Is gender diversity a problem in Switzerland’s life sciences industry

Posting date: 27 August 2020

Unlike other industries, Switzerland’s healthcare and life sciences sector doesn’t have a gender diversity problem; it has a ‘women in leadership positions’ problem. This is an issue globally, with women making up less than 30% of executive directors at the top pharmaceutical firms worldwide. This is despite women making up 65% of the workforce and 80% of the buying and usage decisions, suggesting there is a clear gap between women entering the industry and progressing to its most senior roles. So why does healthcare and life sciences struggle to promote women to its leadership positions, and what more can be done to help?


A Swiss – and global - problem


Not only do women make up just 30% of C-suite teams, but they also account for only 13% of CEOs within the healthcare industry, according to research by Oliver Wyman. And women who do reach CEO level take three to five years longer than their male counterparts. Looking at Switzerland more specifically, we know that there are enormous obstacles for women who want to juggle a family with a career, with Swiss Justice Minister Karin Keller-Sutter declaring: “You cannot have everything: three children, a seat on the board and a career.” Switzerland’s family policies are conservative compared to many other European countries, with high childcare costs, a lack of paternity leave and few incentives for women to continue working after having children.


Progression within healthcare and life sciences


While female representation is lacking at the senior level of healthcare and life sciences, similar numbers of men and women enter the workforce with life sciences and medicine degrees. However, the further up the seniority chain you go, the more this representation dwindles, from 33% women in senior leadership positions to 29% at COO level. This prompts the question: where do all the women go in healthcare and life sciences?


Some organisations do appear to be addressing this issue. Some of the largest pharmaceuticals companies in the world have appointed female CEOs, including GSK, Biocon and Mylan. Meanwhile, women make up 40% of executive committee members at Johnson and Johnson and Pfizer, suggesting green shoots are starting to emerge for women at the top.


Why is gender diversity in life sciences so important?


Gender diversity is important in every industry, but especially within life sciences and healthcare. For companies to understand the needs of – and produce solutions for – a diverse patient population, they need to reflect this diversity themselves. This is particularly important within R&D. Women and girls bear a bigger burden of disease than men in low-income countries, with many diseases disproportionately or exclusively affecting women. Life science and healthcare companies that understand this and focus on gender diversity and inclusion have a greater chance of meeting those patients’ needs.


Within the pharmaceuticals industry, profitability relies on the ability to understand patients. This is demonstrated in the FTSE 350 companies with no women on their executive committee, who only achieve an average of 8.9% net profit margin. Compare this to the companies with 25% female representation at executive level, with average net profit margins of 13.9%, and you’ll see that gender diversity really does lead to better business results.


What can we do to improve the outlook for women in this industry?


We know that around as many women enter the industry with medical and life science qualifications as men – so how can we ensure they keep progressing within their field?


According to a Women in the Workplace report by McKinsey and Lean In, the most significant obstacle women face when trying to progress to senior leadership is the very first step up to management level. For every 100 men promoted to manager, only 72 women are, which leaves more women remaining in entry level roles. And while many Swiss life sciences and healthcare firms are contributing to conversations around gender equality, what we need most is more action-driven change. According to the Women Count report, responsibility for this must start at the top down. CEOs should make diversity a business agenda, establishing hard targets for women in senior positions and providing transparent communications to the rest of the business – and industry - about this.


Informal mentorships are one of the best ways to promote women in this field, yet many organisations do not pay enough attention to mentorships and sponsorships. Firms that choose to make gender diversity a priority, by establishing clear, concrete goals and providing support and pathways for women, are likely to be the ones who benefit most.


How Swisslinx can help


As recruiters, we often see an imbalance of men and women applying for senior positions within healthcare and life sciences, particularly in Switzerland. Perhaps related to this, many of our clients are proactively looking for more diverse candidates. Women apply to 20% fewer jobs than men and are 16% less likely to apply to any given job, according to LinkedIn, with women feeling like they need to meet more of the criteria on a job ad than men. There’s clearly a disconnect when it comes to women believing they are qualified for senior level roles, and we’d like to help overcome this.


Diversity is important to us at Swisslinx – we're a 75% female team and understand the challenges women face in the Swiss workforce. If you’re considering your next job in healthcare and life sciences, or have a vacancy you’d like to fill, we can help. Find out about our client services or view our latest healthcare and life sciences jobs to get started.

