Gender diversity is a prevalent issue across different industries in the country and pharma industry is one such industry where women are under-presented. A report by Mercer India shows that out of the 49.5 million-strong pharma workforce, only 11 per cent of it is represented by females. However, the statistics vary depending on the sectors. For example, R&D has 17 per cent female representation, manufacturing has 12 per cent, sales and marketing has a mere five per cent, while corporate functions stand at 21 per cent.
When it comes to female leadership roles, the figures are more dismal. Though the industry has some prominent women leaders such as Zahabiya Khorakiwala, Managing Director, Wockhardt Hospitals; Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw, founder and Chairperson, Biocon; Samina Hamied, Executive Vice Chairperson, Cipla, etc, a lot still needs to be done to address the gender gap issues in the Indian pharma industry.
A report by McKinsey Global Institute states that India could add up to $0.7 trillion to its GDP by 2025, by paying more attention to the skewed gender equality ratios.
What’s holding women back?
The WILL GQI (Gender Quotient Index) for pharma companies revealing the gender maturity of the sector remains quite low. This is a clear indication of the fact that the pharma sector in India is still at a nascent stage of building ecosystems for better gender inclusivity as well as women leadership. For lifesciences, a Mercer study shows that gender diversity stands at a meagre 12 per cent.
In other words, it can be said that there is a dearth of leadership pipelines to encourage women to take senior positions as leaders. Most of the hiring occurs at the entry-level, indicating that it will take long years for the pharma industry in India to have women leaders.
With most of the focus concentrated on entry and mid-level hiring, it is imperative to take measures to hire women for top levels and build leadership strength. Apart from policies that require to be more inclusive, academic medical centres and universities should also look at increasing women-run labs. Most of the major research universities fail to hire women at a pace that affects the overall numbers. This is also the reason why women who hold the highest positions at big pharma or biotech companies are mostly from the clinical or commercial side of the business instead of the research track.
The changing trend
Thanks to the constant emphasis on bridging the gender gap in the pharma industry, things are gradually starting to change. Training institutes, skill development councils as well as companies are gearing up to reduce the demand-supply gap and include more women in the sector. Skill enhancement councils such as the Life Sciences Sector Skill Development Council (LSSSDC), that have been set up by the National Skill Development Corporation (NSDC), along with the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII), are working in close association with academia as well as industry to churn out industry-ready candidates. Trends such as women being included in the field force of different pharma companies are resulting from corporates collaborating with institutes to develop industry-ready candidates and some organisations are resorting to hire women candidates through in-house assessment centres. According to recruitment consulting firm Teamlease, nearly 500 people are hired by pharma companies every month.
Some companies are taking positive steps towards promoting gender diversity among their ranks. With the belief that the best way to develop women leaders of the future is from a young age, companies are exposing them to the nitty-gritty of the pharma industry and helping them explore opportunities within the organisation. To achieve the same, companies are coming up with a variety of policies such as flexible work timings as well as highlighting women role models.
Further, government scientific bodies have started to shift gears to promote gender equality. The Department of Biotechnology (DBT) has started new efforts to encourage young women’s participation in science and technology. BioCARE is a scheme that allows women researchers, both unemployed and employed to take up research. They also have special awards to recognise the excellence in research and innovation by women scientists also known as Janaki Ammal-National Women Bioscientist Award.
There is hardly any reason to believe that women cannot be a part of the pharma industry. While things were different when the industry was established in India, a lot has changed over the years. The development of an ecosystem, along with organisational policies like facilitation of return to work, sensitising managers on gender inclusiveness, among others, will allow more women to continue their jobs and rise up the ladder in the industry.