Diversity and Inclusion

How to Diversify the Talent Pipeline in Life Sciences

November 2, 2022
November 7, 2023
Rosanna Campbell
Lattice Team

It’s a time of huge change and growth for the life sciences industry. In a recent Fortune article, Paul Hudson, CEO of global healthcare brand Sanofi, gave a rallying cry for organizations to maintain their momentum in the post-COVID world.

“Collaboration and digitalisation have played fundamental roles in bringing COVID vaccines and therapies to market at an unprecedented rate, saving an estimated 750,000 lives in the United States and Europe alone,” he said. “As an industry, we must bring the same speed and sense of urgency to all our efforts.” 

However, the need for speed presents a major challenge for life sciences recruiters. According to a 2021 study by Aon, demand for talent is surging. But with a chronic skilled talent shortage in this sector, there’s a significant risk that demand will outstrip supply:

  • Nearly three-quarters of life sciences companies plan to increase their workforce in 2022. 
  • One-third of the life sciences businesses surveyed want to grow their workforce by 15%. 
  • Meanwhile, the sector was hit hard by the “Great Reshuffle” — voluntary turnover in 2021 exceeded 18%. 

Recruiters at life sciences companies have their work cut out for them if they want their hiring to keep pace with the sector’s meteoric growth. Meeting the challenges ahead successfully depends on championing inclusion, recruiting for capacity, and fostering growth from within.

How to Diversify Recruitment in Life Sciences Companies

The skilled talent market may be tough for life sciences companies right now — but Aon’s report also flagged several new challenges for talent attraction as the industry expands.

The result? Life sciences companies need a broader pipeline of talent, STAT: 

  • Expanded lab and biomanufacturing spaces will create more jobs 
  • Opportunities for global collaboration and partnerships will require satellite locations and a dispersed workforce
  • Life sciences professionals with technology skills (such as data scientists and software engineers) will be in increasing demand
  • Recruiters will need to fill vacancies left by the Great Reshuffle

One of the most effective ways to create a larger talent pool is to improve the inclusivity of your hiring process. Here are three ways to broaden your talent pipeline and create a more diverse workforce: 

1. Build an employer brand as an inclusive workplace.

In general, the life sciences industry is on the up and up when it comes to diversity. For instance, the healthcare sector has the highest proportion of women in senior management at 39%. 

“From the life sciences companies we work with, we know that they are ahead of the curve when it comes to diversity in general, not just gender — as well as equity and inclusion,” said Amy Flynn, global head of life sciences at Grant Thornton US.

“The stats reflect that they have many structures in place already that have been working, and while the COVID pandemic was a blip, they are holding true with the foundational elements that operationalise their overall DEI strategy.”

Representation matters — but there are still some sector-wide challenges to address. According to 2019 data, Black employees account for only 6% of jobs across the US life sciences sector.  Fostering greater belonging and inclusion will not only better organizational culture, but also help to attract today’s top candidates, who are looking for a workplace that reflects their values. Communicate the inclusivity of your employer brand by: 

  • Updating your recruitment marketing materials to emphasize the importance that your organization places on DEIB. 
  • Making sure that the importance of DEIB, and the diversity of your workforce and senior leadership team, is reflected in your core messaging, on your website, and especially in your Careers page. 
  • Invite employees from traditionally marginalized groups to tell their stories and experiences via your social media platforms (but be sure to share their unfiltered views — transparency and honesty is key, even if it shows that your company still has work to do.)  

2. Make your job postings more inclusive.

Carelessly worded job postings can seriously restrict your ability to attract applicants from underrepresented groups. For instance, LinkedIn reports that the word “aggressive” would discourage 44% of women from applying. Meanwhile, a 2021 report by Milkround found that almost half of young job seekers struggle to understand job descriptions due to industry jargon. Using apps like Gender Decoder and Textio can help identify accidental linguistic bias in job ads. 

In addition to carefully screening your job ads for unconscious bias in the wording, it’s worth also considering your requirements. 

For instance, requiring professional licensure could unwittingly exclude a disproportionate number of people of color, as well as discounting workers with credentials from outside the US. White workers are significantly more likely to be credentialed, meaning that they are currently overrepresented in roles where credentials are required:  

a chart showing the racial and ethnic breakdown of professions that require an occupational license. 
Licensed practical and vocational nursing is the only occupation where Black workers have the largest representation, and the median hourly wage is only $22. Image source: Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis 

Make sure that credentials, like licensing or degrees, are really necessary for every role where you list them as requirements. Instead of using a checklist of standard qualifications, try to paint a picture of what life in the role will be like, and the attributes and traits that will lead to success. 

3. Hire for capacity, not skills.

Hiring for attributes instead of a specific, narrow range of qualifications isn’t just about job descriptions — it’s about mindset. To create a broader talent pipeline, it’s time for life science recruiters to look for candidates with transferable abilities, not a list of skills. 

“The challenge I see at the moment is that life science recruiters are looking for skills, instead of people with the right attitude for the position,” said Fiona Wong, an innovation consultant specializing in the life sciences sector. 

Instead of hiring the candidate who looks best on paper, Wong recommends that life sciences companies prioritize candidates with a strong values fit and the ability to learn, and then invest in training and onboarding new hires. 

