Large pharma companies support Women in STEM leadership pilot 

The Pistoia Alliance, a global, not-for-profit alliance that advocates for greater collaboration in life sciences R&D, has launched a pilot for its new Women in STEM leadership programme, which involves 15 large pharma companies that will support diversity in executive roles and advocate a fairer working culture with more equal opportunities. 

The programme is aimed at organisations seeking to develop leadership and mentoring skills and promote diversity in the life sciences work environment. It will bring together some 40 participants spread across 12 countries under the Pistoia Alliance umbrella.  

The 15 companies involved in the pilot stage include: AbbVie, AstraZeneca, Bayer, Biogen, Bristol Myers Squibb, CSL, GlaxoSmithKline, Roche, Janssen, Merck & Co, Merck KGaA DE, Novo Nordisk, Pfizer, Sanofi, and Takeda.  


Despite women making up 53% of the world’s STEM bachelor’s and master’s graduates, they still only account for around 30% of the world’s researchers. Women are also more likely to leave the STEM career pipeline than men, leading to a wider gap at the senior level. Further, women account for only 16% of managers and 3% CEOs in this field, which is why the Alliance has chosen to focus its pilot scheme on leadership roles.  

The Alliance’s project will tackle the reasons behind these statistics. The pilot features four diversified groups of 10; each group has a maximum of two men, allowing male participants to experience first-hand being part of a minority group. The participants represent varied areas of expertise, including data scientists, industry regulators, and drug safety and development researchers; 45% are based in the US, and the remaining 55% span Europe and China.  

What was holding women back?  

During the application process, participants were asked what they believed was holding them back from progressing in their careers. Their answers will shape the program’s weekly training sessions, and include areas such as: 

  • Networking opportunities both internally and externally 
  • How to be clearer and more confident when communicating at senior leadership level 
  • The lack of opportunities and support for women in science and technology roles 

Comments and participation 

“While many companies may have their own DE&I schemes, the true value of the Pistoia Alliance is that it’s a collaborative space where best practices and ideas can be shared cross-company, and globally,” explains Anca Ciobanu, Programme Lead. “Interest in this programme has been overwhelmingly positive and really shows that companies are willing to commit to change. We are excited to open up the waitlist for the next stage, and encourage people from other backgrounds to get involved, including our tech company members.” 

“The programme is like a vaccine – we expose leaders to trial situations to understand the root causes of how inequality manifests in the workplace and to uncover unconscious biases. Then when the participants experience these scenarios again, they know what the most appropriate action is – whether that’s being an ally or intervening themselves. Change has to come from the top down for life sciences to build a more inclusive culture,” added Ciobanu. “By the end of the programme, each leader will be equipped to better support diversity programs at their respective companies. But we don’t want the program to simply end there – the Alliance will invite alumni to different events to meet other participants. To truly increase diversity we must keep the conversation going and continue collaborating on best practices.” 

Pilot details  

The pilot scheme will end in June 2023, with the alliance aiming to build a series of future programmes using feedback and learnings from the pilot, so even more of its members can benefit. Going forwards, the alliance says it wishes to create a community of leaders who share the same values and who contribute to change in the overall industry – either by directly changing or promoting equality in their organisations.  

The Alliance is inviting members to register their interest for the next phase of the programme. For further information about this initiative and to join the wait list or get involved in helping to fund this project, visit  

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