June 30, 2021

Why Gender Issues Still Exist in Pharma/Biotech

I'm Melissa
I'm a Career and Leadership Coach for Women in Pharma/Biotech. I've been where you are, and I help you create the career you want without working more hours or settling for good enough.
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I’m just going to put it out there.

Gender issues still exist in pharma/biotech.

But why? These companies are innovative.  They have some of the most talented people.  It is a diverse workforce.

In this episode, I’m sharing why gender issues still exist, why the well-intended solutions at the top just aren’t good enough and what we need to do instead.

This episode is for everyone.  There’s no man-shaming here.  

This is all about awareness and jumping into the deep end to have a meaningful and deeper conversation about these topics so that we can make some change…together.

What You’ll Learn

Challenges women face in a male dominated industry

Why there is a gap with women in leadership roles

How to create a safe space for people to share their real experiences

Ways that women can use their voices, stand up for themselves and lift other women up

Tools for men to be a valued part of the conversation

Featured in This Episode

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Welcome to Navigating Your Career, the only podcast that blends personal development, professional skills and psychology to help you get happy at work and live the life you want.  If you want to stop feeling stuck and start feeling better, this is the place for you. I’m your host, Melissa Lawrence.

Let’s get started.

Hello, welcome to the podcast. Today, we’re going to talk about something that I get asked about a lot, and that is how to advance in male dominated industries, particularly into a leadership role. Now, this is a big topic. I’ve done episodes on working with a misogynist, on implementing anti-racism at work, and in my recent conversation with Chris Frew of Workforce Genetics, we talked about this as well. But this is still a big and complex issue.

So for the purpose of this episode, I’m going to focus on gender disparity, stereotypes and the lack of female representation in leadership in the life sciences or pharma biotech industry. Now, it would be a disservice not to mention that people of color, specifically women of color and members of the LGBTQIA plus communities are hit hard by the disparity that can occur at work and with lack of representation. This could be and may well be another episode in the future.

So let’s just start the conversation at a higher level with just the lack of leadership roles held by women, inclusive of anyone who identifies as a woman. Pharma biotech is considered a male dominated industry. But specifically, if you look at manufacturing – that is in the top 10 of male dominated industries, along with industries like I.T., firefighting and construction, just to name a few. I think the industry itself, the life sciences, pharma biotech industry is rather diverse if you look at all levels within the organization.

But once you get beyond that middle management level and try to get to the associate director or director and above, the representation dwindles. Why is this? We have men and women pursuing scientific degrees and entering the industry at similar rates. So what happens when we get to that higher level of leadership? I’m going to talk about that. Also, why does this matter? Well, this is more important than just getting the promotion or advancing or sitting at a table of leaders that are 80 percent white men.

There are real challenges. Let’s talk about them, like a lack of support and resources for women to advance, sexual harassment, which I’m sure isn’t hard to understand or believe, is often more so in male dominated industries then in non male dominated industries, sexism and bias to believing that men are more capable of doing certain jobs, whether that bias is conscious or not, stereotypes about women’s roles, their ability to commit to a job, to hold a meeting, to make decisions, to understand the business, to be a leader, to the hours they will work, the type of work they were doing.

The list goes on. There are gender pay gaps and disparities that take forever to fix, because when you have years of disparities to reconcile, it’s expensive to the company. They either have to bring down the pay of the men or give a lot of women raises, and that is going to cost the company a lot of money. Further, The Economist reported in 2013 that the highest paying jobs are male dominated and the lowest paying jobs are female dominated. So this is still very much an issue today.

Inequalities in terms of opportunities, including the very opportunities needed to get promoted, there’s a lack of opportunity to contribute or articulate concerns, with women’s concerns often being dismissed as emotional or having lack of experience. And now here are some statistics, because they also tell a story per BioSpace’s 2020 U.S. life sciences salary report and the 2020 U.S. Life Sciences Diversity and Inclusion Report, men outearn women by 19.3% and only 14 percent of women felt that opportunities for promotion were fair.

