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Empowering women leaders: A win-win situation

One of Biopôle’s corporate partners, Labcorp, is committed to developing talent as diverse as the communities it serves. This starts with its senior leaders being invested in diversity and inclusion. Dr Michelle Scott, VP and Head of the Discovery and Biotechnology Solutions and Executive Sponsor of a local Labcorp Women’s Empowerment Network, explains how organisations and even individuals can address the gender gap.

When we look at the numbers, it’s clear there has been some progress in helping women climb the corporate ladder. Here in the UK, 38.9% of FTSE 250 board positions are held by women. In Switzerland, women hold just over a quarter of seats on company boards – a similar proportion to the seats held by women on Labcorp’s own board. We’re not there yet, but we’re moving in the right direction.

Gender inequality is still very much present in the workplace, including in the life sciences sector. When you reach a certain level of seniority, the paths of male and female leaders start to diverge: men continue to progress while women’s progress appears to slow or comes to a halt. According to an article published by Deloitte in 2019, women account for 49% of the global life sciences workforce but only 10% of boards and 20% of leadership teams. Why is this?

Discrimination is not always apparent, but it is present. Yet those who discriminate may not even be aware they’re doing it. This is called unconscious bias, where unintentional judgements and assessments affect how we think and act. For instance, a woman who wants to work part time due to family commitments may be automatically ruled out when applying for a senior leadership position. That’s despite the fact that there is little evidence that senior roles cannot be successfully held by a part-time candidate with a flexible working arrangement in place.

The first step to enabling gender equality is through awareness and understanding.

Small steps, big impact

At Labcorp, we offer unconscious bias training to help our leaders become aware of why and how they make decisions. This is something every company can do, from start-ups to large organisations. A simple search online or on social media platforms will bring up a plethora of training options. The first step to enabling gender equality is through awareness and understanding.

We also need frameworks in place to support women in leadership. In my role at Labcorp, I helped set up a Women’s Empowerment Network (WEN) locally in the UK. The need arose as I mentored staff and noticed that the questions female mentees were asking were very different to those of male mentees. They centred around career development, trying to get their voice heard in meetings, having the confidence to speak up and figuring out how to juggle family and work commitments. The local WEN has been very successful in providing the needed support and resources. Now, with the support of Labcorp’s senior leadership, these employee-led networks have extended globally. In 2020 we were very proud to receive external validation of the value of these networks through a Princess Royal Training Award for the local Yorkshire WEN – though the most satisfying reward was to see the fantastic career progression of some of these incredible women.

Diversity of thought and input are key for a company to succeed, whether this success means helping to develop a new drug or generating value for investors.

Numbers don’t lie

Often, the need to focus on diversity and inclusion is inaccurately seen as a box-ticking exercise. In fact, it’s about creating value for an organisation and all its stakeholders. The patients, investors and communities we serve are diverse, so organisations such as ours need to be diverse and inclusive to maximise the value we provide. Diversity of thought and input are key for a company to succeed, whether this success means helping to develop a new drug or generating value for investors. Women bring varied viewpoints to a company, and this breadth of perspective yields better results. There is plenty of data to back this up. Research by McKinsey shows that ‘companies in the top quartile for gender diversity on executive teams were 25 percent more likely to have above-average profitability than companies in the fourth quartile’.

Hushing the inner critic

Of course, there are also steps women can take to help themselves progress. A good starting point for women at an early stage of their career is to seek a mentor. The input and support from someone with experience in the industry is tremendously helpful, particularly when there are doubts on how to handle a situation or what to do next on the career path. As women, we are often held back by our inner critic. You’ve probably heard the statistic that men apply for a job when they meet only 60% of the criteria, whereas women apply when they meet 100% of them. My suggestion is, if you like the look of the role, regardless of whether there is a 100% match, apply. You never know – you might get it. If you don’t apply, you definitely won’t.

Lastly, women shouldn’t take no for an answer. If there’s a real desire to do something, just because the first person you come across turns you down doesn’t mean there isn’t a way to do it. It might mean a couple of sidesteps or a different path to reach your destination, but if you have the drive, tenacity and energy to do something, with a little (or a lot) of perseverance you will get there.

Michelle Scott
Vice President and Head of Discovery and Biotechnology Solutions at Labcorp
Dr Scott is Vice President and Head of Discovery and Biotechnology Solutions at Labcorp Drug Development. Michelle and her team work with biotech companies at the earliest stages of drug development to help them translate their scientific ingenuity into transformative patient therapies. With over 30 years of experience in the pharmaceutical industry, Michelle has developed a unique combination of expertise – strategic, medicines development, regulatory affairs, scientific, business development and management – which she uses to coach clients and colleagues.

Michelle is incredibly passionate and energetic in mentoring, supporting, encouraging and enabling women to achieve their potential and fulfil their ambitions. She was a founder and is the Executive Sponsor of the Yorkshire Women’s Enterprise Network (WEN), is a member of the Labcorp Women in Leadership Advisory Council and was Labcorp’s nominated HBA Luminary award winner in 2022.

Corporate Partners
Biopôle’s corporate partner programme was launched in 2020 to connect members of our community with bigger collaborators outside of our campus, such as Labcorp. The aim of the programme is to foster mutually beneficial relationships that accelerate innovation. Our corporate partners are interested in the innovation capabilities of our community and network, while our community members are looking for partners who can help them fast-track their projects. Between the two, Biopôle acts as an intermediary, identifying opportunities, creating interest, facilitating interactions, and helping to bring potential collaborations to fruition.
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