Why recruitment can never be fully automated

Research shows that approximately 1.2 million jobs in Switzerland could be replaced by computer systems, algorithms and robots. However, the roles typically identified as being ‘at risk’ include bar staff, security guards and drivers – not recruitment professionals. On top of that, there are predictions that robotics and automation can exist alongside human professionals, enhancing their work rather than replacing them entirely.   Though AI has permeated every industry and there’s much reservation surrounding the technology, there are many benefits of automation - particularly for recruitment teams. That being said, recruitment remains a fundamentally relationship-led process that machines will never be able to replicate. Here’s why recruitment can never be fully automated and how AI can instead enable companies to redefine their talent acquisition strategies.   Benefits of new technologies While the human touch of recruitment can never be replicated, there are many ways that automation can help. One instance is AI-powered HR technology tools, which can reduce time to hire and improve the quality of hire simultaneously. AI tools and systems help recruitment professionals to sort through large volumes of applications and identify high-quality candidates – two major challenges that many consultants have faced in the wake of coronavirus. Prior to the outbreak of the virus, many companies were already using such technologies and the pandemic has triggered a widespread adoption of the technology, increasing investment in video interviewing software and virtual assistants.   In McKinsey’s The future of work: Switzerland’s digital opportunity report, results revealed that machine learning could increase the potential for automation of retail recruitment to 60% and to an even higher 66% for finance and insurance. So, how will it do this?   How automation and machine learning can help with the recruitment process People Analytics Recruitment has always been data-rich, but candidate information has traditionally been used to distinguish applicants from one another. The introduction of people analytics has enhanced this, repurposing data to predict what a successful candidate look likes. People analytics – similar to data analytics - tracks high-quality candidates and uses this information to create a personality matrix that predicts future successful hires. But while research from Deloitte found that 71% of businesses agree people analytics is high-priority, how much trust can you really place in a data algorithm?   Writing inclusive job descriptions Various AI tools can help with creating job descriptions using inclusive language such as gender-neutral keywords. As research shows that diversity drives financial progress, there’s more than one incentive for companies to strive for a diverse workforce. This application of AI technology demonstrates how automation will continue to benefit the hiring process and wider business goals by lowering the chance of using biased language.   Recruitment during Covid-19 AI-powered systems have proved their worth during the pandemic, preventing recruitment from coming to an altogether standstill and earning a permanent spot in the recruiter’s tech stack. As a result, the pandemic has accelerated the automation of recruitment, but it’s also exposed the crucial role of the recruiter.   The human element The human element of recruitment is about building relationships. Automation tools take admin tasks off the hands of the recruiter - particularly during the earlier stages of the recruitment process. Hiring teams can then reallocate this time to engage with the candidates who are further along in the process and perhaps more qualified for the role. Therefore, experienced consultants are essential when identifying high-quality candidates and during the executive search process – offering a human touch that automation cannot imitate.   Relationship-driven recruitment creates a superior candidate experience which is a crucial talent attraction strategy in a climate with a ‘war for talent’. Specialist recruiters are trusted to create, develop, enhance and maintain relevant talent pipelines so that companies have access to the best candidates from the talent pool. Whether the talent attraction goal is to ensure cultural fit, tackle D&I targets or source fresh talent from new markets, the human element remains the key piece to the puzzle.   AI and machine learning are enhancing the role of the recruiter Though 24% of Swiss employees fear that robots will replace them in their job, this view fails to consider how AI and machine learning can enhance their job role. Hiring professionals can harness technology to see better results in both their time-to-hire and in identifying high-quality candidates. Before the start of the decade, the job market had confidently established itself as candidate-driven, but now most recruiters and employers are faced with the challenge of sorting through high volumes of applications. This is where technology can help to streamline recruitment, whilst allowing consultants to focus on the core relationship-building and communication elements of the process.     Working in harmony with automation A recent report by Deloitte projected that 270,000 new jobs will be introduced in Switzerland by 2025 - the majority created by automation. The key takeaway is that AI technology doesn’t replace skilled professionals - rather, skilled hiring teams are needed to interpret the data that AI generates and add the personal touch. Though it’s still unclear to what extent recruitment will become automated, the role of the recruiter will remain an important one and will never be fully replaced by robots.   Stay ahead of the curve with Swisslinx At Swisslinx, our international team of consultants make sure to keep stay ahead of the curve, despite operating in an ever-changing recruitment landscape. Our deep understanding of our core recruitment markets and considerate approach to communication means we provide a service that is unrivalled by any technology. Contact us to find out how we can tailor our approach to suit your businesses needs.

