Silent on Sexism?
Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., the top Democrat on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, is furious. After an industry party that objectified women, Murray sent letters to the Biotechnology Innovation Organization (BIO) and the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) about their efforts to combat workplace harassment at their member companies, according to an article by Amirah Al Idrus in Fierce Biotech.
At the Party at BIO Not Associated with BIO, known as PABNAB, there were topless dancers with company logos painted onto their bodies. Although BIO President James Greenwood and BIO Board Chairman John Maraganore criticized the party and claimed that the party’s sponsors would be ejected from the trade group if they did it again, Murray was not amused.
In a letter to BIO, Sen. Murray wrote, "[However,] I’m not aware of anything your organization and these industry leaders have done to ensure there are real consequences for sponsoring companies, nor used your leadership roles to address the broader workplace challenges in the biotechnology industry."
In addition, Murray mentioned the lack of gender balance at the 2018 BIO International Convention. Although BIO claimed to be working to assure that more women were involved in the conference and that there were no all-male panels, BIO still hosted 25 panels without a single female speaker. Moreover, men made up about 70 percent of the speakers and panelists at the convention.
"The lack of female representation at the conference, even in light of panels specially geared toward women and their advancement, is disappointing and speaks to the larger issues of diversity and equal opportunity for advancement in the biotech industry," Murray wrote. Although BIO has created a diversity and inclusion committee that developed "workforce development, diversity and inclusion" guidelines, it has failed to come up with industry standards for establishing safe and equal workplaces, according to Murray.
The senator was more general in her letter to PhRMA President Steve Ubl, mentioning that in a 2016 survey, it was reported that, of 1,067 women working in biomedical research, 30 percent said that they had experienced sexual harassment in the workplace. She listed Novartis, Pfizer and Sanofi for high-profile sexual harassment cases, acknowledging that "these accounts likely underestimate the pervasiveness of sexual harassment in the pharmaceutical industry."
Murray said that PhRMA had been "silent" in response to PABNAB, although Bayer had sponsored the event. She added, "[The] bottom line is that objectifying women and exploiting cultural traditions for the purposes of entertaining fellow industry members is a deeply troubling indication of the way the industry leaders still devalue diversity and inclusion."
In ending both letters, Murray requested information, including any polling, surveys or research that the trade groups had undertaken to "understand the scope of the problem in the industry," to assess risk factors and to "solicit feedback from employees about how to best address harassment in the industry." She also wanted to know what best practices either group has developed to assess and address harassment and any steps that had been taken to make sure its member companies are "fully and properly educating their employees about workplace harassment policies and rights."