There’s a stigma even talking about this topic. Believe me, it took a little bit for me to even record this. I had this topic on my to do list. It was in my list of podcast episodes that I wanted to create, and I hadn’t done it yet because I know that this is difficult and there are a lot of opinions around this topic. And I’m going to talk about them. And we are just going to get all of this out, at least a good amount, the amount that I can put into this episode.

This may be like a multiple episode situation. So I used to lead a network of women in pharma. Most of the women advance their career one way or another. But there were women who saw the difference between how men and women were treated at work and didn’t want to be part of this network because of the stigma. They were afraid that being part of a women’s group didn’t look good to leadership, that they didn’t want to be seen as a troublemaking woman, so to speak.

There were other women that thought that women that think there is a difference in treatment are just not working hard enough and that they’re just complainers. A client told me that she was one of those women until she saw it herself, she saw the dismissing of the female colleague and her comments, the talking over her, the leadership table having less and less women representation. This is difficult to navigate. The fact is, is that there is a gender diversity problem when it comes to leadership and boards in the pharma biotech.

Many companies have strategies to address this, including increasing representation at certain levels by a target percentage, creating women’s leadership development programs, unconscious bias training, management training, diversity workshops. But the problem still exists. So first, let’s talk about why there is a gap with women in leadership roles. I’m going to touch on a few points, but this is not exhaustive at all. Women are held to a standard that men are not. I’m just going to put that out there.

Women need to be hard, but not too hard. They need to be kind, but not a pushover. They need to look nice, but not sexual. They need to be average sized, but not too big, not too small. They need to communicate well, but not talk too much. They need to be a strong leader, but not aggressive. Speaking of, women are labeled aggressive instead of assertive. They need to care, but not be too emotional.

They need to know their job, not make a mistake. Be a good mother, not work too much, but also be available to work all the time. This isn’t new. If you go back to the 50s, the 60s, the 90s, today, you’ll see the messaging of how a woman is supposed to be. You don’t see this with men. We’re conditioned to judge women to think they’re less than, to think they have something to overcome. Specific to work, some cultures, specifically some pharma, biotech cultures, drive more masculine behaviors and reward them.  Move quickly, be competitive steal, go, go, go.

It was interesting to watch the leadership change at a company I worked for, the women who are less masculine didn’t last. The women who seem to have a bias toward men belonged. And even with that type of environment, the leadership team was 80 percent men and the women on the team were the ones planning employee events and doing the stereotypical female tasks. When more feminine women were part of the team and see some of the male leadership team looking them up and down if they spoke in big meetings.

This didn’t happen when men were speaking. A male leader during an intro told hundreds of people, employees, he desired a young pop star and then his wife said it was OK. Again, this wouldn’t happen or be acceptable if a woman proclaimed her love for Zac Efron or whatever young man…I don’t even know who is considered a hot young man these days. All of these undertones are part of the culture and they shape this environment of gender disparity. Some male leaders have said with the #metoo movement that they didn’t feel comfortable mentoring women anymore.

Think about that. What does that even mean? Did they do something or think something inappropriate or just worry that they would or it would be taken the wrong way? Did they think the women who shared their #metoo stories were lying and could lie about him, too? It’s interesting. Now, let’s just be clear that some of this is due to culture and history and some of this is due to choice.  Sometimes women and men can take on roles or make decisions that are not empowering to them, and they certainly aren’t a victim of those choices.

When I work with my clients, we look at what they are doing, both men and women, what they’re bringing to their role, what barriers they have and how they’re holding themselves back, too. No one is being forced to be the note taker. But how does this show up in less overt ways?  Women get passed over for promotions and men get put into the roles that women are often more qualified for.

Sometimes the men are even less qualified, which occurred with a client recently. The requirements for women to meet the standard for leadership roles are much greater than men. Women can meet 100 percent the qualifications and men can meet 80 percent. And even in internal situations, the man will often be chosen. Yet we know the statistic that women want to exceed job requirements before even applying, where men don’t. And we will say we need to get more women applying.

But when they do, even when they meet 100 percent, sometimes that isn’t enough. Then they are told of invisible requirements, not in the job description that they have to meet, that even the chosen candidates don’t have. A former colleague of mine doesn’t put her first name on her resume or application in industry because she wants to avoid bias and she actually gets more interviews and callbacks without identifying as a woman.  Today, like this is something that she is currently doing.

