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.

Get more local stories in your inbox with Axios Boston.


Support local journalism by becoming a member.

Learn more

More Boston stories

No stories could be found


Get a free daily digest of the most important news in your backyard with Axios Boston.


Support local journalism by becoming a member.

Learn more