Why the industry needs to push for greater inclusion and diversity

By Maggie Lynch contact

- Last updated on GMT

(Image: Getty/monkeybusinessimages)
(Image: Getty/monkeybusinessimages)

Related tags: Biotech companies, Biotechnology companies, diversity, biotechnology innovation organization

Diverse leadership provides more opportunity for innovation and higher performance in financial return, says diversity and inclusion chair and biotech executive.

After establishing the workforce development diversity and inclusion committee in 2016, Biotechnology Innovation Organization (BIO) has been working to establish diversity in the biotech field. Most recently, the organization launched a new toolkit and Bio Boardlist through the ‘Right Mix Matters’ campaign to improve diversity within the industry.

BioPharma-Reporter (BPR​) spoke with Helen Torley (HT​), president and CEO of Halozyme Therapeutics and chair of BIO’s Workplace Development Diversity and Inclusion (WDDI) committee, which is composed of CEOs, about the nature of diversity in the biotech industry and how it can continue to evolve, as well as the increasing need for industry members with different backgrounds in the field.

Helen Torley Halozyme
Helen Torley, CEO of Halozyme 

BPR: What was the rationale behind establishing a diversity campaign in biotech?

HT:​ In 2016, BIO established the workforce development diversity and inclusion committee to recognize the opportunity to create more diverse leadership in the biotech industry. We began by establishing a set of principles that talked about the importance of diversity and inclusion, but we recognized that just talking about it wasn’t enough.

People are very familiar with the data that says if you have a diverse leadership, there is more opportunity for innovation and higher performance in financial return for shareholders. But what we heard is that sometimes people just could not find diverse candidates to include in their candidate pool or found that, within their own organization, they were not advancing diverse candidates at the same pace as, perhaps, their white male leaders.

BPR: How can the WDDI enable members of the biotech industry to find diverse candidates?

HT:​ The workforce diversity and inclusion team discussed what can we do to provide the right tools that can bring the diverse candidates to the same level of visibility as the non-diverse candidates, and that’s what led to the two tools we announced such as the diversity inclusion toolkit.

The toolkit is designed to help organizations create an environment where diverse candidates are advanced at an equal pace as non-diverse candidates, and one that is inclusive, so everyone feels able and open to sharing their ideas.

The other area we focused on was the board list, which is basically creating a virtual network where CEOs and board members can tap into a list to identify diverse candidates with the right experience and add them to their candidate pools.

All of this was designed to develop leaders within companies and get diverse candidates onto boards. With that background, specifically on the diversity and inclusion toolkit, the members of leading companies, like Astellas, Merck, and Biogen, openly shared their tools and their experience in how to develop and advance diverse candidates, and how to create an inclusive environment.

BPR: What would an inclusive environment in biotech look like, if done perfectly?

HT:​ It obviously depends, but what I’ve heard, and from my own personal experience,  it’s an environment where even if your idea is different from everybody else’s, your idea is welcomed by others and you do not feel a fear of speaking up.

Surveys and reports show that if you end up being different or having a different experience than 90% of the room, there is a lesser chance that you’re going to speak up and bring up your alternate point of view, which may be the most important point of view in the room. But, because there is not an inclusive environment, because you do not feel like part of the larger group, you don’t speak up.

To me, inclusion means that people feel absolutely open and welcome to share alternate points of view, based on their own personal experience and perspective – that is a truly inclusive environment.

I often hear from people who join our company, a small biotech based in San Diego, that they look on our website and see that the leadership is diverse, and they pick the company because they saw people who look like them. It's important for people because they can think, “I see people that look like me, I believe that this will be a place where my experience and my points of view will be more welcome and heard.”

BPR: In the past few decades, do you believe that the industry has become more diverse?

HT:​ The data would not say that it has. I can go back a decade and say that the biotech industry, from the example of gender diversity, we start at about 50% to 50%. But, as you go each step up in the organization in terms of leadership, senior manager, to director, to senior director, we see a fall off in the number of women who are making it to those senior positions.

In biotech overall, it’s quite balanced, but it’s in leadership in biotech that we see an absence in diversity – that’s gender diversity, it’s racial diversity, it’s LGBTQ diversity, and that’s why BIO is so focused on changing the numbers. Currently today, gender diversity is 25% in the C-Suite and functional leadership, but our goal is to increase this, with the toolkit, to 50% by 2025.

There are many studies that try to identify why we are losing diversity as people advance to leadership positions. Some of it is that people self-select, they don’t want to move into leadership positions.

We also know that there are some unconscious biases that get in the way of diverse candidates being considered in the same way as the non-diverse candidates. The toolkit provides training for awareness of that unconscious bias affecting people’s selection choice.

BPR: What are the key areas to improve upon?

HT:​ Talent management, to me, is one of the most important things. Within the pharmaceutical industry, it's pretty common that twice a year you meet and discuss all the talent in the organization to say: “Are they developing at the pace they want? What is their pathway for the next five years? What kind of roles do we give them to broaden and allow them to grow as leaders or functional leaders?”​ That is the core to make sure that you are not having that unconscious bias creep in and you end up with an overrepresentation of non-diverse candidates.

You’ll hear things like, “She’s just had a baby, she won’t want to move or want a promotion,” or “Her husband just got a great job, she’s not going to want to move.”​ That’s the bias that prevents people from receiving an equal opportunity.

Talent management allows you a systematic way to make sure that nobody is bringing in that unconscious bias.

BPR: Overall, is the biotech industry interested in this type of inclusion? Has there been any pushback?

HT:​ Since I’ve taken over as the head of the WDDI committee, there has definitely been a great deal of interest in inclusion and diversity.

What we sometimes see is CEOs saying, “‘I totally support it and I’m doing fine,”​ but if they go back and look at their metrics, they might be surprised that there is not as much diverse representation. There are so many studies that show diversity drives company innovation and company performance, and many CEOs I speak to completely understand that.

A bit of pushback I’ve gotten is the idea that “I just can’t find qualified candidates for the board”​ and that was the genesis of the board list. We have approximately 50 resumes in our board list that are wonderfully diverse candidates, by all the dimensions discussed, who have fabulous experience and who would be useful board members, but who are not part of the go-to networks for boards.

Often boards start by asking board members, “Who do you know?”​ That’s what we’re finding is that many of these diverse candidates are not part of the current network, so by creating the board list, we’ve created this virtual network that any CEO or board member can access.

It's filling those candidate slates with a broader array of diverse candidates that is our whole goal with the board list and I believe, just based on feedback and the number of inquiries I get on this, that there is a huge passion for this in biotech.

They’re embracing it and, frankly, there’s no excuse to not have diverse candidate pools anymore.

Helen Torley serves as president and CEO of Halozyme as well as being a member of their board of directors. Prior to her role at Halozyme, she was the executive VP and chief commercial officer for Onyx Pharmaceuticals. Torley is also a member of the board of directors for Quest Diagnostics and of the Health Section Governing Board of BIO. 

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