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BioCommunique Article

Last Thursday, Biocom’s Device and Diagnostics Committee hosted an open discussion webinar that commented diversity and inclusion in the life science industry

Webinar Recap: Diversity and Inclusion in the Life Science Industry

  • 2020-11-25T21:30:00.000+0000
  • California
  • Author: Jessica Schneider

Last Thursday, Biocom’s Device and Diagnostics Committee hosted an open discussion webinar that commented on the landscape of diversity and inclusion in the life science industry, some of its key challenges, and what we can do as a community to move the needle on an issue that is critical for our industry to grow and develop.

Addressing the lack of diversity issue and some tactical steps to address these important matters were Candia L. Brown, (Senior Director, Global Market Development, Genetic Sciences Division, Thermo Fisher Scientific) M. Ragan Hart, MS, PhD,( Director of Operations and Business Development, MDisrupt) Sarah K. England, Ph.D., (Alan A. and Edith L. Wolff Distinguished Professor of Medicine, Vice Chair of Research and Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology Washington University School of Medicine) and Elizabeth Cotton, (Executive Director at Black Tech Link, Founder & CBDO at Career Mingle). The panel was moderated by Ruby Gadelrab Tudor (CEO MDisrupt and Ruby Consulting Group).

With over 150 attendees registered for the event, stout recurring language and themes presented themselves in the forms of words such as “ally” and “advocacy” to name a few. From the webinars' beginning, an important distinction was made as Ruby noted “when we think about inclusion and diversity, clearly race is a very important one. But there’s so many other minorities we have to think about. We have to think about religion, we have to think about gender, gender identity, disability, age, veterans, and so many others.” This, indeed, was a conversation about all of these topics.

The panel spoke candidly about their personal experiences with bias in the workplace. Spanning from stories of prejudice and partiality at the table of a board of directors, to language used in seemingly normal gestures, one thing was made clear as the discussion progressed — that is, when it comes to bias, there is ironically no discrimination in its environment. Simply put, bias is everywhere.

Statistically speaking, Ruby shared that “in 2018, less than 10% of CEOs in biotech and pharma were women, only about 30% of the executives were women, and only about 18% of board members were women. In the health tech world, less than 1% of health tech founders were black, and less than 6% were in leadership positions. Now when it came to the LGBTQ statistics that I was looking for, I actually couldn’t find any. And that’s saying a lot in itself.”

While the need for addressing sensitive topics such as this in our workplace is extremely necessary, it is, unfortunately, not new. The panel worked through different questions to address both “why” it’s an important issue, and more importantly, the “how” to go about fixing it.

Here’s the WHY:

Diving deeper into why companies need diversity for their long-term growth and success at all levels (including Boards, C-suite, and leadership positions), was Candia, mentioning that “having more voices around the table can actually give you more creative ideas, … more opportunities for innovation, and more unique value. It may help to drive unique product solutions, but it could also address other areas like channel – it could have impact in terms of some of the markets that you choose to pursue …the beauty of diversity around the table is that you get a broader view in terms of how to drive decisions, how to look at risk, how to come up with mitigation strategies, and hopefully can help you to accelerate faster, as well as have bigger impact.”

More closely, from a business perspective, she stated, “it’s not just about having the beautiful image of diverse people along the website to represent what the organization looks like. There’s a value in diversity from driving revenue, from accelerating decisions, and ensuring that some of the business practices that are implemented actually make sense in terms of the culture of the company and the future of the company.”

To further this, Ruby shared stats from Boston Consulting group’s study that showed “companies with diverse leadership have a 19% increase in revenue over companies with more homogenous leadership. A study by McKinsey showed that companies with culturally and ethnically diverse executive teams were 33% more likely to have higher profit.”

From a pharma perspective, Candia went on to examine the importance of diversity as it relates to the efficacy of drugs that are developed and the safety of them. She explained “…we have to take into account that ancestral diversity is also an important consideration – that there are a various of different frequencies and significance, there’s substantially more genetic complexity in these populations, and from my own personal perspective, and many like me, there are many of us that are admixed as well, that adds in another layer. And if we’re not trying to diversify the populations that are included in many of these studies, how will we know the efficacy of these drugs, as well as the potential adverse reactions or the lack of benefit in those populations?”

Ragan expressed her experience with bias in designing health care products and being aware of cultural sensitivities when it comes to delivering health services. She shared the idea that “we [should] think about opportunities to revise product user manuals for medical devices that are simple to understand and don’t presume a Eurocentric point of view. Just something as simple as we’re all joined by Zoom today – and if we think about telehealth platforms, that Zoom requires downloading an app…not everyone has the technical, technological or digital fluency to be able to do that.” Further identifying a point of friction in the biases that occur, Ragan suggested a solution to “enable the user profiles to be gender neutral [with] gender neutral instruction, data intake, intake processes, etc. And as a product manufacturer, that type of example can say to the end-user, ‘hey, I see you, and I’m striving to build and develop for you’.”

The takeaway from this portion of the discussion, although filled with much content, was at its core very simple: “diversity in our organizations, at all levels, will have an impact in the products that we build and the communities that we serve.”

Now, here’s the HOW:

The path to progress in diversity and inclusion starts with asking the right questions: What are the barriers to success in the company that you’re working for? And how/what role can I play in removing those barriers? Do you feel safe enough to take risks at work? Do you feel safe? Do you belong? What percentage of time are you spending addressing exclusion issues and microaggressions that others are placing against you? … What voice is missing from conversations in your boardroom? How can you amplify the voice of those who are underrepresented?

To summarize the panelists thoughts, Ruby underlined the importance of not being silent, and stated, “being silent is probably the worst thing that we can do … silence is deafening during times of crisis … it is up to us to let our colleagues and our employees know that we support them, and that we’re going to protect them from discrimination.”

In closing, panelists were asked what their suggestions to improve diversity and inclusion issues would be. Here are some of their answers to implement within your own work community:

Ragan suggested we “address email intros or group meetings with gender neutral greetings. A great resource to look at is something called The Genderbread Person. Some fantastic additions to consider in your lexicon arsenal could include ‘folks, happy people, scholars, comrades, movers and shakers, future leaders of the world’, you get it…an additional way to build community, from a gender identity perspective, is evaluating the set of medical and non medical benefits that you offer your employees and take a pulse check to see what and what isn’t currently being serviced.”

Sarah recommended that we provide “a confidential way for employees to make suggestions on how to improve the diversity, equity, and inclusion. Sometimes the best ideas come from people who are already in the workplace on how to make it better, and then a lot of times it’s easier to implement it because it came from within.”

Finally, Candia proposed the idea that “…partnerships are key, there’s no need to reinvent the wheel, there are other organizations that are looking to solve some of the same issues that have a vested interest in ensuring that there is more diversity around the table … entering into some partnerships with other professional organization and academic institutions to support some of the plans for recruitment and also to address unconscious bias, I think is key.”

In thinking about diversity and inclusion in the life sciences world, it’s not only about the number of diverse individuals we have in our organizations, but also about how we give them a seat at the table. As Ruby questioned, “How do we make their voices heard? How do we create a culture of belonging? And how do we create a sense of empowerment?” Brought to light by Ruby again was American activist, Verna Myers’' definition of diversity where she says “Diversity is being invited to the party. Inclusion is being asked to dance”.

This zoom webinar was presented by Biocom’s medical device & diagnostics committee. If you are a member and would like to participate on the committee or have an idea you would like to see during a future webinar please email Michelle Wright at [email protected]