Perception vs. Reality: The 4 Disconnects Preventing Gender Equality in Life Sciences

There is no question about it – diversity has a positive impact in the workplace. When we focus specifically on gender equality, reports from McKinsey & CompanyCatalyst, and Ernst & Young (EY) show a correlation between greater female representation and a company’s improved performance.

However, despite the extensive data supporting such improved performance, increased advocacy from public and private groups, and a greater commitment from companies nationwide to create a more balanced landscape, the latest data shows it will take over 117 years to close the gender gap – 38 years longer than what was reported in 2014.

Why, with so many efforts, is there still such a disparity? Research from EY highlights 4 main disconnects holding back gender equality in Life Sciences.

1. Reality Disconnect: Business leaders assume we are far closer to solving gender equality, although they have made little progress within their own companies

47% of EY survey respondents indicated they develop women and men equally in existing leadership programs, and have no intent to change them.

2. Data Disconnect: Companies are not accurately measuring how women are progressing to senior level roles

Only 39% of the life sciences companies surveyed measure their progress on improving gender equality in their leadership teams. This includes understanding how many women are on leadership teams, employee engagement, retention, number of applicants for senior positions, and pay.

3. Pipeline Disconnect: Companies are not creating pipelines that develop females into potential leaders

Although hiring and retention remain top of mind for senior leaders in Life Sciences, only 27% of women say their companies are very effective at identifying future female leaders. Only 19% of women believe their companies are effectively promoting women into leadership positions.

4. Perception & Perspective Disconnect: Men and women fundamentally see gender inequality in very different ways. When asked about the most common barriers that limit women, answers between men and women varied significantly.

Source: EY Think gender equality has nothing to do with performance in Life Sciences? Think again.

Companies seek executives with the ability to engage people and to create a collaborative Team environment. These leaders are able to identify and leverage unique strengths in others, and can align a Team to accomplish a common goal.


What can you do as a business leader to implement better gender equality?

1. Assess Your Company

Evaluate the potential gaps or areas for change within your own company: from initial hiring, to retention and development, to promotion of senior leaders.

Carefully and continually assess your company culture and environment. This means looking at day-to-day activities, such as how meetings are conducted, how men and women typically interact, etc. to understand the dynamics that are present within you company.

Survey both male and female employees for their candid perspective to understand where they feel your company may be falling short. Ask for tangible ways they would like to see the company evolve as a whole, and what they would benefit from individually.

2. Create an Action Plan

Assemble a team that involves senior leadership, Human Resources, employees from all levels and departments, and perhaps even outside consultants who are responsible for creating an action plan based on employee feedback. This plan may include, but is not limited to, revamping training programs, hiring processes, corporate policies, employee benefits, mentoring partnerships, and developmental opportunities.

Essentially, treat this action plan as any other company initiative by dedicating time, resources and a budget. Establish deadlines with measurable benchmarks and clear goals. Evaluate success regularly, and continuously evolve your action plan to include employee feedback.

3. Replace the Disconnect with Transparency & Communication

Moving forward as a company requires top-down transparency about where things stand, and a priority to shift. Leaders are responsible for creating an open dialogue with employees about workplace equality, communicating equality as a priority, setting expectations, and soliciting their ideas and suggestions for improving.

These actions are key eliminating the gender disconnects that will continuously hold companies back. They are what differentiate the companies who claim to value gender equality, from those who actually evolve and benefit from attracting more impressive talent, increased retention, and higher performance.


What can women do to overcome the gender gap?

Robin Toft, Founder & CEO of Toft Group Executive Search, says the best advice is for women to take control of their careers. Per Robin, “Until gender equality is the norm, women must step out of their comfort zone, raise their voice, and take charge of their career path.”

She adds there are 3 critical ways women can own their career path, starting now:

1. Actively Network

“There are a growing number of network groups, in Life Sciences and High Tech, focused on connecting women in a variety of different ways. I highly encourage women to seek out these groups for events and resources to help women build relationships that will advance their careers.”

2. Find a Mentor

Whether it is through these networking groups or your personal network, Robin says it is critical to seek mentorship. This could be from one person or ideally multiple people whom you respect, have a good relationship with, and who are open to providing guidance.

“I actively sought out both male and female mentors who supported me on a path to success. I certainly would not have been able to overcome hurdles without their mentorship,” comments Robin. “As a result, Toft Group is deeply committed to paying it forward by helping women, business leaders and companies benefit from greater gender equality. We believe that the more people who are empowered without limitation, the more we will accelerate the Life Sciences community toward equality.”

3. Know your Value

Robin believes it is the candidate’s responsibility to understand their ideal career progression and where they would like to be in 10 years. Once fully aware, a female employee needs to ask for career development opportunities, rather than waiting to be recognized.

“When in doubt of how to build your resume and accomplishments to earn the next level, I advise female candidates consult one or more executive search professionals placing candidates at your level in your field. At Toft Group, we continually spend time with candidates and provide this guidance to everyone who asks, but we have observed over 10+ years that those requesting career planning assistance are typically male.”

Robin is considered a trailblazer for gender equality in the executive ranks of the Life Science industry. Prior to establishing Toft Group, Robin held senior executive positions in Life Science organizations at a time when such roles were largely male dominated. She attributes her success and career development to setting personal goals, knowing and leveraging her value, and building her network of relationships throughout her career.

Toft Group is working aggressively to launch new programs and resources that will be designed to propel the Life Sciences sector as an industry leader in gender equality. For more information about these exciting initiatives and how you can get involved, contact us.