More and more women are driving innovation and taking leadership roles in biotech – as evidenced today in the release of Endpoints News’ list of the top 20 women in the R&D world – but those gains are beginning to extend across pharma sectors.
In pharma manufacturing in the US today, around 46% of all roles are occupied by women, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics for 2021. And according to a Bloomberg report, women’s roles across manufacturing roles had a massive boost after the start of the pandemic.
As the roles of women continue to grow in pharma manufacturing, Endpoints talked with Piper Trelstad, the head of chemistry, manufacturing and controls (CMC) at the Bill & Melinda Gates Medical Research Institute (Gates MRI), to get a sense of how and why women’s roles are growing and changing – and what lies ahead.
This interview has been edited for clarity.
Endpoints: What has been leading to a rise in women occupying roles in the pharma manufacturing industry?
Piper Trelstad: I think that there’s been a concerted effort to address it. I think there’s interest in it they are good jobs, interesting jobs. I think there’s been a concerted effort is there’s been sort of a consciousness that we’re kind of seeing a ceiling and so that there are programs and efforts to ensure that women leaders are getting the mentorship that is awkward, so critical, and seeing women rise. I think there’s a little bit of a snowballing effect too, as you have more people in leadership positions who are role models for those who are kind of coming up through the ranks. So, I think there’s a combination of a number of factors that are contributing to that, and again, we’re not at parity quite yet but we at least seem to be headed in the right direction.
Endpoints: What sort of roles are women occupying in the manufacturing field?
Trelstad: I think it’s a mixture. I mean, I do think that you see women in all parts of the organization, at least in my experience from manufacturing, throughout and again, kind of increasingly and in those C-suite roles. Historically you’ve seen a lot of women in roles, like quality roles, and regulatory, some of those that are incredibly important support roles, but I think you’re starting to see more even in the more traditionally male-dominated manufacturing and technical roles as well.
Endpoints: What are some factors that are still holding back women from joining the pharma manufacturing roles and what is being done to address them?
Trelstad: I think there’s also in my experience, just you know, when women decide to have families that that’s often a key decision point, like do they feel like they can balance that work, which is often demanding and so having, good childcare options are so critically important. So, I think there’s certainly an opportunity I think, as a society to do better, you do see that some companies are providing, providing childcare. So, for me, I’ve seen new super talented women, and then they start their families, and then they either kind of step back altogether or come back and roles that are a little bit maybe less aspirational than what they might have thought earlier in their careers.
Endpoints: What should manufacturers be doing to maybe started attracting a wider female workforce?
Trelstad: Largely they’re doing a pretty good job in terms of bringing women in out of school, younger women. I think you’ll see that there’s reasonable parity in terms of the numbers, kind of in the lower levels of the organizations and I think the data supports that. I think what the question is how you keep them in and keep making sure that they’re being promoted on the same at the same kind of rate in which men are and I think that you have to be really sort of conscious that you’re making sure that you’re developing women that you’re, again, creating those mentoring roles in order to make sure that you’re bringing them along. Making sure that you’re giving everybody the opportunities, it’s probably not just sort of a women/men thing, which is sort of ever you know, everyone if you’re trying to get the diversity across the across the board, and this is something that at the Gates Medical Research Institute we have very conscious and have a strong kind of DEI effort. So we’re thinking about those both as part of that hiring process but also as we grow and thinking about what opportunities we’re giving people and how we’re training our folks.
Endpoints: Where do you see the future of female participation in this industry going, will it increase or stay at this level?
Trelstad: My hope is it’ll keep increasing and get to parity I don’t think we’re done yet. I think we’ll continue to see that rise. And I think that the reason for that is I think it’s been pretty clear that when you have good diversity in an organization, you get better thinking. And so, I think that’s going to continue to drive that just from a business perspective I think it makes it makes sense.