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How best to promote diversity and innovation in the life sciences workforce

The problem with the lack of diversity in the life sciences industry is more severe than people perhaps imagined according to new research conducted by the Epsen Fuller Group earlier this year. Only 12.7% and 8.3% of directorships of small to micro pharma, medical devices and bio tech companies are women. The research also shows that there’s been little progress since 2000 in decreasing racial disparities for interest and aptitude in STEM subjects.

promote diversity - different skin toned hands holding each other

As well as the obvious reasons why this is a serious problem, it also signals that innovation is hampered throughout the industry. Different thoughts, diverse perspectives and more backgrounds creates a melting pot of ideas, all of which challenge the status quo and have the result of introducing new methods, ideas and products to small and growing businesses. So, here are some specific pointers given by Alacrita on promoting diversity and innovation in the workforce.

Address the current problem 2

If there’s a lack of diversity in your business right now, there’s likely to be a subconscious bias somewhere in your organisation. That doesn’t mean your business is blatantly racist or sexist, but it does suggest that there might be patterns of behaviour that are making your company more inaccessible than you realise.

Take a look at every aspect of your recruitment process, and even the way you market yourself to your customers, partners, stakeholders and the general public: does the imagery on your website reflect the kind of diversity you’re claiming to champion, for example? If not, it’s time to address it. Training the individuals making recruitment decisions to learn how to recognise their own subconscious biases is a very important task to undertake, too.

Stop hiring variations of the same person

If you’ve noticed that your workforce is looking rather too homogeneous, make a point of looking for people you don’t tend to interview or hire. This might mean learning where to find diverse pools of candidates (working with specialist recruitment agencies for example – especially those with a reputation for paying attention to diversity in STEM positions), partner with local colleges and universities, and make connections with networking groups if you want to hire from a more diverse pool.

Write your job descriptions with diversity in mind

The way you advertise for positions is an important thing to examine if you’re trying to promote diversity and innovation. For example, gendered language in job descriptions is thought to discourage some women from applying for roles – so it’s critical you get your wording right. Get your diversity messaging in your job descriptions right, too – no-one wants to feel like they’re simply filling up a quota, so be sure to articulate why diversity is so important to your business and ultimately, its bottom line.

Recruit for different skill sets

You might think the right person for a life sciences position is someone who’s spent years in a lab, but this might not necessarily be the case. In fact, someone who’s never set foot in a laboratory but has tremendous commercial acumen or solid first-hand experience from a business development perspective could be a better fit. So, don’t be tempted to hire straight from the lab – you might be doing your company a disservice if you do. And don’t forget that diversity and innovation extends beyond those you’ve hired on a permanent basis. Seek a diverse array of consultants and partners, and if you’re excited by the prospect of a young graduate who has the right attitude but none of the experience you’re looking for, see who else you could contract alongside them.

Look for collaborators

Sometimes you’ll need people who can get on with a job and deliver, but the reality is that most roles will require a degree of communication to some extent or another. So, if it’s innovation you’re after, make sure you’re hiring people who are great team players and good communicators. Don’t just stop there though – your working environment will need to foster collaboration, so do what you can to provide shared work spaces and plenty of opportunities for thoughts to be discussed and ideas to challenged. Prioritise communication when you’re hiring consultants (the likes of which you’d find somewhere such as Alacrita, for example), as finding a third party consultant who fits your business’s style of communication and collaboration is essential for innovation.

Facilitate innovation

Risk taking that has the potential to cost a lot of money or harm anyone’s wellbeing is never advisable, but having a culture that encourages calculated risk-taking regarding thoughts and opinions is a sure-fire way to foster innovation. Encourage this kind of culture by holding innovation meetings, or simply by putting an ‘ideas box’ of some sort in place (it could be an email account for your team to send ideas to, or an anonymous feedback form). The key thing is to make sure that no-one is ridiculed or criticised for their ideas: honesty, accountability and a willingness to challenge the norm is what you’ll need if your life sciences business is going to be innovative.

Implement these ideas, and you’re likely to find that both diversity and innovation markedly improve in your business.

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