UK Life Sciences Companies Make Modest Progress on Gender Diversity but It’s Only Half as Good for Racial Minorities, Liftstream Study Finds

Data shows 14.8% women and 7.3% racial minorities on boards of UK life sciences companies

LONDON--()--A study of 132 life sciences companies in the UK shows that women participate on company boards at a current level of 14.8 percent, and in the executive management at a level of 21 percent. These figures, produced by board and executive search firm Liftstream, are up from the 9.6 percent for boards and 18.1 percent for executive management reported in a 2014 study by the company. In the new analysis, racial and ethnic minorities were found to be only 7.3 percent of the board directors, and 70 percent of companies have no racial diversity on their boards. The presence of women as CEOs and Chair of the board were recorded at 9.8 percent and 2 percent respectively, and 41 percent of companies have all-male boards.

“Our latest study offers fresh perspectives on the UK life sciences sector’s diversity. It reveals a reduction in the number of all-male boards but shows marginal overall gains since 2014. While there are modest advances in adding women to boards, the picture for racial and ethnic minorities is half as good.” said Karl Simpson, CEO of Liftstream. “Any progress is very welcome but relative to the UK’s largest companies, the sector is advancing slowly on diversity. We commend large-cap companies like GSK and AstraZeneca, as well as notable private biotech companies like Immunocore and OMass Therapeutics for appointing three or more women on their boards.”

Ros Deegan, Chief Executive Officer at OMass Therapeutics commented: “Based on my own experience at Bicycle Therapeutics and OMass, I was expecting to see more progress in boardroom diversity than this report reveals. But perhaps it’s not a surprise that I’ve chosen - albeit unconsciously - to work in two companies that rank in their respective top five for private and public UK life sciences companies with respect to boardroom diversity”

Key findings from the study are:

  • Women represent just 14.8% of company board directors.
  • With 15.6% women directors, public companies were marginally higher than private companies (14.1%).
  • Women chair the board of directors in 2% of companies.
  • Only 9.8% of company CEOs are women.
  • 74% of companies have one woman director or less.
  • The presence of women on the board contributes to more women in the leadership team.
  • Over a quarter of companies have at least 30% of women in their leadership teams.
  • 7.3% of board directors are racial or ethnic minorities.
  • 4 in 10 boards have no women and 7 in 10 have no racial minorities.
  • Boards with diversity not limiting themselves to gender.
  • To reach 30% participation of women on boards would take until 2038.

Karl Simpson commented: “The research places a spotlight on the various states of progress across the sector, and although it is a complicated picture, the data we are releasing gives clear direction for how to make the UK life sciences sector more diverse and inclusive. One such way is for many more women and minorities to be appointed to Chair boards and occupy CEO positions. Diversifying this power-axis in companies will accelerate change more broadly. Liftstream is a search company with deep expertise in diversity, and we look forward to supporting companies wanting to bring diversity to their board and leadership.”

Liftstream collected data from regulatory filings, companies registration documents, websites, and other reference materials for 132 life sciences companies in the UK, 70 of which are private companies, and 62 are publicly listed companies. The study looks at a total director population of 867 company directors, including executive and non-executive directors, as well as 655 executive leaders. The analysis is published in a 17-page summary titled: UK Life Sciences 2020 – Board and Leadership Diversity.

The study entitled “UK Life Sciences 2020 – Board and Leadership Diversity” can be downloaded free at


About Liftstream

Liftstream is an executive search services and leadership advisory company with deep experience in board and executive appointments in the global life sciences sector. Our clients benefit from the advanced sector knowledge we possess and the exceptional people we’re able to recruit for them into positions of leadership.

Since 2003, Liftstream has been strengthening the boards, executive teams and function leadership of biotechnology, pharmaceutical and medical technology companies across international markets. , improving the leadership and governance standards of our clients. We achieve this through comprehensive searches and rigorous candidate assessments to identify and appoint the person most suited to our clients’ requirement.

Liftstream is committed to equal opportunities, diversity, and inclusion. For more information about Liftstream, please visit


Karl Simpson, CEO, Liftstream
T: +44 (0)203 180 5880

Release Summary

Data shows 14.8% women and 7.3% racial minorities on boards of UK life sciences companies.


Karl Simpson, CEO, Liftstream
T: +44 (0)203 180 5880