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Welcome to Washington: four key takeaways from the Annual Meeting of ISMPP

​The 20th Annual Meeting of the International Society for Medical Publication Professionals (ISMPP) took place at the Grand Hyatt Washington from 29th April to 1st May. Centred around the theme ‘Storytelling: Its Art and Power,’ this year’s gathering delved into both the creative and methodological aspects of medical publications and communications, emphasising their influence in making healthcare more relatable.

Among hundreds of attendees were Steven Fuller, community director for Race in STEM, and Elizabeth Bevan, associate director for BioTalent, who took part in roundtable discussions with leading life sciences professionals on all things DEI. Here are their key takeaways.

1. We need a more inclusive hiring process

There’s an argument that the hiring process in the pharmaceutical industry is exclusionary by its very nature. While a written test provides a good indication of a candidate’s acumen and ability to handle pressure, is it a fair mode of assessment? Finding the time to do a test can be difficult, particularly if a candidate is working two jobs or has family commitments. Could companies look for a more inclusive way of assessing candidates so they can reach different groups? ​

One agency promotes diversity through employee resource groups (ERGs) for the LGBTQ+, disabled and other underrepresented communities, providing a safe space to speak and connect. Increasing organisational understanding of underrepresented groups is key when it comes to reaching out to them on job opportunities.

Pharma is a career choice that involves pursuing a particular academic pathway. It’s not necessarily something you fall into. Due to the lack of diversity in the academic pool, the requirement for a PhD can exclude minorities. This means the pharma industry’s largely made up of people from the same few schools.

How do you change that? It’s about where you recruit. It’s easy to say that diverse talent isn’t out there when you keep looking in the same places. Think about who’s applying to your roles and how you reach them. Then build networks and understanding with your target talent pools, clearly communicating the career path within your organisation.

Clinical trial recruitment is based on white male bodies as the ‘field standard’ that is then applied to everyone else. Overcoming subconscious discrimination starts with healthcare – educating residents, targeting earlier career physicians and training the next generation.

2. Studies should reflect the local demographic

In clinical studies, we need to represent various skin tones to reflect the ethnic groups in the patient population. But that’s not always the case. An example was given of a dermatitis study where all the training manuals were on white skin, and there seemed to be a higher placebo rate which wasn’t captured.

It’s about being collaborative with patients to produce an accurate patient journey. This doesn’t just require diversity in the people who are making the decisions, but oversight of the end users to ensure a truly representative process.

Although metrics can help to measure the success of programmes and implementations, we can’t be guided by statistics alone. We must keep our focus on empathy and relationship building so we can truly understand the patients’ needs and respond to them accordingly. When it comes to selecting the next generation of researchers, leaders need to be educated to prioritise diversity, not just ticking boxes.

3. Training is just the start

DEI is moving so quickly that training quickly becomes outdated. In order to keep up with the latest topics of discussion, thinking and terminology, training needs to be continuous – just like training in IT systems or AI. At the same time, we need to continuously challenge our own unconscious bias.

Do we get too hung up on the idea of encouraging our employees to bring their authentic self to work? Isn’t this the easiest thing in the world? When someone shares their story and we congratulate them for their bravery, we’re effectively acknowledging that it isn’t a safe space. A person shouldn’t have to be brave to communicate openly with their colleagues. Saying the workplace is a safe space doesn’t make it a reality. A safe and open environment can only be created from the top down.

By the same token, training alone isn’t the answer. In isolation, it can have the opposite effect and make people feel they’re being singled out. Training and education must be allied to role modelling from leadership, who need to embody and actively display the qualities we desire in all of our people.

4. Allyship can include and inform

There was a feeling that there’s “nothing about us without us.” Diversity is such a wide and complex entity that we need to work hard to be representative of all groups. Visibility is really important to people who are underrepresented in a particular sector, helping to give them a sense of being accepted.

If we’re writing about them and designing communications for them, shouldn’t we be using our patients’ needs and preferences to guide us? One of our panellists described how their organisation had partnered with its patient advocacy group to create a patient narrative, with the intention of making the patient the author. It’s all about putting yourself as much as possible in the place of your target audience.

Education is a big part of being a better ally. By learning about different people’s experiences, we can better understand their perspectives and represent those perspectives in our communications. Patients provide us with a lot of data and ultimately, give a lot to science. A patient advocacy arm gives you the opportunity to talk to patients and caregivers so you can cater your services exclusively to their needs. Using Datavision to track different populations after a presentation can provide a holistic view of whether publications are representative of those populations.


We can never achieve a truly equitable workplace if we keep treating DEI as a separate entity. It needs to be integrated into our working policies and ways of thinking, not subsequently applied to already embedded working practices. That means more inclusive hiring processes, clinical studies that reflect the local demographic, continuous training that allows us to keep up with the ever changing DEI landscape, and allyship that makes everyone feel included.

ISMPP is a professional member association which aims to provide ethical and effective communication of medical research to inform treatment decisions. Find out more about ISMPP here.

Race in STEM is a community for underrepresented multicultural voices in STEM. If you’d like to find out more about Race in STEM, or you want to talk to us about improving equality and diversity in your organisation, please get in touch now.