Now, is this discrimination intentional? No, I don’t think it is. I think it’s our bias. It’s our society. It’s our beliefs that are so ingrained in us that we don’t even know that they are there. And if a woman speaks up and mentions that this is an issue, it’s a risk. This is why this continues to be an issue, women are in a position where their requirements are higher, there are hidden requirements. Some of them they know, some of them they don’t, because they’re based on bias of other people.

They’re sometimes objectified. They have to outperform men, not complain, laugh off those uncomfortable moments and push through. And then maybe they have a shot And they have to smile, but not too much. Some of you I know are like, “Preach, sister!” And others are like, “Whoa. I thought I knew you, Melissa.” And I’m not saying all men don’t support women, that all men don’t deserve their roles or women should just be put into leadership roles without qualifications.

I feel I need to make these disclaimers because sometimes that’s where your minds go. And this isn’t so simple. It’s complex. It’s our entire human history. It’s our psychology and behavior. It’s so much. It isn’t as easy as putting “equality for all” on a poster or sponsoring a women’s group. We have to really understand that this is a problem and we have to be willing to be open, that we may be part of the problem, to talk about it, even when it’s uncomfortable, to question our decisions and acknowledge the employee stories and experiences.

So where do we go from here? I think we need to have an honest conversation at work, but to do so, we need psychological safety. We need the comfort that there won’t be negative consequences when speaking up, and in many cases we aren’t there yet. So I’d work on that. When people do speak up, we need to listen. This is true of really any topic, but so frequently people jump to being defensive, to deciding the other person is wrong, but they misunderstood.

Or we label that person with a footnote that they can never advance because they are a troublemaker. They speak up too much. They’re known for ruffling feathers. Or when people make a mistake, let them learn from it without shaming them. For example, for me, I’m married to a woman. I wasn’t always, but I am now, and people always assume that I have a husband mostly due to stereotypes. I’m a mom, with how I look, etc.

My wife, on the other hand, is always presumed gay because of how she looks. But when a man asks me what my husband does, I say, “Oh, my wife does blah, blah, blah,” or something like that. Then they usually look confused or sometimes will apologize and say they didn’t know. I tell them that it’s OK and I thank them for acknowledging it. I don’t berate them and say, “How dare you? How could you presume this about me? This is 2021.”

Because that isn’t opening the dialog. It isn’t helping the other person learn a different perspective more so it’s probably adding another stereotype and not a good one. And I mean, honestly, that’s just not how I think. When people make mistakes like that, we are all human. We are all whole and wonderful as we are. I believe this to be true. And we’re going to make mistakes along the way. And when we are vulnerable and we’re trying to connect with other people, I want to reward that and I want to celebrate that connection and build it.

I don’t want to tear it down. So we really need to create the safe space for people to share their experiences and to assure that there won’t be consequences and we just aren’t there yet. It needs to be a priority to create this space. It’s not an H.R. issue. It’s a society and cultural issue. This is true for men and for women, both. All need to be able to speak their experience, they need to say they have a bias if they don’t know they have one and ask for help without being made into a spectacle.

This is true for everyone. Women have bias, men have bias, every identity has bias. This is just the way that our human brains work. We have to be able to be vulnerable and open about that and talk about it and not try to one up each other to be able to make progress. A lot of times everyone is just trying to do the best they can. So penalizing people for speaking up is never a good idea. We need to listen to understand, not to argue or persuade.

We also need to stop trying to change women and making their lack of advancement their fault. If women aren’t applying because they don’t meet 150 percent of the qualifications, and if you’re a woman listening, you need to start applying.  I help my clients with this. But we also should reply by understanding why this is in our society and create processes to prevent or at least limit discrimination in the hiring process. It isn’t a fault of the woman for not knowing better.

We also need to stop these women leadership development programs that tell women how their hair needs to look, how they need to dress, how to have masculine presence, which, of course, they want to call a masculine presence. But that’s what they’re doing. But they need to stop saying sorry or they need to start talking differently. This is the problem. It isn’t inclusive to tell someone they need to change who they are to sit at the table.