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How do you know you’re working with the right recruitment partner?

Anyone who’s ever worked a recruitment agency will know that no two companies are the same. This is due to many factors: agency size, local and international knowledge, access to roles and candidates and use of technology are just a few. One of the biggest differentiators amongst recruitment agencies is the emphasis they place on recruitment standards. The recruitment industry is large, with relatively few bars to entry. As of 2018, there were around 800 recruitment agencies in Switzerland, employing approximately 5,000 consultants to place 340,000 temporary workers each year. It’s an important industry that makes a valuable contribution to the Swiss employment market and therefore economy, but how do candidates and clients know that the recruitment partner they choose to work with is upholding high standards and providing the best possible recruitment experience? What do high standards in recruitment look like? What makes a good recruitment experience? For a candidate, this comes down to several things, including: <!--[if !supportLists]-->·         <!--[endif]-->Relationship building: A good recruitment consultant will treat their candidates like professionals, not commodities. Look for a consultant who takes the time to understand your career goals, both long-term and short-term, and listens to what you’re looking for in your next role. A relationship between recruitment consultant and candidate can span years or even decades and can provide crucial guidance and support outside of simply finding new roles. <!--[if !supportLists]-->·         <!--[endif]-->Market insights: A recruitment professional should be interested – in the candidate’s wants and needs, in the market, and it the roles they recruit for. Look for a consultant who is passionate about what they do and the sectors they work in, as they’ll likely go the extra mile to find the right move for you. They should also understand trends and developments in the market to help guide you through the recruitment process. How do you know you’re working with the right recruitment partner? Many clients want to build-long term partnerships with recruitment agencies they trust and can rely on. So what should these clients look out for? <!--[if !supportLists]-->·         <!--[endif]-->Industry expertise: While generalist recruitment agencies have their place, many organisations benefit from working with an agency that has specific experience in the sectors they operate in, whether that’s financial services, healthcare or technology. Look for consultants who know their markets inside and out, can advise on current trends and know who the best candidates in your sector are. <!--[if !supportLists]-->·         <!--[endif]-->An extensive talent pool: A good recruitment agency can be judged by the depth and breadth of its talent pool. They should be able to access not only active candidates readily looking for opportunities, but also those high-level passive candidates who you would not otherwise be able to engage with. A good recruitment company will have existing relationships with professionals who might just be the perfect ft for your role. <!--[if !supportLists]-->·         <!--[endif]-->Honesty and integrity: Recruitment agencies are increasingly being seen as strategic partners for organisations, rather than just supply lines. To be able to build this partnership, an agency must work with honesty and integrity, clearly communicating with both candidate and client and ensuring the recruitment experience is a positive one for all parties involved. Swisslinx is leading the way in recruitment standards At Swisslinx, we have in-depth industry experience in many sectors. Our broad candidate pool accesses local and international professionals and we organise our teams to respond quickly and accurately to client and candidate needs. In addition to these strengths, we pride ourselves on maintaining extremely high standards of service at all times. With one of the highest staff retention rates in recruitment, our consultant’ work ethic, commitment and trustworthiness has been acknowledged by many in the industry. As an example, Account Manager Tim William received the below feedback from one of Swisslinx’ newest clients:   I don't like recruiters in general, but when I do, it's definitely people like Tim. He doesn't cast his net over hundreds of candidates with the same automatically-generated content, but rather hunts for people who - in his opinion - match best with the client's brief. He's highly communicative, keeps candidates in the loop even if he doesn't have any information from the clients and even gets to know where they live and what their current situation is. This is what I call very good relationship-building. And it all sits atop other skills and experience like good client relations, good insights and tips. I can wholeheartedly recommend Tim to any experienced job-seeker that looks for that special human touch and individual approach along with the feel of uniqueness. Well done to Tim, and thanks to all our Swisslinx consultants who go above and beyond to make our clients and candidates get the best possible care every day. If you’re interested in working with us and seeing high recruitment standards in action, contact us or view our client services to find out more.  

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