A panel discussion, led by The RSA Group, at the recent BIA UK CEO & Investor Forum discussed the demographic time bomb facing biotech boards and leadership teams and came to the conclusion that now is the time to act to secure a diverse range of future leaders for our industry. Read their notes here and join the discussion on LinkedIn.  Key themes emerging from the discussion, led by Nick Stephens and Thomas Schleimer of The RSA Group, included the following:


To increase the diversity of life sciences leadership teams thereby improving the chances of new therapies reaching patients which will build a more successful, sustainable industry that drives shareholder value.

To drive increased awareness of what Diversity really means and to use it to support organisations through their various evolutionary phases.


How do we measure diversity and are there better metrics that would add meaningful information? We use surrogate markers, typically gender, age, ethnicity, sexual orientation and education. In a scientifically driven, global industry like life sciences, the scope needs to be better defined and to include an understanding of diversity of approach and of thinking.

The purposes of encouraging diversity are:

  • To create a group of people with different perspectives who debate vigorously toward a collective aim
  • Ensuring fairness and equality
  • To instill resilience and adaptability into organisations
  • To encourage innovation and enhance opportunity from the heart of organisations.

There is a demographic ‘time-bomb’ facing the life sciences sector, especially amongst NEDs in the UK. A lot of the current generation of ‘male pale and stale’ leaders will be retiring in the coming years and previous homogeneous selection has led to a wide age and experience gap with the next generation. Actively build diversity into succession planning.

When to consider to include a disruptive profile to drive diversity depends on where the organisation is from a size and maturity perspective. People and companies have varying perceptions of diversity based, for example,  on the stage, size or location of the company – for example what is optimum in Europe may well be different in the USA.

We asked; “What perspectives do we all share?” and “How could we do better?” “Can we find common ways of measuring diversity and its effect on performance”?

The world is changing and disruptors are the new norm.

CEOs of today need to me more reflective and resilient than yesterday, dissolve paradoxes, be 24/7. New talent (e.g. Millennials, etc.) apply a different rule book when assessing future employers.


Improving diversity requires cultural sensitivity and training to prevent conscious and unconscious biases.

It’s important to recognise that high-performing teams are made up of different components. People need to understand the value of new ways of thinking and welcome decisions to do something different, hear difference of opinion, accept a decision and communicate it.

More modern and holistic leadership styles are needed.

Welcome and value polite disagreement and make it safe and fun within the leadership team – layer decision making and accept ‘cabinet responsibility’. If you can develop a corporate culture where you are encouraged to debate but also can accept to “agree to disagree” – then diversity will flourish and better decisions will be made.

Hire now to cover future needs and gaps. Use diversity to deliver organisations through inflection points. Embrace ‘disruptive’ leadership. Consciously coach, encourage, bring-up junior management.

“Sandpitting” – rotate people through roles – do each other’s jobs one day a month.

Flags to look out for and when to think diversity in a more proactive way can be; cynicism, politically correct corporate slogans, lack of debate and weak engagement and a silo mentality (“we/them”)


Agree what superficially common terms mean (‘leadership’ or ‘disruptive’ for example) within the team and decision making group.

Use due diligence when hiring senior people. Take care specifying roles – and do so for the future, not to reflect what exists today. Gather as much data as you can first, un-bias it, blind CVs. Use psychometrics to analyse your existing team and help to reduce subjectivity in selection. Recognise team gaps, hire to fill them and avoid homogeneity.

As with any other important business decision it is only after gathering as much data as possible that you should apply expert advice and opinion to make your choice.

How much data should you look at before making a hiring decision? The answer is – enough to make an objective decision, not a subjective one.

Many people avoid data driven decisions and make their judgement on personal ‘chemistry’. This is often a mistake and can be like relying on magic rather than chemistry – never a reliable option. It’s vital that subjectivity is minimised and assumptions are tested rigourously.


Diversity is more difficult to experiment with and achieve in small, early stage companies. Big companies are freer to experiment systematically. Smaller companies may need to take a more ad hoc approach. There is a danger of getting it wrong if it’s not done well, for example hiring people just because they fit the diversity “need” rather than being the best person

Benefits of a diverse leadership team

  • Better decisions
  • Faster results
  • More resilience in difficult times
  • Higher value

A conclusion was reached that now is the time to act to secure a diverse range of future leaders for our industry.  We look forward to continuing this discussion,  please share your experiences with us and the biopharma industry via the details below:

Nick Stephens, Executive Chairman | Nick.Stephens@theRSAgroup.com

Thomas Schleimer, Partner | Thomas.Schleimer@theRSAgroup.com

Share this: