Diversity and Inclusion in Life Sciences Education

March 4, 2021

Many educational institutions have been pushing for greater diversity in their programs and faculty. This push aims to open up education and employment opportunities to underrepresented demographics and make academic programs more robust. However, it’s not always obvious what diversity actually means or how to accomplish it. Here’s what you need to know about how diversity and inclusion affect Life Sciences organizations, the current state of diversity in the industry, and how to improve diversity in your organization. 

What Does “Diversity and Inclusion” Mean in Education?

Before diving into how you can accomplish diversity in Life Sciences organizations, it’s necessary to take a step back. You need to understand the true meaning of diversity and inclusion in education before implementing improvement programs. 

First, diversity is fundamentally about the differences between people. A diverse group of people will include men and women of different races, religions, ages, sexual orientations, abilities, and economic backgrounds. In education, a diverse faculty and student body bring many perspectives to the table.

Inclusion goes a step further. Inclusion is the process of giving diverse voices the chance to be heard. It’s not enough for there to simply be a variety of people in an organization. Those people also need to be involved in running the organization, or diversity won’t impact very much. For instance, imagine a generally diverse organization, in which the Board of Directors consists entirely of people of the same race, gender identity, and general background. In that scenario, there is still only one perspective guiding the organization’s decisions. 

In education, both diversity and inclusion are essential. If a diverse, inclusive environment isn’t a priority, it’s all too easy for higher education to shut out people with potential unintentionally. 

The Current State of Diversity and Inclusion in Life Sciences

Unfortunately, diversity in biological sciences is currently not ideal. In Life Sciences companies: 

  • 32% of total employees are non-white.
  • Just 15% of executives and 14% of board members are non-white.
  • Just 30% of executives and 18% of board members are female.

This means the average Life Sciences company is primarily white. Furthermore, the executives and Board of Directors are mostly white men. If the average Board has ten directors, then it’s likely it has only one non-white person and two women, total. That’s not diverse by any stretch of the imagination. 

Why Diversity Matters

But why is this lack of diversity so significant? For several reasons. Companies with this kind of uniform leadership are a sign of the systemic racism and gender discrimination still present in our society. It’s unlikely these companies are choosing to discriminate on purpose. However, unconscious bias is still creeping in and preventing them from accessing the benefits of a more diverse talent pool.

And there are many benefits of diversity. In the sciences alone, diverse and inclusive teams lead to benefits such as:

  • A broader range of perspectives: In the biological sciences, in particular, organizations are looking to understand how life works. A diverse team has a wide range of backgrounds, so they are more likely to ask unique questions and find new insights.
  • A larger variety of approaches: A diverse team will likely suggest more ways to approach the problem. This leads to a more effective problem-solving approach overall.
  • More creative solutions: Groups of people with various backgrounds are more likely to generate innovative solutions to problems, leading to more innovations.

Furthermore, when an organization is diverse, it’s a sign that talent isn’t being ignored due to bias. Scientific minds come in all types of bodies and from all sorts of backgrounds. An organization with a diverse team is more likely to be choosing its staff based on genuine aptitude. 

How Organizations Are Changing the Balance

So, it’s clear that diversity and inclusion aren’t in the best place in many Life Sciences organizations. That’s not ideal. A lack of variety can reflect poorly on institutions. It also shows that the organization is missing out on potential, hamstringing itself for the future. 

Not every organization is struggling, though. Many institutions have already implemented diversity and inclusion practices that are turning the tide. Here are three examples of how institutions can make changes to build a more diverse, engaging, and robust talent pool.

New Hiring Practices

Organizations that lack diversity may be suffering from unconscious biases in their hiring processes. There are a few tricks that can improve diversity in hiring by removing these biases from the process. 

Blind hiring is one such trick. This tactic “blinds” the hiring committee to elements of a resume that may cause bias. For example, you can use an app that censors out names and dates from resumes. This prevents unconscious bias about race, gender identity, and age from impacting hiring decisions. Social science studies show that resumes with names that clearly identify them as non-white or female are less likely to be chosen for a position even if the resume contents are identical to a white or male applicant. The blind filter encourages more interviews of minority groups and increases diverse hiring. 

You can also reduce unnecessary criteria for a position. For example, consider whether a doctorate is really required for an administrative position or whether ten years of experience in the field is necessary to do a job. Trimming the job requirements down to the minimum needed to do the job well will help you get a broader range of applications and increase diversity. 

Implementing Diverse Hiring Panels

Outside of blind hiring practices, organizations can also make the hiring process itself more diverse. Studies show that people are more likely to get along with people of similar demographics. If your hiring panels aren’t inclusive, you’re vulnerable to a form of “positive” discrimination, in which the hiring team isn’t biased against certain demographic traits but rather biased towards their own.  

The hiring team will be biased toward hiring people they like most, which will trend toward people who share their demographics. They may not actively turn away diverse candidates, but they are less likely to choose them.

A diverse hiring panel avoids this. When your hiring team includes people of different ethnicities and genders, there’s less “positive” bias. That leads to a more inclusive, diverse staff over time. 

Improving Benefits

Many institutions are slow to alter the benefits they offer employees. That can unintentionally push away entire demographics, reducing the number of qualified, diverse applicants. For example, institutions that only provide maternity leave and not paternity leave reduce their diversity in two ways. 

First, they discourage gay men from applying since they won’t be able to take time off should they adopt a child. Second, they encourage men to remain in the workplace over women since 43% of women never return to work after taking maternity leave. 

Meanwhile, companies and municipalities that improve these benefits have decreased wage gaps and increased workforce diversity. 

Attracting More Diverse Talent Groups

Inclusivity can make all the difference to your organization. If you want to expand your workforce’s diversity, the question becomes how to do so effectively. One method is to attract a more diverse talent group in the first place. Here are a few tactics for bringing in more diverse candidates and building a more inclusive environment.

  • Partner with diverse organizations: Diversity starts in school. Find local high schools and colleges near you and offer a diversity and inclusion scholarship, or provide internships to underrepresented groups. By encouraging diverse talent to complete higher education, you’re laying the foundation for a more accepting future, as well as demonstrating your dedication to inclusivity. The groups with which you partner will likely steer qualified candidates your way.
  • Offer flexibility: Does your facility really need to run on a strict 60 hour work week? Could you start offering paid internships? Could you provide blended learning or opportunities or scholarships for minority students? Many underrepresented groups can’t enter the life sciences because they can’t afford to get the experience they need. Offer more flexibility, and you’ll get more diverse, exciting candidates.
  • Advertise in new places: Organizations that can’t seem to find diverse candidates can also benefit from expanding their searches. Instead of relying on the same job advertising method, post your opening somewhere new. Companies that post their openings on job boards dedicated to minority representation can see significantly higher diversity rates in their posts. Just posting new job openings in a wider range of locations can help increase visibility and encourage a broad pool of candidates.
  • Prioritize the development of current diversity: Your institution likely already has at least some variety. Find ways to support those people. Help women attend conferences for gender equality in the sciences. Offer continuing education opportunities to minorities. Make sure your current staff has as much of a chance to grow as possible, and you’ll attract more diverse candidates in the long run.

Diversity in Life Sciences Makes Education Better

A diverse workforce is nothing but good news for life sciences companies. Companies and educational institutions alike can take action to become more diverse. It’s as easy as making diversity a genuine priority. By taking steps like partnering with minority organizations and removing unconscious bias from applications, it’s possible to make the life sciences as diverse as the rest of the world. 

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