4 Actions to Drive Change for Women in Pharma


On International Women’s Day 2019, EFPIA Director General Nathalie Moll outlines how far women in life sciences have come in terms of both representation and perception and highlights four actions that industry professionals can take today to drive further change.

Equality is giving everyone the same thing, equity is giving people different things to ensure they get the same chances and opportunities.

Civil awareness days can play a vital role in encouraging society to stop and reflect on a particular aspect of life. Having a “day” usually means there are still things to learn, issues to address, and improvements to be made.  And International Women’s Day on March 8th is no exception. It is why I was delighted to be asked by Pharmaboardroom to consider how far women in life sciences have come and how far we have to go.


It is now 67 years since the discovery of the structure of DNA by three men… or is it? As a biotech enthusiast, I started digging into the discovery of DNA and found that although Watson, Crick and Wilkins were awarded the Nobel Prize for having “discovered” the structure of DNA in 1962, they were not alone in that discovery. Indeed, the discovery had been made possible by Rosalind Franklin who gave a lecture in 1951 that put Watson and Crick on the right path towards constructing what is now known as the double helix model of DNA. Franklin was not nominated together with her colleagues for the Nobel Prize and was never publicly recognized for her key role in this pivotal discovery for humanity. Conspiracy or coincidence, it was clear that women had a long road to travel to be recognised as equals in the life sciences sector.


So how far have we come?


Women made up only 29 percent of those employed as scientists and engineers in 2004. In 2016, of the 17 million scientists and engineers in the EU, 60 percent were men and 40 percent women. In 2017, this had continued to evolve to 59 percent men and 41 percent women. The changing demographics of science have been reflected in the growth of International Patent applications (PCT) where one or more of the inventors are women, especially in our sector.


In 2017, across all sectors, about 95 percent of PCT applications named at least one male inventor and 31.2 percent named at least one female inventor. Although the share of PCT applications with at least one female inventor increased from 22.1 percent in 2003 to 31.2 percent in 2017, it remains quite low. Life Sciences, however, has comparatively high shares of PCT applications with female inventors. More than half of PCT applications in the fields of biotechnology (58.3 percent) and pharmaceuticals (56.3 percent), included at least one female inventor. According to this data, the life sciences sector is leading the way among our scientists.


But is that also true of our industry leaders, our boards and senior management?


Our industry does have a higher representation of women on their Executive Committees than the FTSE 350 average and this figure has increased slightly since last year. This is certainly positive news although the actual numbers are still low; 25 percent of Executive Committee members are women, only eight percent in P&L responsibility roles and 10 percent of Executive Directors are women.


Considering women consumers make 80 percent of household buying and usage decisions and represent 65 percent of the workforce in healthcare, there is probably not only a moral imperative but also a strong business rationale to justify addressing the inequalities in senior positions.


At a macro-level it starts with education, not only equality of access but also of encouragement. Parents, teachers, coaches, family and friends can have a huge influence on aspirations and supporting young girls and women to take science courses and science-based roles.


Another major influence will be the increasing number of role-models we are seeing in prominent positions in our industry, not just in traditional HR and communications roles, but also in research and development and senior leadership roles.


In one of my first media interviews I gave as Director General of EFPIA, a journalist asked was I “cut-throat enough” to be EFPIA DG


And the good news is, it is not all about public policy and HR directives, we can act within our own spheres to bring about change and we can start now – 8th March 2019. Here are four actions we can take:


Narrow the pay gap

If you are a leader or a manager, review the salaries of your team and make sure that there are no pay gaps between the sexes. It is not easy, but it is possible. If you can’t do it straight away, you can plan it straight away and deliver it ASAP.


Create equity not just equality

Equality is giving everyone the same thing, equity is giving people different things to ensure they get the same chances and opportunities. So if you are a leader or a manager, you can ensure that you have flexible working hours for your female or male staff who are the main caregivers in their family. If you can, you should set up a creche within your company to accommodate for new mothers and fathers and the needs of their babies. You will have a happier and healthier as well as more productive workforce, you will attract and retain talent, and most of all, you will know that you are doing the right thing.


Be a positive advocate for change

Whatever your position in a company you can be a positive advocate for change. Find out what other firms or organisations are doing, share best practices, look for ways to help your manager make the changes that you need happen. Be creative, be brave, be adamant.


Challenge behaviours

In one of my first media interviews I gave as Director General of EFPIA, a journalist asked was I “cut-throat enough” to be EFPIA DG. A male colleague of mine asked her [the journalist] how many male Director Generals had she posed that question to? Whatever your gender, if you come across behaviours, attitudes, processes, and environments that don’t support equity, then challenge them. Change takes time, millions of small steps, interspersed with some periods of rapid advancement. Each time you challenge damaging behaviour or outdated thinking you are taking one of these small steps.


I saw a quote from a colleague recently that said rather than being known as a “woman in science” real change would come when she was just a “scientist”. Until that day comes, on this International Women’s Day, think about what actions you can take to help drive the change.

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