women in Pharma, created by the International Society for Pharmaceutical Engineering, are on a mission to connect women in the industry, encourage collaboration, and provide the professional development necessary for career advancement. Women of Color in Pharma (WOCIP) is another organization for women in the industry, intending to empower women of color to excel both personally and professionally while creating a career path in the industry.
At a recent PRA Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DE&I) Committee meeting, panelists shared their positive experiences at the annual WOCIP conference, held virtually in November 2020.
“They make you have an investment in yourself,” said Anjanette Elligan, a Clinical Site Operations Manager. “They want you to succeed by providing networking within the industry, collaboration, [and] connectivity with others.”
These experiences at WOCIP were so positive, in fact, that the DE&I Committee has been working to establish a PRA employee network group for women of color at the company. Like WOCIP, the group hopes to build a women of color mentorship program aligned with PRA’s larger global mentorship initiatives.
“Sometimes you just need to talk with someone who shares your background about something that’s affecting you personally, about something that’s happening in the country or city that you live in that’s having an effect on you,” said Rebecca Wates, a Bioanalytic Scientist with the Early Development Services group. “This is a place where you can feel comfortable to find people who align with you are who are willing to support you.”
“We are better when everyone has a seat at the table,” added Teresa Dunlap, a Vice President in Product Delivery. “We’re not just talking about the women of color table; we want other people to have a table. But by the same token, don’t dismiss our table.”
In the biopharmaceutical industry, the inclusion of women of all races, socioeconomic backgrounds, and lived experiences is especially important when it’s executive-level decisions that drive drug development strategies. For women worldwide living with endometriosis—a notoriously under-researched condition—a woman with a seat in a biopharma boardroom might make the difference between a treatment being developed and more time spent living in pain.
“When we start to see that change reflected in the makeup of our employees, that will trickle down to reflecting the makeup becoming more diverse among our clinical trial participants,” said Rebecca.
Across the board, biopharma giants have committed to investing in diversity and inclusion initiatives. Progress seems to be on the horizon, but only time will tell if these initiatives are genuine or have been undertaken only with public image in mind. Diversity, equity, and inclusion impact everyone, and nobody benefits from half-hearted efforts aimed at improving a company’s bottom line.
“When people say we want to see executive leadership reflecting more of our community, that doesn’t mean that you go out and hire the first black women you see and put her on the board,” said Teresa. “We’re saying go out and find qualified people.”
Everyone has a unique story. We’re committed to elevating the voices of our people and creating opportunities to share these stories and better understand the human experience.
6th International Day of Women and Girls in Science. https://www.womeninscienceday.org/. Accessed February 10, 2021.
In Focus: International Day of Women and Girls in Science. UN Women. https://www.unwomen.org/en/news/in-focus/international-day-of-women-and-girls-in-science. Accessed February 10, 2021
Women in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM): Quick take. Catalyst. https://www.catalyst.org/research/women-in-science-technology-engineering-and-mathematics-stem/. Published August 4, 2020. Accessed February 10, 2021.
Dunn A. Number of female biotech CEOs remains ‘shockingly low,’ putting spotlight on BIO. Biopharma Drive. https://www.catalyst.org/research/women-in-science-technology-engineering-and-mathematics-stem/. Published July 31, 2019. Accessed February 10, 2021.
Iyer JK. From the boardroom to the consulting room: Pharma’s role in curing gender bias. World Economic Forum. https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2020/03/pharma-healthcare-curing-gender-bias/. Published March 5, 2020. Accessed February 10, 2021.
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