Research by Deloitte supports Wong’s advice. In the 2020 Deloitte Global Human Capital Trends report, researchers observed that “business success [in the pharma and life science sector] previously relied on deploying precisely calibrated skills to efficiently construct products or deliver services at scale. Today, success increasingly depends on innovation, entrepreneurship and other forms of creativity that rely not just on skills, but also on less quantifiable capabilities such as critical thinking, emotional intelligence and collaboration.”

Instead of creating a long list of skills-based requirements and qualifications for each role, try: 

  • Identifying core competencies for each role (instead of exclusively listing professional qualifications or specific technical skills) 
  • Adding in a practical exercise instead of relying exclusively on resumes and interviews, to give candidates opportunities to demonstrate capabilities most relevant to the role. Be mindful that candidates will need to complete tasks in their spare time, and long or complex tasks may encourage some applicants, like caregivers or candidates with additional needs, to self-select out of the process. Short and simple tasks are best to foster inclusivity.
  • Restructuring interviews to focus on future performance, rather than past achievements. Ask questions like, “How would you approach this role?” or “What do you think your top priorities would be in your first 90 days here?” 

Don’t forget that building a more inclusive recruitment process is better for everyone, but it’s only the start of creating a more diverse and inclusive workplace. Your recruitment strategy must form part of a larger DEIB strategy that encompasses inclusion across the entire organization. 

Workforce Development in the Life Sciences Industry 

As well as expanding your pipeline of new talent, it’s also a great time to review your internal talent development programmes and nurture growth from within. This will not only ensure that you have the workforce to meet growing demand and industry changes, but also improve your retention rates dramatically. LinkedIn’s 2022 Global Talent Trends report found that internal mobility was one of the biggest drivers of employee retention: 

A chart showing a 19-point difference between the likelihood of retention for employees who make an internal move versus those who do not. 
Giving employees ownership of their career path empowers them to grow without feeling pressure to seek opportunities elsewhere.
Image source: LinkedIn.

Here are four ways that you can enrich your talent pipeline with internal candidates: 

1. Invest in upskilling your existing workforce. 

Research by global recruitment firm Randstad found that it takes an average of 105 days to fill a non-executive position in the U.S. life sciences sector, resulting in a loss of $500 a day. So it may be both more efficient and more economical to invest in upskilling your existing workforce, instead of trying to hire in new skills.

In fact, more than two-thirds of life sciences leaders report that upskilling their current employees has been an effective way to address their talent shortages. Meanwhile, 63% also said that they’d invested in an internal mobility platform to enhance their recruitment efforts. 

2. Build capabilities, not just skills. 

When planning your learning and development strategy, it’s important to think of developing your employees holistically, rather than limiting their learning to technical, or role-specific skills. For instance, the growing emphasis on patient-centric solutions and integrated healthcare will require multiple soft skills, such as empathy, communication abilities, and design thinking. 

Plus, according to Deloitte’s report on the life sciences industry, 88% of life sciences professionals said it was very important to expand their professional skills to work in adjacent areas: “By collaborating with colleagues to dive deeper into complex business questions, the life sciences workforce can generate new insights and develop an agile mindset to continuously improve business outcomes.”

3. Evaluate your career paths. 

Not every employee wants to grow into a management role, and companies must offer multiple routes for employee development and growth. Create individual contributor career paths, so that your employees see where they can take on more responsibility and higher-impact challenges without being forced into management. A competencies matrix can be very useful here. By defining and sharing key competencies, employees can see what the next steps could look like for them. For instance: 

  • A leadership competency matrix might call for increased competencies in areas like supervision, delegation, and mentorship. 
  • Non-management career progress could call for increased competencies in areas like strategic impact, deep technical expertise, and advanced problem-solving. 

4. Encourage career progression transparency. 

Internal mobility goes hand-in-hand with career progression transparency. Nurturing career progression from within depends on your employees knowing what development opportunities are available to them. Unfortunately, many employees have no idea that these job openings even exist. 

And even if your employees are aware, it might not be enough to incentivise them to apply. Deloitte’s 2019 Human Capital Report found that nearly 60% of employees believed it would be easier to find a role at another company than to change roles at their current employer. 

If you want to fill your talent pipeline with promising internal candidates, then you’ll need to create a more transparent way of tracking career progress. Individual Development Plans (IDP) and developmental reviews are a great way to achieve this. 

Use IDPs to set career goals. 

IDPs help you to create greater transparency around how performance improvements will tie into career opportunities. They also help to flag employees who are currently developing skills that you might otherwise need to hire in. 

Implement developmental reviews.

In addition to your usual performance appraisals and manager-employee check-ins, consider adding regular development reviews to your human resources programme. Development reviews provide employees with an opportunity to formally express an interest in specific career goals and growth opportunities. They will also make hiring managers aware of potential internal candidates for upcoming job openings. 

A New Era of Growth in Life Sciences

Opportunities abound for life sciences companies — but only if you’re not held back by talent shortages. To position your company as an employer of choice in the life science sector, you’ll need to create a more inclusive and diverse recruitment strategy, while also improving your internal mobility processes. 

If you’d like to learn more about how to use performance management techniques to drive internal mobility and broaden your talent pipeline, check out our free ebook: How to Use Performance Management to Inspire Employee Growth