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Industry Approaches for Hiring and Developing an Inclusive Workforce

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BIO Media Relations
February 11, 2020

Last month, the Biotechnology Innovation Organization (BIO) released the first annual report measuring diversity and inclusion in the biotech industry, with real, practical solutions for making the biotech workforce more representative of the industry’s customers and patients.

During the BIO CEO & Investor Conference 2020, we brought together industry leaders who have a track record of improving diversity and inclusion, or D&I, to talk about what they do in their own companies.

Panelists included Pooja Jain-Link, EVP of the Center for Talent Innovation, which partnered with us on the report, Martin Babler, President & CEO of Principia Biopharma, Wanda Bryant Hope, Chief D&I Officer at Johnson & Johnson, Ahtis Davis, Executive Director of Advancing Black Pathways at JPMorgan, and Sara Nayeem, Partner at New Enterprise Associates.

Companies must “look at diversity and inclusion as a business imperative, and treat it as we would any business challenge,” said Bryant Hope. This requires using data and evidence.

“What gets measured, matters,” agreed Jain-Link.

Here’s some advice on where to start.

BIO CEO and Investor Forum

D&I comes from the top

The report, Measuring Diversity in the Biotech Industry: Building an Inclusive Workforce, found 84% of respondents said their CEO is male, and 88% said their CEO is white. But the speakers agreed: change has to come from the top.

“The tone at the top” matters, said Johnson & Johnson’s Bryant Hope. “Leadership at the CEO and executive level that is not only committed to diversity and inclusion but is actively promoting it and driving accountability around D&I is critical to the success,” she said.

David said JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon drove the conversation on advancing diversity, and now, there are 15 people focused on advancing black pathways. It’s important for investors to implement D&I programs, too, said Nayeem, so they can point to their own company’s programs when coaching the companies in which they invest.

The business case for D&I

Everyone agreed companies with a diverse workforce perform better. Disruption is critically important in the biotech industry—and “disruption comes from thinking differently,” said Babler. Diversity enriches the conversation and brings different solutions to the table.

Companies know a diverse workforce helps them perform better, but how can they get there?

For one, create job descriptions to attract a diversity of backgrounds and demographics, that don’t unintentionally attract men more readily with words like “expert,” said Bryant Hope. Wording can deter women or people of color from applying in the first place. Nayeem added you can and should be explicit with recruiters about the diversity you want, including demographics and educational backgrounds.

Nayeem added you can and should be explicit with recruiters about the diversity you want, including demographics and educational backgrounds.

When interviewing, think about the questions you are asking, said Nayeem. Across the board, investors were more likely to ask women “prevention” questions, such as how they would prevent risks, and ask men “promotion” questions, such as how they would grow the company. Based on those answers, you’re unintentionally biased towards the male candidates.

Or, do what JPMorgan did: use AI-assisted anonymous candidate screening, which allowed them to remove those unintentional biases and best assess candidates based on competencies. As a result, they hired their most diverse intern class ever, with more than 900 black interns.

And start the hiring process early so you can be picky about who you hire. “Start conversations earlier in careers and earlier in the investment cycle,” said Nayeem. Bryant Hope agreed, adding if you remove the “fast and furious” from your hiring, you’ll be less inclined to gravitate to candidates already in your network, who are likely less diverse.

Finally, once you’ve hired diverse candidates, ensure D&I is part of your company culture. Create an environment in which people feel comfortable speaking up and disagreeing and ensure the commitment to D&I is part of everything you do. Johnson & Johnson makes “connecting inclusively” part of the performance review process at all levels, while Babler said his company has a “no-asshole policy” written in the handbook, and if people don’t comply with the D&I culture, it’s no different than if they can’t perform their job function.

Why it matters

“We serve everyone on the planet, so the more representation we have, the better off we are,” said Babler. For example, his company develops novel therapies for serious immune mediated diseases, and they’ve found some autoimmune diseases have more prevalence in some diverse subsets—so it’s critically important to have those subsets represented in the workforce, too.

Bryant Hope agreed. “The more we can have a workforce that reflects the diversity we serve, the better off we are,” she said. D&I will lead to better products, better engagement with the populations they serve, and better solutions for the future.

 For more information on the report and what you can do, visit