We don’t do this with men. We don’t have men leadership development programs where we tell men that they have to have hair when they don’t or they need to dress a certain way or talk in a higher pitched voice. We end up putting women through these programs and then they get the star, they get that little mark.  That means to make the company metrics look good, they need to be promoted or given visibility because that means the program worked.

It’s not good. If you are a women listening, and you want to advance, how do you? Or if you’re a man listening and I crushed your soul and you feel like you don’t know what to do anymore, listen, if you’re a man listening, this is not your fault. Believe me, I have a son who is a teenager, and sometimes I share articles or talk about some of these topics. And I never want my son to feel like he is bad, like that he is inherently bad just for being a boy.

And I don’t want you to feel that way either. This is about awareness. It’s about jumping into the deep end to have a meaningful and deeper conversation about these topics so that we can make some change. Because if you’re not having these conversations here, you’re listening to this podcast, that’s what this is all about, because that work, sometimes it’s just going to be glossy. It’s not going to get that deep because we don’t want to get too deep, but we need to to really make the change.

And otherwise, it’s all a facade, it’s all for the poster, it’s all for the metric. Now, it doesn’t make your issues less of an issue. Believe me, I work with men, too. The struggle bus is a ride everyone gets on at one point or another. You can advocate for women, but more so start questioning where your bias may come in. What beliefs do you have? What environment did you grow up in and how did you learn about gender roles?

What media influenced you? That can be a start. Then, if you’re feeling open, talk to some women in your life about their experiences. Look to see how you can amplify the women’s voices in your life. Is there a board, a leadership team, a project, something that, you know, a talented woman would be great at? Mention it and make it visible. When you choose a man for a job over a woman, really ask yourself the tough questions.

Sometimes a man will be a better fit. No doubt. Sometimes we choose the man out of comfort or a bias. So triple check, get a diverse panel to review candidates to try to rule that out. Men are great. Like I said, I have a son. I love him very much. There are some amazing men at work and you are probably one of them if you’re listening to this. Now, if you’re a woman, sister, you probably feel so seen or you’re ticked off at me. Either way, keep going, use your voice, even when you’re scared to.

Remember, even if your current company wouldn’t advance you for using it, there are other companies. You get to decide to empower yourself with anything you want to do. If you attend a leadership development program and there’s some topics you think aren’t right, mention it. Change will happen when we can have these safe discussions. If it isn’t safe, then don’t. You get to decide. You have to feel comfortable and believe in the risk. If you’re passed over for a promotion, don’t just accept it.

Ask for feedback, hold your leadership accountable, don’t accept the automatic reply that you weren’t a good fit. If you’re told you need more experience and X, Y, Z, validate it to see if it’s fair and if it isn’t, question it. Sometimes the leadership just doesn’t know. At this time, we have more men making these decisions, and so there is going to be a bias until the decision panel has more representation. Stand up for yourself and find other strong women to stand with you.

Lift each other up. Women need to raise other women. I know there is advice to find male mentors out there, and I think that can be helpful. But I also believe the data shows more women raise women than men raise up women. So find those strong female allies, too. We are on the right path. We have seen progress and we will continue to knock down the barriers until the glass ceiling is no longer there. Have a great week.

I get asked all of the time, how do I know if I’m in the right career? Now you can find out. I created a free quiz using my criteria for what makes a great job fit. You can take the quiz at my website www.melissamlawrence.com. And in less than three minutes, you’ll know the answer so you can stop guessing and take some action. And as a bonus, if your job isn’t a great fit, you’ll get some resources to help you decide what to do about it.

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No longer settles for “good enough”

Hi, I’m Melissa.

Career & Leadership Coach for Women in Pharma/Biotech

I'm a former Talent & Development leader in Pharma/Biotech turned CEO and Certified Professional Career & Life Coach. I also host the podcast, Your Worthy Career.

I've been where you are, and I help you create the career you want without working more hours or settling for good enough.

I'm leading a movement of women in the industry who are figuring out exactly what they want and shattering the glass ceiling. The very real ceiling in the industry, but also the one that we impose on ourselves. 

So long, imposter syndrome and overthinking. It's time to step into the impact and life you're worthy of having.

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