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Why Advancing IDEA Is Good for Canada’s Life Sciences Sector

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To enhance Canada’s life sciences sector, embedding inclusion, diversity, equity, and accessibility (IDEA) is crucial for fostering innovation and attracting talent.

Canada currently ranks among the top hubs in the world for health and biosciences. Our world-class universities and research hospitals have led to breakthrough discoveries and trained a highly educated workforce. Yet Canada is also experiencing a talent gap, particularly at the executive and managerial levels, where top talent is critical to fostering an environment that encourages creativity and innovation. To transform Canada’s life sciences sector into a truly innovative and globally competitive hub, we must take steps to build a more inclusive and diverse life sciences sector.

Embedding IDEA initiatives

Currently, equity-deserving groups are underrepresented in Canada’s life sciences sector. A report from BioTalent Canada found that Indigenous workers and workers with disabilities make up one per cent each of the bioeconomy, while women make up 34 per cent. This is lower than the Canadian average, where women make up 47.5 per cent of the workforce, people with disabilities make up 10 per cent, and Indigenous people make up 3.5 per cent. Visible minorities make up 20 per cent of the bioeconomy, which is slightly lower than the Canadian average of 22 per cent.

A new report, “Status of Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Accessibility (IDEA) in Canada’s Life Sciences Sector,” conducted by Shift Health and Life Sciences Ontario (LSO) and supported by adMare BioInnovations and Pfizer, identifies opportunities for Canadian life sciences organizations to embed inclusion, diversity, equity, and accessibility (IDEA) initiatives into workplace practices and culture. Recommendations from the report include using inclusive language in job postings, offering mentorship programs for employees, requiring IDEA training for all employees, and holding leaders accountable by embedding IDEA into organizational strategies.

Addressing barriers

Life sciences companies in Canada are taking steps to embed IDEA into organizational practices and culture. LSO, in partnership with Shift Health, announced the “Building an Inclusive Life Sciences Future (BILSF)” initiative in June 2021. BILSF is a series of community-driven engagements and workshops aimed at mobilizing the life sciences community around a powerful action plan for IDEA. It’s led by a steering committee consisting of diverse representation, including IDEA thought leaders, individuals with lived experience, individuals from marginalized communities, trainees, and early-career professionals.

Still, life sciences companies face many barriers to advancing IDEA. One of the largest barriers is insufficient knowledge on IDEA, including best practices in hiring processes and understanding the value of IDEA. There are also major differences between small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and large enterprises. Data shows that 54 per cent of SMEs in the life sciences are in the early stages of implementing IDEA initiatives, while 82 per cent of large enterprises are in the later stages. SMEs face more barriers to prioritizing IDEA, such as lack of resources and time. This presents an opportunity for large life sciences enterprises to support SMEs with implementing IDEA initiatives.

By advancing IDEA, Canadian life sciences organizations can create a sense of community and belonging in the workplace — one where diverse experiences and ideas are valued. In doing so, life sciences organizations will be able to attract more talent and improve organizational performance, leading to greater levels of innovation and an overall more globally competitive sector. 

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