Women in Life Science – facilitating change in pharmaceuticals?

This week Sweden’s organization for managers, Ledarna, published, for the 7th consecutive year, their list “Female Leaders of the Future”. The list features Sweden’s 75 most influential women in business under the age of 36, with the aim of raising awareness of young female leaders. On the list of 2013 I once again noticed very few women, in fact only two, from the life science industry.

This low number correlates well with a recent article in the journal Nature. It shows that the number of women on the commercial side of the industry has remained low, in spite of an increasing number of female scientists in research laboratories.

During my studies at Karolinska Institutet, I have heard numerous guest lecturers from the industry discuss the change that will, and must, happen in the way big pharmaceutical companies do business. The relevance of big pharmaceutical companies will decrease as the health care system increasingly demands integrated solutions from pharmaceuticals, technology and diagnostics. This change is accelerated by the fast progress in technology and IT that will facilitate and reinvent the health care system as a whole.


With this monumental change ahead, the industry will have to look outside of the box for influences from other industries.

So why is it that only few women are in top positions in this industry? Perhaps it is the very conservative character of the industry, which has been so powerful for so long that it through tradition has become a hindrance for women. Maybe it is the daunting task of making decisions that will change the lives of many, and the stereotypical view of females being more sensitive. It could also reflect the fact that women usually take greater responsibility in family life.

With the trend of pharmaceutical companies moving towards more integrated business ventures, the industry will perhaps take influences from other industries with more women in leading positions. The incorporation of women may provide new insights that can facilitate the change, and that the boardrooms of pharmaceutical companies have lacked until now.

Joanna Malmqvist

Karolinska Institutet


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