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BioTalent Insights Report: My Race in Science

​Built with fresh thoughts from the some of the most brilliant minds in the industry today, our latest insights report examines the critical role of diversity in the life sciences space, and what the topic means for employees entering the field in the future.

The life sciences thrive on the joy of collaboration between individuals from all walks of life. As an industry devoted to the preservation and progression of a global humanity, the life sciences should not be inhibited by the presence of discrimination, underrepresentation, or inequality, yet still, these ever-present factors continue to put up barriers in today’s world.

We’ve come an incredibly long way in the last few years, with diversity and inclusion policies finding their way to the forefront of the conversation. Developing an environment in which everyone can thrive (and one where everyone is actively welcomed to do so), requires so much more than a tick box exercise – it requires action from everyone.

We created this report to help raise awareness for professionals operating within the life sciences, and to act as a catalyst for inspiring meaningful conversation.

Opening an Honest Dialogue has Never Been so Important

In 2020, the murder of George Floyd reverberated around the world, manifesting in acts of widespread protest that transcended borders, launching the issue of racial inequality into headlines everywhere.

The tragedy has been profoundly affecting for millions, underscoring the inherent need to discuss the topic of ethnicity openly and sincerely, a need that’s been quickly embraced by many in the life sciences space.

Allison Jack, executive Director and Head of PV & Lifecycle Management Quality at a multinational pharmaceutical company, told us that opening up a conversation about race has helped everyone better reflect on what these events meant for the wider world, noting that, sometimes, getting everyone talking is one of the most powerful tools at your disposal.

'Have the conversations. A lot of the time, it’s just about the talking, and not being afraid to talk about race.’

Sharing experiences in an environment that encourages the freedom of an open dialogue is a prime ingredient in the recipe of inclusivity.

Moving forward in a positive light means acknowledging individual experiences. When people from different backgrounds come together for this conversation, everyone has the opportunity to encourage positive progression.

Allison went on to tell us about the value of initiatives like reverse diverse mentoring, a process that enables junior level employees of different ethnic backgrounds to educate their senior colleagues on the subject of race.

Acting as a tool for both employee engagement and leadership development, initiatives that drive the conversation around diversity are vital in the journey towards building equitable workplaces.

Society is diverse and organisations should allow everyone to celebrate the diversity of thought and behaviour that this represents. Bringing this into a company leads to a greater level of respect between one another, allowing people to feel more comfortable with who they are at work, while improving the level of understanding between team members.

Allison went on to mention that:

‘There’s always something we can do, and I think part of it is not being afraid to talk about it.’

There’s a Shortage of Role Models

There are 10,560 White science professors working in the UK, compared to just 65 Black professors, (The Guardian, 2021) serving as a major lack of representation in terms of the general population.

A lack of representation is a recurring issue within the life sciences, and it’s happening on a disastrously wide scale.

Poor representation results in absent role models, and for many, it’s very much a case of you can’t be what you can’t see.

When we asked Corryn Gardiner, Director of a pharmaceutical consultancy company, if she had a role model on her journey in science, she spoke about the challenge of discovering role models within the space.

She described how there was ‘not one person’ that she saw who inspired her to pursue a career in science. Consequently, she soon began to educate herself about her history as well as the pharma industry, which equipped her with the tools to grow and exchange knowledge with a future generation.

‘What I've had to do over over the years is educate and inform myself about my history, about the people around me and my industry, so that I can continue to grow as a person.’

Corryn’s statement deftly highlights the importance of adopting a future-facing outlook, one that advocates for the next generation of individuals entering the workforce.

Passing on knowledge and sharing experience are key elements that will likely determine the size of the equality gap in the future, and in many respects, nurturing these elements begins with finding one’s own voice and recognising the wider value of self-promotion.

For someone like Corryn, who thrives on finding a way to do what she’s told can’t be done, motivation is a spark that’s cultivated from within.

Seeing people of colour in leadership roles can help ignite this spark and make the life sciences a more equitable, accessible industry for all.

'I think that's where we need to start. We need to definitely show the world the amount of people, women of colour that are in the workplace, in the CEO, Director, and Global head positions.’

The media has a part to play in this journey. Shifting the media’s mindset regarding what which roles ethnic groups can occupy, and where and how diversity is celebrated, requires a certain courage, one that enables people to address the challenges and issues facing those groups in society today.

Undoubtably, this can be an uncomfortable topic to broach. Having allies in this space, having those conversations, can have a wide-reaching impact on the future. Sometimes, this means placing oneself in situations that are difficult to navigate, all in the name of enhancing the wider perspective.

Make Roles Visible – Representation at Every Level

The decisions made by businesses operating in the life sciences ultimately have an impact on the health of an ethnically diverse multi-cultural humanity. If those making the decisions aren’t representative of this inherent diversity, the relevancy of those decisions may lack the perspective necessary to develop effective solutions.

Dipesh Mistry-Dhillon, the Regulatory affairs manager at a multinational biotech company, told us that:

‘There is still more to be done in terms of visible diversity. If you see it, you feel more comfortable being part of that organisation.

Truly inclusive environments are able to present their diversity to the world long before the employee ever steps foot in the workplace. Candidates that have the opportunity to see a diverse workforce thriving from the outside they’re likely to see an employer that values their unique experiences, particularly when dependable D&I strategies are in place.

