Improving diversity and inclusion within life sciences has been an important priority for some time. The gender gap is a significant one, and an issue that needs addressing if this innovative industry is to stay up-to-date in all aspects. 

While the STEM field is male-dominated, in 2017/18, 35% of STEM students in the UK were women. While there is clearly female talent present in the industry, only 24% of UK STEM workers in 2019 were women; a clear drop-off suggesting many female students leave the sector after university.

Looking specifically at science, 46% of the workforce in 2019 was female, which shows major progress in the industry. However, those women are not making it to senior positions at the rate at which they should. A recent survey of 132 MedTech, biotech, and pharma companies in the UK showed that of 62 privately-held and 70 publicly listed organisations, 41% still have boards entirely made up of men. 

Simply stating that we need to put more women in leadership positions in life sciences isn’t enough. Action needs to be taken in order to empower women to work their way into leadership positions in the industry. But how exactly do we do that?


95% of women believe having flexibility around their work and home life is important. There are certain positions where employees need to be present for set hours during the day, but that doesn’t mean that there can’t still be flexibility in these roles.

Allowing employees to work from home for a portion of the week or allowing people to choose their hours – even within a set core structure – lets women balance other priorities alongside their careers. The same amount of work will be completed, deadlines will be met, and you may even find that employees are more productive as their working situation is better suited to them. 

Maternity benefits and allowances

42% of women claimed that they were concerned about how having a child would affect their career. Legally, women are entitled to maternity leave. However, this doesn’t mean that having a child isn’t still a setback, as taking time off from a high-powered position can be seen as a negative by colleagues and superiors. 

This perception needs to change if we want to transform our boardrooms. This should be addressed in all company policies regarding maternity leave and pay, but also in general workplace culture. If more women see female leaders in the organisation successfully balancing the demands of their career with parenthood, they will likely see a future for themselves in similar positions. 

Awareness of unconscious bias

For generations, there was a picture of what an executive board member is meant to be. This ideal was shaped by men and perpetuated by sexism. When identifying candidates for leadership positions, it’s important to be aware of unconscious bias. 

How many of the attributes you are looking for in a leader are inherently to do with leadership? And which of these attributes are moulded by decades of male leadership? Take a close, honest look at your organisational culture from the top down and see how unconscious bias may be affecting hiring decisions. 

Women making it into leadership positions in life sciences organisations shouldn’t be a future ideal, it should be part of your diversity and inclusion strategy with clear goals in place. Achieving this isn’t easy, but our new paper Women in Life Sciences: Cultivating Diversity can help. Download it free to find out more.  

Cavenagh Health is on the pulse of the most important discussions in life sciences today. We are at the forefront of helping life sciences with their business and diversity goals. Contact us or connect with us on LinkedIn to find out how we can achieve this for you. 

Nick Ross

Author Nick Ross

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