Almost half of life science professionals see workplace culture as the biggest barrier for women in STEM

The Pistoia Alliance, a global, not-for-profit alliance that advocates for greater collaboration in life sciences R&D, announced the findings of a survey conducted at its spring conference. The results show that almost half (47%) of respondents believe that workplace culture is the biggest barrier for women embarking on a STEM career. This is followed by a lack of childcare/maternity leave (17%) and an absence of female role models in the workplace (15%). In response to these findings and based on further discussions at the conference, the Alliance is exploring new ways to support members’ inclusion, diversity, and equity (ID&E) initiatives, including through the launch of a new mentorship program for women in STEM.

The Pistoia Alliance is uniquely placed to develop a cross-company, cross-industry mentorship scheme given its large pool of expertise drawn from more than 150 member companies, including the top ten global pharmaceutical organizations. The Alliance also has a proven track record of creating effective mentorship programs with start-ups through The President’s Challenge, which has resulted in finalists raising more than $45 million in funding. Research shows diverse teams are more productive and it’s well documented that helping women progress their careers and build their networks is vital for retaining talent in the life sciences and healthcare industries.

“While great strides towards equality for women in STEM have been made in the last decade, COVID-19 has threatened to slow this progress. Evidence shows the impact of the pandemic falls more heavily on women in science, and our survey found more than two thirds (68%) of respondents believe women in STEM have been more disadvantaged during the pandemic than their male counterparts. Despite this, during the fight against COVID-19, women have been at the forefront of breakthroughs, including the University of Oxford COVID-19 trials and at BioNTech in the creation of the first RNA-based vaccine,” commented Dr. Becky Upton, Chief Portfolio Officer at The Pistoia Alliance. “We want to help embolden women in STEM careers, facilitate networking, and enable current female STEM leaders to hold open the door for the next generation of scientists. We are now looking to set up a mentorship scheme and are calling on interested companies within our membership to get in touch and help steer the development.”

Analysis from McKinsey has echoed the Alliance’s research on how COVID-19 has impacted women, highlighting that women’s jobs are 1.8 times more vulnerable to the pandemic than men’s jobs. Studies have also found that female academics have been disproportionately affected by lockdown, unable to submit research papers at the same rate due to the struggle of balancing work with domestic life and homeschooling.

“While working from home does provide more flexibility, it has also meant in many cases that employees are expected to be accessible for more hours of the day. There is also a strong indication that it has increased care duties for women inordinately more than for men,” continued Dr. Upton. “There is a risk that progress could go into reverse if steps to redress the gender equality balance are not taken now. As we return to “normal life” following the pandemic, we must make sure that development in ID&E is maintained and that it continues to be a business priority. While individual companies are making headway, this is an area where collaboration will benefit the industry as a whole. Sharing experiences, ideas and best practices will accelerate ID&E efforts and bring benefits to every company.”

About the Pistoia Alliance
The Pistoia Alliance is a global, not-for-profit members’ organization made up of life science companies, technology, and service providers, publishers, and academic groups working to lower barriers to innovation in life science and healthcare R&D. It was conceived in 2007 and incorporated in 2009 by representatives of AstraZeneca, GSK, Novartis, and Pfizer who met at a conference in Pistoia, Italy. Its projects transform R&D through pre-competitive collaboration. It overcomes common R&D obstacles by identifying the root causes, developing standards and best practices, sharing pre-competitive data and knowledge, and implementing technology pilots. There are currently over 150 member companies; members collaborate on projects that generate significant value for the worldwide life sciences R&D community, using The Pistoia Alliance’s proven framework for open innovation.

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