Inclusive environments enable authenticity. As a member of the LGBTQIA+ community, Dipesh wouldn’t feel comfortable disclosing his sexuality within the work profession until discovering the D&I initiative at one of his previous companies:

'We had a DNI day a couple of years ago [and I discovered] that there is something to recognise the queer and trans community in our organisation. Before that, I was always closeted. I never really told anyone about my sexuality.'

A 2021 study of 25,324 scientists in the United States discovered that LGBTQIA+ STEM professionals were more likely to experience career limitations, including harassment and professional devaluation than their non-LGBTQIA+ peers.

Inclusion and visibility among diverse groups within the populace are directly linked to results in the life sciences, a cure for the U.S. HIV epidemic being a prime example – a disease that largely affected the LGBTQIA+ community, one that wasn’t even mentioned publicly by President Ronald Reagan until 1985, four years after the crisis began.

Many LGBTQIA+ scientists and activists, such as Marsha P. Johnson and Joseph Sonnabend acted as vanguards in the fight against the epidemic, all while being ostracised by a large portion of their fellow citizens.

As history has proven, representation improves the quality of scientific research. Yet the evidence points to there being much work to be done on the road to fully equitable working environments for everyone.

There is so much to learn from other cultures, backgrounds, perspectives, and ways of operating a business in the life sciences; ignoring the incredible value of this (both monetarily speaking, and in terms of employee growth and satisfaction) will result in a failure to prepare organisations for a sustainable future.

Allyship is Always Possible, Always Vital

The gap between intention and action must be closed. No matter how morally robust your intentions are, the most impactful change is enabled through action.

Active allyship is always possible, and always vital. You don’t have to have personally experienced oppression to empathise with another individual – active allyship means speaking up for others, standing up against discrimination and injustice, and recognising the contributions of everyone.

Providing a voice for those who are too afraid to speak out is a part of everyone making the journey towards a fairer future together.

Allyship, understanding and open dialogue all contribute directly to a greater ROI in the life sciences. The life sciences are a global-facing industry, and as a global-facing industry, the input of a diverse range of groups and individuals must be enabled the space to flourish.

Yogesh Krishan Davé, managing director of a Pharmaceutical Quality Assurance consultancy told us that when operating in a global supply chain market, you’re bound to interact with individuals and groups from a vast array of different backgrounds anyway – the key to optimising growth potential is learning to understand one another, a need that can be met by consulting regional experts.

‘The people who really understand the business in their local areas are local people - they understand the nuances’

The best companies are diverse companies. When different cultures are empowered to celebrate their uniqueness, everyone understands each other, and you get to benefit from a more desirable employer brand.

Promote Yourself

Allies are always important, but so is self-promotion. The value of self-belief and advocating for one’s own skills couldn’t be more important, particularly if your voice is struggling to be taken seriously.

Self-advocacy is a powerful tool for both getting noticed and communicating your needs to the individuals around you. It’s difficult to do when you’re in a workplace that doesn’t sufficiently account for authenticity or inclusion.

Finding confidence in your own expertise takes real courage when the space around you doesn’t recognise your experience. Corryn recalled being constantly questioned after being hired for her skills and experience.

'‘ I don't think we're going to do it that way,” [management] might say, and in his next breath, asks a white male the same question, and that person would agree with me.’

Whether it's suggesting a process change or simply speaking up to be heard, everyone deserves to have their voice taken seriously, but unfortunately, this is not always the case. Dipesh mentions that:

'I quickly realised that you really have to promote yourself and get on board with the managers […] to win anything, that's what I did in the end. That's why I got the most.’

The Journey so Far

Brexit caused a resurgence of archaic, discriminatory values, particularly within white British culture. England and Wales witnessed a 15-25% rise in race and religious hate crime following the Brexit vote (Economics Observatory, 2021), which, for many, left an-all too familiar taste.

Yogesh recalls changing his name to a more ‘English-sounding’ one on his CV in the late 80s, prompting an influx of interview offers, one from the same company that previously rejected his CV when it carried his real name.

Things are still getting better every day, but despite the new generation being more comfortable with their own identities, they’re still the least confident age group (Impact Nottingham, 2020).

This lack of confidence isn’t stopping their passion for working towards change. Activism is on the rise, and for those wanting to change the world in a positive light, the life sciences space remains one of the most exciting, impactful, and irreplaceable industries.

Advice for Your Younger Self

We asked our expert interviewees if they had any advice for their younger selves, and the overall consensus was that staying true to yourself often has the best outcome.

Believing in your abilities and being yourself (even when there’s negativity surrounding you and the hard times feel like they’re never going to end) is tough, but it’s important to remember that you’ll grow and ultimately, come out of the other end of the struggle.

Having those uncomfortable conversations, no matter how difficult they are at first, can challenge negative assumptions, break the mould and pave the way for a brighter, more equitable future for the working world of the life sciences.

Just like some of the most important scientific discoveries in the history of the world, rocking the boat is often the way to catalyse the right kind of change.

‘We all belong to the same species. We're all homo sapiens, real citizens of this world, and we should live like that, and appreciate people with that respect. – Yogesh Krishan Davé


If you’d like to listen to our full catalogue of podcasts from the My Race in Science series, along with a host of other great shows from the BioTalent team, please visit Spotify here