Medical Plastics News Features EVP Melissa Burstein

Medical Plastics News Medtech and Biotech Gender Equality

Why It’s Time We Took the Gender Issue Seriously

“Women hold 17% of senior management positions and 34% of middle management positions in life sciences companies. Strikingly, these numbers have not changed in the past five years.”

The above words can be found in The Progress of Women Executives in Pharmaceuticals and Biotechnology: A Leadership Benchmarking Study Abstract. It makes disappointing reading. And I’m disappointed that for an industry that’s general so forward-looking, also has a long way to go in this respect.

The lack of females in scientific careers is well publicised. In the UK statistics on this subject appear on a regular basis. Only one in ten computer studies A level students is female, and according to WISE, the campaign for gender balance in science, technology and engineering, the UK’s innovative economy is at risk as it lags behind the rest of the world in the number of patents filed by women.

Helen Wollaston, WISE chief executive officer said: “The figures for female patents in the UK are shockingly low. As it stands, it doesn’t bode very well for the government’s ambition to make the UK the most innovative economy in the world that we are so far behind other countries.”

In the medical device and medtech sectors, the situation reflects this general view. For sure there are women at in high ranking positions – Medtronic’s executive vice president, Karen Parkhill; Katherine Owen, vice president of strategy and investor relations at Stryker, and Deborah DiSanzo, general manager, IBM Watson Health – but it clearly isn’t enough.

I read Melissa Burstein’s piece in Stat with interest. She describes herself as “proud to be the executive vice president of a medical device company I co-founded 16 years ago.”

Like me, Burstein recognises the “innovative changes” that occur in the industry but reveals how she’s dismayed to see how few female executives there are in the medtech and biotech industries — roughly 1 for every 4 male executives and senior officers. That imbalance is bad for women and the future of these industries, because women make up half of the population and represent more than half of health care consumers.”

Burstein offers some strategies on how to tackle this issue. Encouraging participation from all members of the company is one way to ensure that everyone’s voice is heard, whatever their gender. She encourages flexibility: “Flexible work schedules make it possible for women and men to perform their best at work while fulfilling their responsibilities at home.”

To me, the fact that many businesses still operate on a model that hasn’t changed for decades, created when 99% of the workforce was male, is staggering. Burstein also highlights teamworking and a commitment to transparency as being key drivers in creating a workplace that helps close the gender gap.

For me, one comment from Burstein is something many companies – not just life sciences – should read and take to heart to improve both working conditions and that all-important innovation: “Having worked in health care for almost two decades, my conviction is that companies with diverse viewpoints, experiences, and talents deliver superior innovations that benefit health and wellness. The gender mix cannot be out of balance with the population if we truly want to deliver better health for all”.

The life science sector is not alone in its approach to women and addressing the gender gap in the workplace. Hopefully the more we shout about this issue, the less need there will eventually be…


[This article was originally posted on Medical Plastics News.]