Out at Work: Diversity in the Pharmaceutical and Biotechnology Industries

The U.S. pharmaceutical industry has been in a five-year hiring frenzy. IMS Health, a leading source of market information for the pharmaceutical industry, forecasts that both pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies will continue to experience growth that outpaces that of the overall economy for the foreseeable future. This steep growth curve spells opportunity for new college graduates considering a career in pharmaceuticals. The industry has recognized the value of attracting and retaining a diverse workforce and is actively pursuing graduates from many different backgrounds. Within many organizations, the workforce diversity they embrace not only encompasses race, gender and disability status, but also has been expanded to include lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) employees.

What do you do if you are a gay man or lesbian looking for a job in the pharmaceutical or biotechnology industry? How do you know which potential employers have a demonstrated commitment to diversity and especially to their LGBT employees? An excellent place to start is the Corporate Equality Index published annually by the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) Foundation. HRC is an organization that works to advance equality based on sexual orientation and gender expression and identity. In 2003 the index rated 250 employers that can be found on either the Fortune 500 list of the largest publicly traded companies or the Forbes 200 list of the largest privately held firms. An additional 112 employers with at least 500 employees were also included. Companies were surveyed and rated on a scale of 0% to 100% based on seven factors that demonstrate how the companies treat LGBT employees, consumers and investors. Nineteen pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies were rated in this year’s index. Sixteen had scores of 57% or higher, indicating positive responses on at least four of the seven factors, with Bausch & Lomb Inc. scoring a perfect 100%. (To see how other pharmaceutical and biotech employers scored, see the chart below.)

Gaining the Support of Your Employer

One of the seven factors on the HRC survey is whether the companies “officially recognize and support a gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender employee resource group; or would support employees’ forming a LGBT employee resource group if some expressed interest by providing space and other resources; or have a firm-wide diversity council or working group whose mission specifically includes LGBT diversity.”

Employee resource groups (also known as affinity groups) are expanding in number as more and more companies focus on diversity for a competitive advantage. However, groups often develop at the grassroots level, before formal diversity initiatives are in place. As corporate sponsorship increases, the groups can help spread diversity messages to the rest of the company. Resource groups are usually formed around what are known as the “primary dimensions of diversity”: age, race, physical disability, gender, ethnicity and sexual orientation.

Genentech, a biotechnology leader headquartered in South San Francisco, Calif., is a strong supporter of employee resource groups and offers one that focuses on LGBT issues. (See sidebar “Genentech’s Out & Equal Diversity Network Association”.) Sandra Manning, co-chair of Genentech’s Out & Equal (GO&E), states that “at Genentech, it is truly believed that when an employee can arrive at work free of inhibitions or worries, then that person will contribute fully to their work and to the company’s goals. That is what is so great about a corporate culture that embraces diversity.”

Resource groups work to support their companies’ business in four common ways:

Education. An educational forum is one of the most useful benefits a resource group can provide to both its members and the company. For instance, busy employees may not know all of the details surrounding the domestic partnership benefits that the company offers. (Lobbying to get them is often the first goal of a LGBT resource group if they are not already available.) The same holds true for benefits available to registered domestic partners in the states where the company does business, and updating members on pending legislative issues such as the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA). More ambitious projects include educating and increasing the awareness of all employees about their gay and lesbian colleagues.

Educational programs need not, indeed should not, be limited to LGBT issues. A powerful way to align the resource group’s objectives with those of the company is to sponsor lectures open to all staff members on professional development and corporate issues. For example, invite a senior manager from research, manufacturing or sales to speak about what their departments do and what their greatest challenges are. Other educational offerings can include maintaining a library of current books and publications relevant to LGBT professional issues, and facilitating a book club that covers general business and leadership related topics from a LGBT perspective.
Networking. Social events provide an excellent opportunity to meet with people from across the organization, which is good for exchanging information and developing professional contacts. Networking is an informal way to learn how different parts of the company contribute to the organization’s overall goals. Such knowledge is useful if you want to make a lateral move within the company, and it also becomes increasingly valuable as your career advances.

