Women Scientists in Emerging Markets: Can Life Sciences Industry Offer Hope?

Women Scientists

Can Life Sciences Industry Evolve and let women scientists in emerging markets to “Have-it-All”?

Mriae, a 33-year-old scientist in the Philippines, is resuming her career as a microbiologist in a tertiary care hospital after a maternity break of one year. After completing her PhD in microbiology, Mriae worked her way up from a junior assistant to a senior post after seven years of hard work. Choosing to be with her child for one year meant she had to make the difficult choice of foregoing pay and a slowdown in her career growth. Although the Philippines passed a regulation in 2016 that allows women to take a three-month paid maternity leave, an extended break means loss of pay.

Like Mriae, many women in several emerging markets face the crucial dilemma at some point in their career when they have to balance their personal life with their prospering career. Compared to many other sectors though, life sciences industry is evolving as a better choice for women scientists as women representation in senior management roles is increasing.

Growing enrollment of women for higher education in emerging markets

Women constitute a significant percentage of the workforce across the globe and are expected to be key drivers of the market economy with their spending prowess. According to figures from Statista, women spent $29 trillion across the globe and this number is expected to reach $40 trillion by 2018.

Women outnumber men in higher education in about half of the countries in the emerging economies. Globally, the number of women and men who complete their Bachelor’s degrees are nearly balanced, but more women obtain Master’s degrees as compared to men according to UNESCO.

Overall, the number of people taking up tertiary education in emerging markets reached 127 million in 2015. As compared to 2010 figures, this represents a 20% increase in tertiary education enrollment in emerging markets.

According to UNESCO Institute of Statistics data, more women are obtaining tertiary education than men in most regions of the world including Eastern Asia, South East Asia, and Central Asia. In Western Asia, the number of women enrolled in higher education is equal to that of men while in southern Asia lesser women take up higher education as compared to men.

The December 2016 report from UNESCO shows there is increased participation in research from women in Central Asia and the Arab states.

In Qatar, 60% of the graduates from universities are women. Similarly, more women are enrolling for higher degree programs in Tunisia, Libya, United Arab Emirates, and Kuwait than men.

Economic Benefits of Retaining Women Workforce

On an average 20% of women in Asia drop out of their professional careers. In India, the percentage of women who discontinue their professional careers is 48%!!

Half the world’s labour force is comprised of women. There would be a 50% loss in talent pool when women are inadequately represented according to one industry expert. According to experts, there could be a rise in GDP by 2% if these women were retained.

By making corporate boards more diverse with better participation from women, companies can benefit by a 25% return on equity as compared to 9% when the board is uniform.

A Harvard Business School study identified a significant business benefit involved in stepping up recruitment of women in both developed and emerging economies and reaping the benefit of their underutilized skills.

Chindex, a Chinese healthcare company found significant gains in terms of reputation when it increased its investment in hiring and retaining female talent in senior posts.

Industry Attitudes are Changing and Offering Hope to Women Scientists

Women still face challenges in many countries as they enter traditionally male-dominated positions. Inequality in the distribution of domestic work, low self-esteem, poor pay and limited career growth prospects are the major factors influencing women to leave their jobs despite being highly qualified. According to an Asian Development Bank (ADB) report, women in some Asian economies are perceived to have lesser skills as compared to men.

Thankfully, the scenario is shifting for the better in some of the most dynamic industries such as life sciences. An increasing number of women are being hired for R&D, QC, regulatory, and several other life sciences jobs. Many are groomed to senior management roles.

Globally, while there is still a stagnation in the number of women employees in senior positions, the trend is reversing in Asia Pacific region. Women representation has improved to 7.8 % in Asia, though it is still below the 14 to 22% mark in North America and Europe.

China and India lead these trends especially in terms of R&D in life sciences sectors. More women are in senior positions in life sciences sectors in China than in the U.S., where 20% of women are in top posts.

India, which is the top third biotech destination in Asia Pacific, is also seeing an increased participation from women in the industry. Gender equality is a priority for companies like Sanofi who doubled their women workforce in 2016 from the previous year. Women comprise 20 to 30% of top-level posts at Sanofi.

The pharma giant constituted a “cross-functional team” in 2015 to focus on hiring, training and retaining women workforce across South Asia.

Do we need really need legislation to bring positive changes?

The major trends to expect going forward are increased legislation to favour women participation across boards and in the workforce and technological advancements. Governments across the emerging markets are in favour of enacting laws to make women’s participation mandatory.

However, do we really need legislation to influence changes? Or can it be driven by economic factors recognized by industries and societies?

The industry is spurred on by several triggers including voluntary policies, pressures from community and interest to boost reputation by increasing women representation.

Emerging markets are seeing a rise in R&D investments in life sciences, which is demanding an increasing number of niche job roles. Increase in the number of patent cooperation treaties is an important indicator of innovations life sciences research. China would be a major spender on Research and Development by 2020.

Technological advances including cloud adoption for internal and external data access and automation will become the core of operations in many life sciences sectors. Consequently, the women workforce needs to gear up to the challenges of both management and analysis of big data and increased focus on automation, internet of things and artificial intelligence in life sciences.

Hopefully girls will grab these opportunities and excel in these areas as it can place them in a position where they finally will be able to “have it all” as their skills will be valued highly, offering them a chance to demand the flexibility needed to balance work and life while continuing to contribute value to their employers.

Syamala AriyanchiraBy Syamala Ariyanchira

October 23, 2017

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