Life sciences is an inherently diverse industry in that it represents a multiple of specialties and job functions. The scientific workforce encompasses the multifaceted efforts of skilled professionals in biotech, pharmaceutical, clinical research, medical device manufacturing and more. According to the 2021 Life Sciences Workforce Trends Report, there were a total of 2.53 million unique job postings across the field between 2017 and 2020 alone! Yet, this expansive and in-demand industry is facing a staggering talent shortage. There are many root causes, but one drawing increased scrutiny is the lack of diversity in life sciences hiring. As the way we work continues to change in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, employers are now considering new ways to expand the talent pool.
The Pandemic Effect
First, it’s impossible to evaluate the current state of the life sciences industry without stating the obvious – the COVID-19 pandemic has had a profound impact on the way teams are built. Funding models for research projects have been completely upended, employers have been forced to rethink employee productivity and scheduling, and the work environment remains influx as organizations adapt to ever-changing safety protocols.
As noted by the previously cited report, 75 percent of life sciences companies indicate that they are now implementing, expanding or at the very least considering remote work options. In a highly technical and regulated field, this can prove to be a difficult challenge for employers to overcome. However, those that are able to successfully rethink their workforce with flexibility in mind give themselves an advantage in a competitive market.
“If life sciences companies are open to embracing virtual and/or flexible work models, they have the opportunity to increase their available talent pool beyond just their local market,” contends Nicole Mills, Director of Clinical Research at Medix. “This could be the key to avoid missing out on highly skilled workers in other geographic areas or who are being taken by other competitors.”
Diversity as Priority
Truthfully, diversity in hiring goes well beyond geographic borders. In recent years, both job seekers and employers alike have agreed that diversity should be a priority for all organizations. After all, doing so has been consistently shown to attract more talent, drive innovation and lead to a more engaged, successful workforce.
Unfortunately, as the scientific community currently stands, it has a ways to go in order to be called a truly diverse, equitable and inclusive space. Here are just a few stats that highlight the challenges the at hand:
- While making up 13 and 18 percent of the population, African Americans and Hispanics account for only 7 and 6 percent of life science professionals. (City and State NY)
- Women earn 19.3 percent less than men in life sciences. (Biospace)
- Only 30 percent of life sciences executives are women. (Biospace)
- 62 percent think People of Color are underrepresented in middle-management, and 73 percent feel they are at the senior level. (InformaConnect)
Taking Steps Forward for STEM
Clearly, more needs to be done in order to improve diversity in life sciences hiring. While the events of the last few years have sparked attention to the issues at hand, the more exciting developments come when employers focus on solutions to take the industry forward.
Recently, the MIT Sloan School of Management hosted a series of discussions aimed at finding the intersection between the recent rate of industry growth and opportunities to build lasting inclusivity. There were four takeaways noted for scientific employers:
- Meet talent where they live and work. Remote work has broken down many geographic barriers to finding work, but certain training and job functions need to be performed on-site. To reach more diverse populations, employers may need to rethink where they offer training and build new facilities.
- Loosen hiring requirements. Are the degrees and years of experience required for many life sciences jobs always necessary? Increasingly, organizations are finding that the answer is no. Tapping into a wider pool of talent means shifting long-held mindsets about minimum requirements.
- Expose kids to life sciences careers at a young age. Think back to point number two. How can someone be prepared with years of education and experience in a field that they weren’t even made aware of until later in life? To build the diverse workforce of the future, teaching the valuable impact of STEM early is crucial.
- Building cultural competence within your organization. This final suggestion may be the most difficult for organizations to enact. Culture can be a powerful force at any company, but it can also be a negative one when it simply reinforces deeply rooted biases. By enacting hiring processes that go beyond biases and tap into the skills that can’t be found on a resume alone, organizations can begin to rethink their workforce.
Expanding the Talent Pool
For many people, the COVID-19 pandemic brought them their first exposure to the amazing power of the life sciences industry to positively impact our communities. For others, it brought long-standing issues of lack of diversity to the forefront. As it looks to the future, this industry that relies on a breadth of skills to drive innovation must first look inward to enact change. After that, the opportunities are endless.
Are you looking to build a team ready to take on today’s life sciences challenges? With our expert recruitment and workforce solutions teams, Medix Life Sciences ensures your teams keep pace with the speed of discovery and innovation. Click here to learn more.