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In some of the leading biotech and pharmaceutical companies, the majority of employees are women. More than half of new PhDs in the life sciences are women. And women are more likely to start companies than men. They are often the ones running the labs, managing clinical operations, or at the helm of many of other critical functions.

Why then do women make up just 21 percent of biotech leadership teams and hold just 10 percent of biotech board seats?

This gender gap matters because the global biopharma industry is one of the most powerful and important industries today, directly affecting the lives of billions of people around the world on a daily basis. In order to understand and meet the critical unmet medical needs of patients, the industry must represent the population it serves.


In Massachusetts, where our companies are based, as in other fast-growing industry clusters, diversity is essential for continued growth. Job projections show that the biopharma industry has the potential to grow faster than the current workforce can support.

Our industry will not reach its potential without tapping into all of the possible talent and expertise for participation and contribution.


The BioPharma Executive Council, a peer group of biopharma executives in Boston, worked with the trade organization MassBio to identify the best practices for increasing gender diversity in the biopharma industry. We summarized what we found in an open letter to the industry. But the take-home lessons can be applied successfully to all industries.

Leading companies like Johnson & Johnson, Biogen, Vertex, and others are already putting these practices into use. We hope that many others will join us in working on this challenge with collective focus and determination.

Here are the top 10 best practices that we identified to increase gender diversity:

  1. We as executives and board members declare gender diversity as a priority, as a key value and ethos. We commit to living it visibly at all of our companies and organizations.
  2. We will create opportunities for open dialogue on enhancing gender diversity and ensuring an inclusive environment, both within our organizations and across the industry.
  3. We recognize the importance of formal sponsorship programs to ensure diversity in our executive leadership pipeline and commit to building these programs in our companies.
  4. We also recognize that it is important to provide formal mentorship programs to encourage women to engage with executives, both inside and outside of our organization. We commit to building these programs in our companies.
  5. We will ask our board members to be active sponsors of women who are “board ready” to pursue board appointments. We will endorse and sponsor our high-potential female talent to take part in training programs to become “boardroom ready.”
  6. We will measure and track promotion of female talent to senior management positions.
  7. We will seek out and celebrate positive role models within our organizations.
  8. We will review our hiring processes and train our hiring managers on diversity and inclusion as a priority.
  9. We agree with the importance of setting concrete hiring goals to achieve gender parity and inclusion at each level of our organizations and to measure and report regularly on our progress towards goals.
  10. We will support the work of our trade organizations, like MassBio, on industry-wide efforts to improve gender diversity at the macro level.

The biopharma industry needs to demonstrate leadership on this issue if it is to continue to recruit, manage, and promote the best, most innovative, and capable talent on the planet.

Of course, increasing gender diversity is just one of many steps in increasing diversity and inclusion overall. Many of these same principles apply fully to all areas of diversity and inclusion. We intend to pursue racial, ethnic, and LGBT diversity as well.

It is time to stop talking and start walking the walk.

Jodie Morrison is CEO of Tokai Pharmaceuticals and a member of the BioPharma Executive Council. Robert K. Coughlin is president and CEO of MassBio.

  • Excellent piece and kudos on this effort. Companies may also want to consider putting patient advocates on their boards. They are the end users, know the market from the inside out on the other side, and have an ever more active role as value, voices and patient choices grow even stronger in the winds of change sweeping through health care.

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