Gender Disparities Within Life Sciences and the Need to Increase Female Representation in the Industry


Like many STEM industries, female representation is much lower across health sciences, medical and pharmaceutical fields. While progress has been made over the last decade, there are still significant steps to be made to increase the prevalence of women in the industry overall and increase the number of women at leadership level within medical sciences. 

Change isn’t something that can happen overnight, it’s a series of steps and actions over time that can contribute to significant change and growth within the health science industry so we can see more and more women enter, work and lead the future of health sciences. 

A recent report by McKinsey & Company, highlights the progress made in recent years with healthcare increasing the representation of women in comparison to other industries – with 32% of women at a c-suite level in healthcare, compared to 26% across all industries. 

Taahir Patel, Principal Consultant in Biotech & Pharma recruitment at CSG Talent shares his recent experiences on the presence of women in executive level roles within Life Sciences – “Working on leadership roles within life sciences, it is refreshing to see that clients are keen to attract a diverse talent pool to interview and are making a conscious effort to help contribute to this change. That said, there are less females at the leadership level within life sciences but the positive is we are seeing change in the right direction from start-ups to the large corporations.”

What challenges do women face in the life science industry?

Women can often experience challenge and barriers both entering the industry, and when trying to develop their career. 

Lack of role models

With a significant lack of women at leadership level within life sciences, it’s no surprise that the industry also lacks a pool of role models for women entering the industry to aspire towards. There is an underrepresentation of women in leadership roles, not just within life sciences, but across all areas of STEM. As well as this, there are gender disparities with those appointed the Nobel Prize Award, with only 16.3% of the awards won my women. –

Gender bias

Gender bias is still prevalent across industry sectors, something women experience within Life Science and Healthcare is the lack of equal opportunities, including pay opportunities and the disparities with pay as a result of the gender pay gap.

In the Life Sciences Salary Report and D&I Report, it was reported that men out-earn women by 19.3%, which climbs to 47.6% when looking specifically at healthcare.

Gender gaps in research and funding

In some areas, women have faced barriers in accessing funding for scientific research in comparison to men seeking research funding. A study by PLOS ONE found that female life scientists are less likely to receive research funding compared to males. On top of this, studies have shown that women can face challenges when it comes to publishing their research. Issues with securing publication deals with well-regarded journals are also a hurdle for women to overcome in the industry. Both of which can pose significant barriers to gaining exposure and visibility in the industry, as well as furthering their careers. 

Imposter syndrome

With less presence and exposure of women within health sciences, imposter syndrome is highly common for women to experience when entering a new role or taking a step up in a role. There are a proportion of women who have times when they feel they are less capable and competent to fulfill a role. Highly capable and credible women can have the misperception that they lack the adequate skills and experience in a position which can impact their confidence in carrying out and succeeding in a role.

Reduced opportunities

Gender bias, lack of mentors and role models, imposter syndrome and barriers with research or funding can all contribute to reduced opportunities within life sciences for women. Women can often experience reduced opportunities in comparison to men within the health science sector due to lack of flexibility, visibility and insufficient support and infrastructures in place. 

Benefits of having a diverse team and diverse leadership

Having a diverse team can be hugely beneficial to a business and it is often underestimated the impact this can have on a business's opportunity to grow and experience success. When a business taps into a wide range of diverse perspectives, this allows an organization the opportunity to try new and alternative approaches and exposes the business to ideas and concepts they may not have had exposure to with a less diverse team.

Businesses focused on championing diversity within life sciences

While there is still a long way to go for the life science industry to have a stronger representation of women across the industry, and more specifically at leadership level, there are companies leading the way with their D&I stance and actions. GlaxoSmithKline led public companies with five women board directors, including CEO Emma Walmsley, AstraZeneca and Bicycle Therapeutics each have four directors on their board that are women. 

IVBH, an early detection cancer portfolio company are passionate about their D&I goals and the culture they promote. The CEO shares personal insights on LinkedIn on his drive to build a business full of family orientated leaders. He often talks passionately about his wife and daughters being his inspiration and an integral part to the dynamic of his start-up company.

Paradigm Infotech actively promote and support LGBTQ from the executive leadership team, throughout the business. Chief is a great network for women that connects and supports female executive leaders. This network allows women from various sectors to share ideas, learn from one another and push forward with their careers, breaking the barriers and challenges women face in gaining exposure at a senior leadership level. 

Practical tips and approaches for businesses to attract diverse talent

For businesses operating within life sciences and healthcare, it’s important to take steps to increase diversity within the business and ensure your hiring process is inclusive and attracts a diverse range of talent. 

Neutral advertising and diverse hiring process

It’s important for talent teams and hiring managers within health sciences to consider neutral language when creating advertisements for job roles. Neutral language is essential, so consider the tone of voice and the language style to ensure adverts appeal to both women and men.

Think about the role, and the opportunity from a candidate perspective and ensure the communication and the context of the advert is appealing to all. There should be less focus on the responsibilities, and greater emphasis on the opportunity and what your business can offer a potential employee in terms of culture, benefits and the potential to develop.

Having a diverse hiring process ensures the business has considered who is involved throughout the hiring process from initial contact and throughout the interview stages. Do you have a diverse range of employees and leaders involved throughout the process? Women in particular will be able to relate and feel a sense of inclusion and belonging if there is an equal representation of other women throughout the hiring process. This in turn, should have a positive impact on a woman’s desire to join the business if they feel represented. 

Consider benefits and culture that appeal to women and men

Over the years, employee motivations have changed. This has meant that businesses across the globe have had to re-think what they offer existing and prospective employees and enhance their overall package to appeal to the changing priorities of candidates. Businesses need to factor in benefits that add value to various stages of the lives of their employees that are considerate to overall wellbeing, work life balance and significant life events. 

Benefits reviews within a business should be an ongoing process to establish when and how benefits and policies can be enhanced, or for new to be introduced. Review maternity and paternity offerings, healthcare and insurance benefits, flexible and remote working arrangements and paid time off allowances. Establish market averages and learn what competitors offer their employees ensure any changes you make to existing benefits are competitive and will allow you to attract diverse talent.

Increased representation and exposure of women and diversity 

What exposure do women have in our organization both internally and externally? Consider how female representation is communicated in your internal communications and employer brand materials, as well as exposure on the company website, social media and external communications. 

While this is important to communicate diversity and demonstrate the representation of women in your business, this isn’t where it stops. Organizations need to take action to ensure women feel aligned with their business and that this is embedded in the company culture, not just communications. 

Expert health science recruiters

The Health Science recruitment team at CSG Talent work closely with leading organisations within the health science market to support their diversity and inclusion goals. Many of our clients are keen to increase their diversity across teams and for the industry to see more inspiring women leaders in what is predominantly been a male dominated industry.

“Organisations identified as more diverse and inclusive are 35% more likely to outperform their competitors.” – McKinsey

Our recent hiring guide delves into the importance of diversity throughout the hiring process and the many benefits it can bring. We share practical approaches for businesses to implement in order to create a successful and diverse hiring strategy. Download your complimentary hiring guide – How to Create a Diverse Hiring Strategy.

If you would like to explore some of our specialist areas within the Health Science and Diagnostics sectors, please click here. Some of our specialisms include; personalised medicine, biotech and pharma, scientific and research tools, digital pathology, point of care and much more. Our team have recently supported clients in sourcing talent in niche markets and overcoming limited talent pools in proteomics, successfully placing senior level talent in leading global organisations.