Dec 4, 2023 - News

DEI gaps persist at Boston-area biotechs

illustration of a person looking into a microscope and hands holding a beaker on a background made of dollar bills and science notes

Illustration: Tiffany Herring/Axios

Three years after 164 life sciences companies signed a pledge to make the biotech sector more inclusive and equitable, fewer than half responded to a survey about their progress, prompting a forceful rebuke from industry leaders.

Why it matters: Despite pledges in 2020 to make the sector more inclusive, Massachusetts' multibillion-dollar life sciences industry remains white- and male-dominated, especially in the boardroom, and the full scope of the racial and gender gaps remain unknown because companies aren't sharing demographic details.

Driving the news: The 81 companies that did respond to MassBio's second DEI survey reported 14% of their workers were people of color, excluding Asians.

  • That's lower than the estimate in MassBio's 2021 report (15%) and far below the state's population of these groups (32%).
  • The share of people of color in executive management was 6% in 2023, down from 8% in 2021.

Yes, but: The responses capture roughly 5% of MassBio's membership.

  • Only 26 of the 81 respondents had taken MassBio's 2021 DEI survey, so the report doesn't offer a direct comparison of the same companies.

What they're saying: The report "fails to achieve the scale this topic truly deserves because of a disappointing lack of engagement from companies on the survey that we depend on to collect the data," MassBio President Kendalle Burlin O'Connell wrote in the report.

  • "This is an indictment of our industry and a real concern for me personally because actions speak louder than words."

State of play: Tom Browne, MassBio's director of DEI, says the team plans to revisit its methodology to determine why Massachusetts life sciences companies are hesitant to respond.

  • He said that could hopefully lead to more responses on the companies' efforts on diversity and health equity.

Zoom in: The companies that responded did report an increase in female representation over the past two years.

  • Their executive management teams were 46% women, up from 37% in 2021, and they reported higher female representation in boardrooms and the overall workforce.

Plus: The companies reported a higher share of people of color on boards, 12% compared to 8% in 2021.

Of note: The findings analyze Asian employees separately from other people of color "to capture and celebrate the strength of this specific group … as well as call attention to the lack of representation from other communities of color," the report states.

Details: Companies are expanding their recruitment targets, with some working with Historically Black Colleges and Universities and groups like Latinos in Biotech and Women of Color in Pharma.

Yes, but: The majority of respondents said they don't recruit from those organizations, and they reported major racial gaps.

  • White executive representation reached 76%, up from 63% in 2021, and white business leaders outweighed every other group at the board level.
  • Asians were the only racial or ethnic group that saw higher levels of representation across all levels in the 2023 report.
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