Though there’s big talk of gender equity in the life sciences, statistics paint a different picture. According to the Economics and Statistics Administration, women make up less than a quarter (24 percent) of STEM employees, and a study by the Anita Borg Institute reveals that at the executive level, representation drops to 12 percent.

But there are outliers. A decade ago, the biotech company Amgen had no women in senior leadership. Today, women account for 20 percent of board positions, more than 30 percent of senior executive roles and 51 percent of staff globally.

Mediaplanet spoke to three of Amgen’s female leaders to uncover how inclusion happens.

1. Be deliberate

Meaningful organizational change begins with acknowledging the problem of gender inequity and committing to transformation. “I never felt that gender was a barrier,” reflects Cindy Afshari, who joined Amgen in 2002 and now serves as the vice president of comparative biology and safety sciences. “But I think what we weren't doing was acknowledging unrecognized biases in play. We just had to take a more deliberate view — making sure we're getting good representatives, from a gender perspective, around the table.” From a hiring perspective, Afshari notes, “When we are interviewing candidates for a position and get the top three names, if they don't look like they're really coming from a diverse group, we dig a little deeper to make sure we are hiring the best without bias.”

2. Build opportunities for connection

When Tamika Jean-Baptiste, director of regional sales, transitioned to the company’s corporate headquarters, she joined two of the nine employee resource groups — Women Empowered to Be Exceptional (WE2) and Amgen Black Employees Network. Through those groups, she found invaluable connections on which to build her career. “I was shocked at the accessibility to everyone,” she recalls, “from our chief compliance officer to our VP of HR and their willingness to provide the lay of the land and how they grew in their careers.”

At the start of the company’s transformation, the Senior Women’s Advisory Council (SWAC) was established, as Lori Johnston, senior vice president of human resources, puts it, to “tell the unvarnished truth about what's happening in our company and what it would take to change the picture.” Now, in addition to advising the CEO, the group of female executives works to sponsor up-and-coming talent. Jean-Baptiste shares, “SWAC has been very open to ensure that they provide an avenue to accessibility. Members of WE2 are invited to their annual conference where we get first-hand insight on key issues and invaluable networking opportunities. It breeds a ‘pay it forward’ culture.”

3. Merge culture with cause

Biotech is an industry rooted in and fueled by the desire for delivering therapies to patients. “We want to turn the tide on grievous illnesses,” says Johnston. “And we have diseases that we work on — osteoporosis or migraine, for example — which tend to disproportionately impact women. We want to look like the patients that we serve. We need to represent that.” Consistently upholding a company culture that allows employees’ passion for the work to flourish creates fertile ground for satisfied employees as well as innovation.

“We're looking at people who have diseases where there's no hope, and we're potentially going to give them that,” says Afshari. “it's really inspirational for me.

“In the work that we do, there's a lot of risk-taking involved,” she continues. “It's hard if you have an environment that doesn't support that risk. Because of the culture around us, there are no bad ideas, and everybody's empowered to speak up. The culture really fuels my passion for what I want to do, and that's why I stay.”