Genentech’s Manning says, “Since GO&E meets monthly to plan activities throughout the year, people attending the meetings make an impact on each other simply by introducing themselves. We meet new members who are from various departments in the company, we learn a little about our different roles, and how we each contribute to the goals of Genentech.”

Meeting gay and lesbian colleagues at higher levels in the organization also fosters mentoring opportunities. In addition, resource groups often have sponsors who are high-ranking employees within the company that offer advice and guidance on group activities. Membership in a resource group, and especially holding a leadership position, can provide access and visibility that might not normally be available in your job.

Networking opportunities can expand well beyond the company. Community outreach activities allow members to interact with LGBT philanthropic organizations. Connecting with other corporate LGBT resource groups in the same city and across your industry can infuse your group with new ideas and energy. Two formal programs provide a structured way for gay and lesbian professionals to come together: The Out & Equal Workplace Summit is an annual three-day event culminating in the Outie Awards Gala and the LGBT Leadership Institute sponsored by the Anderson School at UCLA offers a week-long symposium covering a full range of gay and lesbian employment and career issues.
Recruitment and Retention. Finding talented and highly skilled employees is a constant challenge for pharmaceutical companies. Once they find the right employees, companies want to keep them. Manning adds, “Genentech’s GO&E group works to help accomplish the goals of the company and, in turn, Genentech supports GO&E in order to retain its highly valued human resources.”

The presence of an LGBT resource group is a strong indicator of the corporate culture’s attitude toward and acceptance of gay and lesbian employees. The groups foster a sense of community within the company, and make a gay or lesbian employee more likely to stay. Often, personnel who have been hired recently are not only new to the company, but also new to the city. A resource group provides an immediate social circle and can help smooth the transition to the new area—this reduces stress and makes a new employee more productive, faster.

As the workplace becomes more open for gay and lesbian employees, and candidates become more comfortable addressing GBLT issues before they are hired, the demand for information on diversity policies and corporate attitudes will increase. Resource groups can assist on this front in several ways. They can help the company identify talent pools by providing the human resources department with recruitment contacts for LGBT professional societies and college or university alumni associations. Group members can serve on panels for human resources during the interview process. A savvy candidate may request an informational interview with a gay or lesbian employee before accepting an offer. New hire orientation packets should include contact information for all corporate diversity groups along with listings of local organizations and community events.
Community Outreach. Resource groups can do good deeds while also building the company’s image through community outreach programs. Activities can take the form of directed giving, volunteerism and corporate sponsorship. Directed giving involves identifying worthwhile charitable organizations that the group can support by combining individual member contributions. Corporate foundations may offer matching funds in addition to employee contributions. Volunteerism can be as simple as forming a corporate team for an AIDS walk or as complex as staffing an entire fundraising event.

Pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies have a vested interest in building strong science skills in school-age children. Mentoring high school students or sponsoring a science fair develops both goodwill and future employees. Finally, corporate sponsorship of gay and lesbian events sends a strong message of support to the community. Both Amgen(a global biotechnology company headquartered in Southern California) and Genentech have sponsored their local LGBT Pride events.

Opportunities to contribute can come from a variety of sources. The Amgen Network for Gay & Lesbian Employees (ANGLE) recently had an unexpected, but welcome, request. “A local elementary school asked for donations of age-appropriate books from each of Amgen’s affinity groups for their school library. The experience made me realize that our group can help shape positive attitudes toward gays and lesbians not only within the company but also in the communities where we do business,” states Durk Hubel, president of ANGLE. (See sidebar “Amgen: Lessons Learned From a Start-up”.)

Your Next Step

The HRC’s Corporate Equality Index is a unique and helpful resource, but it surveys only the largest U.S.-based companies. Don’t let a potential employer’s absence from the index hold you back. Check out the company’s Web site; it may have information on their commitment to diversity. Also, try calling the human resources department. Ask if they have an active LGBT resource group, and if so, whether you can have the group’s contact information. Employment prospects in the new millennium for both the pharmaceutical industry and LGBT professionals are looking very bright indeed.