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Make the most of the world of different opinions – Creating Inclusivity in Pharma R&D

Posted on September 6th, 2017 by in Pharma R&D


Opinions matter; they can drive our behaviors. Within the context of Pharma R&D, it is important to harness the benefits of different views, to think outside the box, innovate and beat the safety of group thinking.

The more diverse a workforce, the more under-represented groups have a chance to share their perspectives and opinions.  However, diversity is useless without inclusivity (1)(2). Without the sense of belonging and a feeling of being valued and respected, the benefits of diverse perspectives are likely to be lost.

Within highly scientific and technical professions, the benefits of diversity have been difficult to demonstrate. A report commissioned by the Royal Society in the UK in 2014 (3) identified the difficulties in establishing a business case without appropriate measures of good science and good performance. The business case is therefore highly variable based on a range of complexities and individual circumstances. This creates a gap in establishing quantitative data sets across the science and engineering sector. However, they also identified some fundamental ideas,  including:

  • The impact of diversity needs to be in the context of leadership and how teams communicate and understand each other
  • One size does not fit all and copying the strategy of another company or organization will not guarantee success
  • Effective leadership and the role of males are important aspects of changing culture with respect to diversity
  • Organizational strategies were moving away from establishing equal opportunities and are now focused on inclusiveness that recognizes and values difference

An experienced Global OD and Talent Management Professional who has been at the sharp end of cultural change in business once told me: “focus on inclusivity, and diversity will follow” (4). It is encouraging to see the shift to building cultures that recognize and value difference. That said, the science and technology sector appears to have a way to go. In the UK, a 2014 Royal Society diversity report identifies under-representation of females in senior scientific roles and a relative concentration of black and ethnic minorities in junior and senior roles (5). The report concludes that issues with poor consistency of definitions and diversity measures limit the ability to understand the patterns across the industry in access and progress in a scientific and technical career.

Data is also available from the US, where the national science board is required to audit a range of indicators to understand the current environment. The 2016 report makes interesting reading. There is an increased share of R&D expenditure in the East/Southeast Asia region as compared to the US, Europe and the rest of the world. There also has been a dramatic increase in R&D expenditure in China over the last four to five years. There are significant numbers of international students in tertiary education, with the US and UK having the greatest numbers. China had a significant acceleration in the number of Doctoral degrees since 2006, with absolute levels now similar to the US. In terms of equal opportunities, women still represent less than a third of science and engineering jobs, despite being about 50% of the total college-educated workforce in the US.

R&D is changing, and as it becomes increasingly disaggregated the challenge will be to create an industry that enables a sustainable professional career. The Royal Academy of Engineering and the Science Council have developed a diversity and inclusion progression framework in eight areas from governance and leadership, employment and ways to monitor and measure (6). They suggest four levels of best practice, including: Initiating, Developing, Engaging, and Evolving. What is clear is that measures also need to include an assessment of the organizational culture (1)(2)(6).

To maximize the benefits of diversity, R&D needs to adopt ways to manage some of the key barriers to inclusivity. Focusing on inclusivity I believe is a leadership imperative. Leaders need to become aware of their own opinions and challenge their own perspectives. The Royal Society has identified some action points (7) that we can perhaps all bring into our day-to-day work. Opinions drive our behaviors, despite what we say, and some are just not acceptable to the organizations we are associated with in (8).



All opinions shared in this post are the author’s own.

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