By Kristin Rand, Special to


According to Universum Communications and THE BLACK COLLEGIAN’s report “The Top 100 Diversity Employers 2006” healthcare surpasses financial services as the most popular industry among diverse students overall. Healthcare was also determined to be the top industry among undergraduate students.

Undergraduates listed top pharmaceutical companies including Johnson & Johnson, Pfizer, Mayo Clinic, Glaxo Smith Kline and Merck in the top 40 desired companies. Pharma companies that were on the top 100 list in previous years have moved up in preference. Wyeth Pharmaceuticals rose in undergrad preference from 186th to 64th, Eli Lilly from 95th to 80th, Novartis from 140th to 130th and Roche from 154th to 140th. Even newcomers that were not ranked the previous year such as Hospira, Bayer and Takeda Pharmaceuticals North America made it in the top 200 list.

So what is causing diverse students to migrate towards the healthcare industry and hold a better opinion of pharma companies as potential employers?


Pharma Recognizes the Increasing Importance of a Diversified Workforce

Progressive pharma companies realize there is a business case for diversity and therefore a need to do something to address the inadequate diversity of their workforces. As the population of the United States changes, so do the patient and doctor communities using pharmaceuticals. Many pharma companies recognize that a diverse employee base provides intrinsic insight into the background of the ethnic groups it represents, and therefore allows for better marketing and use of pharmaceutical products.

Pharma companies also recognize that increased diversity equals increased return to shareholders. An example supporting this proposition is that Fortune 500 companies with the highest proportion of female corporate officers boasted, on average, a 34 percent higher total return to shareholders than those with the lowest proportion of female execs, according to Catalyst. Although pharma companies are involved with diversity initiatives, their diversity management is not as robust or sophisticated as other industries such as financial services.


Biopharma More Diverse?

When it comes to a diverse workforce, biopharma may be ahead of bigpharma. According toFortune’s 2007 100 Best Companies to Work For – Most Diverse list, the highest-ranked biopharma company, Genentech, reported a workforce comprising 43% minorities compared to the highest-ranked bigpharma company, AstraZeneca, with only 18% minority inclusion. Perhaps a possible reason for this disparity is that it is harder to teach an old dog new tricks than it is to train a puppy. Bigpharma companies, in operation longer than biopharma, may be more set in their ways and caught in the like-hires-like behavior.  Many of the biopharma companies have been birthed after the recognition that a diverse workforce results in better business and may have incorporated this principle in their development. Other potential rationales for biopharma’s diversity advantage may be that  minorities are more prevalent in research and development fields, the main staples of biopharma, rather than marketing and manufacturing, or that biopharma companies are geographically located in areas where more minorities reside.


Increasing Diversity and Advancement Opportunities

One way to increase diversity that has been found by some companies to be successful is tying executive compensation to diversity. Ninety-six percent of DiversityInc Magazine‘s Top 50 Companies with the most diverse workforce link executive compensation to diversity goals, and 90% of the Top 50 companies’ CEOs sign off on executive compensation tied to diversity, compared with 72 percent in the previous year.

The 2007 DiversityInc report of the Top 50 Companies with the most diverse workforce provides evidence that pharma is making solid efforts to increase diversity. In this year’s report, Novartis Pharmaceutical Corp ranked 16th, Johnson & Johnson 17th, Merck and Co. 18th, Abbott 30th, and Bausch and Lomb 44th.

Pharma companies are not merely setting up diversity groups to pay lip service to the diversity issue without metrics to assess improvement. A recent example of prolonged commitment in the area of women is the groundbreaking Healthcare Businesswomen’s Association (HBA) E.D.G.E. in Leadership (Empowerment, Diversity, Growth, Excellence) Study. The E.D.G.E. study was launched in January 2007 to identify, for the first time, key insights and benchmarks that will allow companies to accelerate the progress of women into the most senior positions within the pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries.

More than a dozen companies, including 7 of the top 11 US and European pharmaceutical and biotech companies funded the study, with 20 of the top 50 joining as participants to provide their data and experience towards this comprehensive examination of the life science industry’s attitudes, motivations, initiatives and efforts that are effective in advancing women’s careers.

The HBA partnered with Booz Allen Hamilton to conduct one-on-one interviews with top senior management, implement a web-based survey for mid-level executive staff, and provide a summary of human resource data, as part of this investigation. Study results, expected to be made public in September, 2007, will provide actionable recommendations from industry best practices and policies regarding the recruitment, retention and advancement of women into the most senior ranks of management.


Pharma Companies Are Advertising Interest to Increase Diversity

Companies are making it known that pharma is an industry invested in diversity. Proactive companies are creating diversity programs and councils to implement diversity efforts within company walls as well as working with groups such as Inroads, which works with corporations to place African Americans and Hispanics as interns, to build the interest of college students in the pharmaceutical industry. Although high-tech companies have been promoting engineering in middle and high schools for years, pharma companies are just beginning to explore this avenue.

Pharma companies are also establishing relationships with organizations such as the Healthcare Businesswomen’s Association, National Association of Asian American Professionals, National Society for Hispanic Professionals, National Action Council for Minorities in Engineering and the Society for Advancement of Chicanos and Native Americans in Science.


Advancement of the Most Diverse Companies

Pharmaceutical companies that want to stay in the game realize that the best performing companies are the companies with robust diversity strategies and practices aligned with the business, and have developed appropriate organizational tactics and recruiting efforts to stay competitive. It now comes down to how well pharma companies follow through with their plans. Those companies who master diversity in their workforce will excel with the increasingly diverse health care professional and patient base, therefore achieving a competitive edge.


Cited Resources

Also of Interest from IMDiversity


Kristin RandJD is the  Director of Education Strategy in the Professional Education Support Department for Wyeth Pharmaceuticals.  Prior to joining  Wyeth, Kristin was the CME Director of an accredited medical education company. Kristin’s background includes experience working at a law firm, where she focused on medical malpractice defense and intellectual property matters, as well as an internship at Brigham and Women’s Hospital where she conducted testing and research in genetics. Kristin is a frequent faculty member at both pharmaceutical industry forums and continuing medical education conferences.