Representation in UK pharma: A progress report

Pharma understands that building equitable health services starts with building equitable institutions. But how is the UK’s industry progressing on its equality, diversity, and inclusion pathway? And what more needs to be done?

Equity, diversity, and inclusion (ED&I) strategies in the UK’s pharma sector are beginning to take shape, but there is still much work to be done.

Metrics and key performance indicators (KPIs) are, in the main part, embryonic, teams lack focused resources, and data collection is in its infancy.

These are among the conclusions of a new Accenture report commissioned by the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI) to establish the maturity of ED&I across its member companies.

Pinder Sahota, president of the ABPI, explained the report was part of the association’s ED&I Strategy, which was launched in April 2021 in the wake of the Marmot Ten Years on Health Equity Review, the disproportionate impact COVID-19 had on ethnic minority groups, the Black Lives Matter movement, and the Cumberlege Report.

“Our industry is about helping people, and we have always strived to do so equitably,” he said in a foreword to the report. “The drive to address health inequalities, understand unmet needs, and diversify clinical trials is a core focus for our members.”

“Equality, diversity, and inclusion is about ensuring the workforce is representative of the communities that we live in and the communities that we serve.”

Representation at every level of an organisation is essential to reaching underserved parts of society and achieving these aims.

“Equality, diversity, and inclusion is about ensuring the workforce is representative of the communities that we live in and the communities that we serve,” said the Accenture report. “It is about ensuring that everybody has equal opportunity access and has a sense of belonging within the organisations they work in. This starts with creating a culture that allows employees to bring their true authentic selves to work each day.”

Progress report

The report is based on the survey responses of 29 ABPI member companies, individual interviews with 18 general managers and human resource directors and focus groups with 12 employee resource groups and ED&I network leads.

The authors found a “notable increase in effort” in setting tangible goals and rising accountability in addressing inequality in the workforce.

The work, carried out in September and October 2021, also found that strategies often extended beyond the workforce. Twenty-eight per cent of survey respondents said they were also focusing their efforts on suppliers, 24% on their customers, and more than a third on the external community, with a focus on healthcare inequalities in wider society.

In some cases, however, progress was impeded by competing business demands for resources.

“Our interviews highlighted a sentiment of capacity and capability constraints. This aligned with the 83% of survey respondents who stated that a lack of dedicated time and resources alongside the day job was the primary challenge they faced in progressing ED&I this year,” explained the authors.

“A number of smaller organisations also indicated in interviews that they were already too resource-constrained to dedicate attention to it.”

Overall, ED&I planning is “starting to take shape”, with 83% of companies having a defined strategy for the organisation and 59% having a UK-specific strategy.

But while most companies have an ED&I strategy, the communication of goals and measures is less common. “Internal communication of these beyond a limited group of stakeholders occurs in less than four in ten companies we surveyed,” said the authors.

Measure to improve

Pharma may be a data-driven industry, but this ethos has so far failed to be translated to ED&I policies.

The survey found that just one-third of respondents with UK-specific ED&I goals and measures track progress on a quarterly basis. The remainder, the authors said, do so less frequently.

What’s more, 45% of companies said that while they conducted “basic reporting”, they did not analyse the data. Just 21% said they monitor and use their data to “identify and shape more targeted initiatives and delve deeper into ED&I unknowns”. None said they had a “fully comprehensive approach to ED&I data analysis and action planning”.

“Analysing ED&I data can offer unique insight into the workforce to inform and inspire tailored action for enhancing the employee experience,” said the report.

“The fact that 34% of survey respondents believe that they do not have a good grasp of their existing workforce make-up – the second-largest barrier to progressing their ED&I approaches this year – suggests that there is some way to go in harnessing ED&I data to boost visibility and targeted action planning.”

Call to action

As this research shows, the UK’s pharmaceutical industry is committed to driving change in relation to ED&I, but there is still a long way to go.

Setting and communicating goals and KPIs and supporting staff with the right technology and resources will help pharmaceutical companies overcome the barriers they currently face.

As the authors point out, change will not happen overnight. But intentional, sustained improvements can make a big difference to the sector’s overall progress.