According to a recent report, the number of women working in Philadelphia's life science industry is increasing faster than that of men.
The Chamber of Commerce of Greater Philadelphia prepared the study, which examines key select occupations within the drug development industry, using data from Lightcast. Lightcast is a global company that provides labor market data and analytics.
The chamber launched its multi-year "Greater Philadelphia Cell and Gene Therapy, Gene Editing, and Connected Health Initiative", which was part of a larger effort to position the region to be able to address workforce requirements as industries grow.
In the last decade, the chamber reported that women have increased their participation in the life sciences sector by 12% compared to an 8.6% increase for men.
Sarah Steltz is the vice president for economic competitiveness at the Chamber. She said that more than 70% women work in the health care industry.
The study by the chamber examines job growth in 13 different professions. These include biochemists and physicists as well as medical scientists, biologists, and biological technicians. The analysis does provide a gender breakdown of life sciences jobs across the region.
In the list of professions, men hold 34,425 jobs and women 31,646. In 2012, men held 31,710 jobs and women 28,319. In 2012, women occupied 54% of the 6,142 jobs created.
Steltz attributed this growth in part to the "prominence" and "generosity" of local female industry leaders.
Dr. Jean Bennet, a researcher at the University of Pennsylvania who pioneered gene therapy research, was instrumental in laying the groundwork for Spark Therapeutics. This spin-off company of Children's Hospital of Philadelphia was co-founded with Dr. Katherine High. Katalin Kariko is a Penn biochemist and researcher who worked with Dr. Drew Weissman at Penn to advance the field of mRNA technologies that led to the development of Covid-19 vaccines.
Steltz stated, "I have seen women leaders in this area support those in positions we highlighted in our study both formally as well as informally." There are also many mentorship programs in this field by organizations, which makes it attractive to women who enter the field.
Sharon Willis is a biochemist, and the co-founder of Integral Molecular in Philadelphia. She said that when the company was starting up at the beginning of the new century, she was often the only woman present.
Willis said, "It happened the same way when I was pursuing my PhD in graduate school." When I worked on my thesis, I was the only woman in the lab. "I'm glad to report that I am not only a woman in meetings."
Integral Molecular was founded in 2001 and now employs 100 people, 54 of them women. Willis stated that about 25% of the company's leadership is female and more than half its middle management, team leaders, and other managers are women.
She said. The industry needs more female executives.
Willis attributes local training and apprenticeship programs, such as those run the Wistar Institute or the University City Science Center to helping girls get exposed to the field of life sciences while in middle and high school.
She said, "We need to increase the number of people who are interested in biotech and life science." We need to make people aware that they can still work in this industry even if they aren't scientists. There are many different jobs.
Steltz, Willis and others said that the number of networking opportunities in the area has also increased. This will help people advance their career.
The Center for Breakthrough Medicines is a King-of-Prussia manufacturing and contracting organization.
Audrey Greenberg is the co-founder of the center and its chief business officer. She said that the organization grew from 100 employees two years ago to 400 people last year. The center expects that it will double its current number of employees by the end this year and reach 1,600 by 2024.
Greenberg is not surprised that more than half of the job applicants are women.
Greenberg, just like Steltz said, the Philadelphia region has a high concentration of women who start and lead life sciences companies. She agrees with Willis that the industry must increase the number of women who hold C-level positions.
The chamber report found that biochemists' and biophysicists' jobs have increased by 1,064, or 78%, over the past decade. Women have gained 854 new jobs as biochemists or biophysicists, while men only added 662. This translates to a 29% increase in jobs for women.
Other findings include:
Since 2012, women who work as biologists have increased by 273%. Since 2012, the number of female biological technicians has increased by 87%.
Steltz stated that the data in the report is helping to inform and support the Greater Philadelphia Life Science Talent Pipeline Collaborative. This group was also created by the chamber of commerce in 2019. The group is made up of drug and cell therapy companies, academic research labs and other drug developers.
Steltz stated that the task of the chamber, as well as the collaborative, is to identify and communicate the attributes which are creating an environment for women working in the industry [in Philadelphia] and then share these stories.
Steltz said that one way in which the stories of women in the life sciences industry in the region have already been shared is by the CEO Council on Growth, through its "Discovery Starts with Me", video series. This tells the story of people who work in the field.