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Gender gap, the leaking pipeline of R&D

Posted on January 21st, 2016 by in Pharma R&D

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I guess we all worked out that half of the people on this planet are male and the other half are female. If you even sporadically read the papers you must have stumbled upon some sort of article quoting numbers such as:

  • Female managers in the UK working full time are paid 22% less than male managers
  • Only 28% worldwide of researchers are women
  • In 2006 men’s average pay was the same as women’s today
  • Iceland has the highest score on equality of 0.881

If you actually re-read it and analyse every single one of these data points, it will make you sigh and you will find it unbelievable in our, oh so modern, society. But we hardly ever do that. We are bombarded with so much information nowadays, we don’t even flinch.

A quick glance at drug development process: you start with a certain set of compounds, filter it through different pre-clinical criteria and the carefully chosen list is taken to the clinic. We would hope that those drug candidates would fit important and relevant criteria such as: PK, efficacy, toxicology, adverse effects, etc. I bet no one is making a clinical decision based on color, smell or if they actually like the name of the compound.

Today we are going to look at the gender gap from a different angle. Let’s have a look at the world’s potential scientists as possible genius candidates: all the millions enthusiastically applying to get accepted at a chosen university. According to UNESCO, taking Sweden as an example, women form the majority (61%) of students enrolled in a Bachelor’s programme. Then their numbers decline as they move up the education ladder, accounting for 49% of doctoral students and in the end only 37% of researchers.

Let’s try to apply the drug development principle to screening through research candidates to obtain a set of exceptional scientists, who actually make these drug discoveries happen. Looking at the example of Sweden, we started with 100 science students where 61 were female. By the time we get to a team of working researchers in a group of 100, we are left with 37, losing almost half. They were smart enough to get into university and start a PhD. So what happens along the way that we lose so many of them in the next step? Well, life happens. If you look at the global data, you will see the same trend across every region, highlighting the conflict that many women face as they try to reconcile career ambitions with family-caring responsibilities. The majority of women are faced with a choice; as in real life, they have two FTEs. According to their employers in one job they are replaceable, in the other they aren’t.

Have you ever considered how many talented researchers have never made it though to the next stage of the pipeline? And when you look at the criteria that push them out of the system, do you really think that they are set right?

In my career, I have been very lucky. I have met many amazing women: intelligent, sharp, focused and ambitious. They walk the corridors of my company, they sit in front of me at customer meetings. With some of them I have had the privileged to become friends. And there is always that day when you see that every single one of them is fighting her own battle, with war unraveling at two fronts. We look at each other and we know. We back each other up. But that is not enough.

I tell you: we have a very leaky pipeline of scientific talent. Today, as you read this, a very talented researcher has handed in her notice, has been let go or she won’t apply. And she might be taking the concept of the next generation anticancer drug with her. Maybe it is time to set the screening criteria right.

 

* If you want to dive into statistics I highly recommend: The Global Gender Gap Report by World Economic Forum, Women in Science by UNESCO Institute for Statistics

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