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Diversity in Pharma

Author: Ifeoluwa Oyelade

One of the first things that come to my mind when I think about diversity is the “#OscarsSoWhite” campaign which led to an overhaul of the Academy board members to include more women and underrepresented populations. Diversity is more than just the awareness, acknowledgement, or acceptance of our differences; respect is at the core of diversity. It entails respecting and valuing other people’s differences and uniqueness. In the workplace, the goal of diversity is to promote the involvement of diverse talents, perspectives and experiences to reach a common goal.

It is important to note that in the pharmaceutical industry, there has been an improvement in the diversity among leadership and employees. For example, a study reported that in 2018, 21% of pharma executive positions were occupied by women and by 2021, the number increased to 28%. At 54gene, a health technology company in Nigeria, 80% of the board of directors are females from different academic backgrounds and ethnicity. Furthermore, as of February 2020, 47.5% of the managers in Novartis, one of the biggest pharmaceutical companies in the world, are female.

The question however remains, are we doing enough in terms of diversity?

Although there has been some progress, the pharmaceutical industry, like many others, still have room for improvement.

A recent study showed that in Fortune 500 companies, 14% of the board seats are held by ethnically diverse directors, while among the top 50 pharma companies, only 8% of the board seat members are ethnically diverse. In addition, a 2021 report of about 200 leading pharmaceutical industries by Business Insider reported that men still make up 92% of CEO positions in the pharmaceutical industry. These statistics show that diversity remains a prevalent issue in the pharmaceutical industry.

The case for diversity and its benefits has been widely reported and cannot be overlooked. The chairman and CEO of Abbott, Miles D White, noted in a company statement that companies with more diversity among their employees benefit from a diversity of thoughts and creativity of ideas resulting in the ability to adapt more quickly to changing markets. Steven Beart, the Head of Human Resources at Novartis, noted the importance of working with a diverse team with different perspectives and ideas when handling medical and health challenges.

Furthermore, there is evidence that shows that diversity has financial and economic benefits for businesses. A report by McKinsey and Company, from a study involving 15 countries and approximately 1,000 companies, stated that companies whose executive members are more diverse in terms of gender and ethnicity are likely to surpass companies with less or no diversity in terms of financial output. In terms of attraction of talents, a survey reported that millennials would choose to work with organisations with employees from diverse backgrounds over organisations with less diverse teams.

With the advancement in genomic studies and precision medicine, there is an increased need for diversity in the pharmaceutical industry. Precision medicine is biased on a specific race, educational background and socioeconomic status. This results in scientific discoveries that are not a true representation of the entire population, hence, the need to address the lack of diversity in clinical research.

Final Thoughts

For pharma, the need for diversity is direr; the workforce in the industry must be a true reflection of the world population which are its consumers. Having a truly diverse workforce will be beneficial to understanding the specific needs of the population of the world to better serve everyone without anyone being left out.

An expanding body of research and mounting evidence consistently finds that diverse and inclusive workplaces see deeper employee commitments, higher levels of innovation, improved hiring quality, greater rates of employee retention, and increased profits. Hence, to promote diversity in the pharmaceutical industry, employers must be more intentional about hiring talents across all areas of diversity which include age, gender, ethnicity, academic background, professional experience and socioeconomic status.


About the Author

Ifeoluwa Oyelade is a Research Analyst at 54gene and a healthy living advocate. In addition to being a scientist, she also writes for professional, lifestyle and scientific blogs. She has a bachelor’s degree in Biochemistry from Obafemi Awolowo University and a Master’s degree in Biomedical Science from University of Sheffield. She enjoys doing Yoga and watching movies.


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