Why is Diverse Leadership in STEM Important?

Why is Diverse Leadership in STEM Important?
Jacob Midwinter

3 mins

Why is Diverse Leadership in STEM Important?

Jacob Midwinter, Director of Sales and Search by SRG, discusses the key success factors behind driving diversity in leadership, as well as the challenges and opportunities leaders in STEM can expect to encounter along the way, with senior leaders Julia Buckler - QIAGEN, Dr. Amy Smith - CPI, Rich McLean - GPAS, Dr. Garry Pairaudeau - Exscientia, and Professor Charlotte Deane - Exscientia.

Year-on-year, more leaders are increasing their commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) initiatives.

In 2022, 92% of CEOs built DEI into their strategic priorities and goals - but over a quarter of leaders believe that we’re not doing enough. 

Inclusive leadership, where diverse voices have an equal platform, drives almost twice as many high-value innovative ideas than non-inclusive leadership models. Moreover, inclusive leadership creates a positive environment of psychological safety and fulfillment, where employees are 3.5 times more likely to realise their potential

In the STEM industries, where innovation underlies business success, diverse teams and inclusive leaders are business critical.

In this article, we discuss the growing importance of diversity in STEM and inclusive leadership with 5 STEM leaders.

                                                                                                                              Julia is wearing a green patterned blouse and a beige blazer, she has shoulder length brown hair                                                                                                                                 

Julia Buckler, Head of Assay Development, MDx at QIAGEN 

Julia has worked in biotechnology for 15 years, in her current role she is privileged to lead QIAGEN’s IVD Assay Development team to deliver quality diagnostic products for oncology and infectious disease applications. 

 Dr Amy Smith has long brown hair and is wearing a light coloured blouse 


Dr. Amy Smith, People Director at CPI

Dr. Amy Smith is People Director within CPI's Strategic Leadership team. Amy leads strategies that drive wellbeing, develop the incredible capabilities of our CPI people, and create an inclusive workplace to ensure everyone across the organisation feels valued.

 Rich McLean has dark brown hair and is wearing a dark coloured suit,  

Rich McLean, Chief Operating Officer at GPAS (Global Pathogen Analysis Service Ltd)

With a career spanning healthcare, life sciences and continued work in the charity sector, Rich has experience in managing large-scale operational teams at Amazon, Pfizer and LGC. At GPAS Rich is responsible for business operations, and oversees IT, finance and legal functions.

 Dr Garry has grey hair, and is wearing glasses and a white shirt  

Dr. Garry Pairaudeau, Chief Technology Officer at Exscientia

Dr. Garry Pairaudeau joined Exscientia following an impactful career at AstraZeneca as Vice President of Hit Discovery and Chair of the Global Chemistry Leaders Network. At Exscientia, Garry is dedicated to transforming drug discovery through AI-driven, target identification and drug design and development. 

 Professor Charlotte Dean is wearing glasses and a blue top, she has short brown hair  

Professor Charlotte Deane, Chief Scientist of Biologics AI at Exscientia

Professor Charlotte Deane (MBE) is Chief Scientist of Biologics AI for Exscientia, and Professor of Structural Bioinformatics at the University of Oxford. At Exscientia, Professor Deane leads the AI-driven design of protein structures in the discovery and development of novel biological treatments.

We asked this group of leaders a series of questions to delve into their thoughts and strategies.

Read on to explore:

  • How does diversity in senior scientific roles benefit a team and the wider business?
  • What are some of the challenges that need to be addressed when it comes to equity and diversity in leadership?
  • What key factors improve diversity in STEM leadership?
  • Summary: sharing ideas to enhance improvement in the STEM industry

How does diversity in senior scientific roles benefit a team and the wider business?

Rich McLean:  “Inclusion, equity, and diversity are sources of competitive advantage and growth enablers.”

“Introducing gender, ethnic and age diversity into senior scientific roles means conveying a new perspective to the STEM world and enhancing representation for future generations.  GPAS, being in the first year of its journey, had the opportunity to create a brand-new team with a highly inclusive senior leadership able to harness the value of different thinking styles and ensure that everyone's diversity is played at its best.”

Amy Smith: “Diversity for me, is complex and intersectional – an identity is made up of more than one aspect alone. Factors like socio-economic background and neurodiversity play an important role alongside the more widely referenced groups. However, regardless of how you define diversity, its benefit is the same – it brings diversity of thought and delivers better outcomes.”

“Different experiences and perspectives enhance concepts and products – no matter what you’re working on. Moreover, a more diverse group creates a more enjoyable inclusive environment where people are more likely to thrive and succeed.”

Julia Buckler: “I’ve been fortunate to see the benefits of diversity first hand with QIAGEN’s diverse leadership team.” 

“When it comes to discussing new proposals, we benefit from the diversity of perspectives our team have, enabling us to improve our plans from the start and strategise the best route forward. As a leader, I see the value in how even when we don’t always agree, our joint resolutions shape and optimise our results. To successfully enhance diversity overall, it’s important to build a team who are positive about diversity of thought and understand how to leverage it to strengthen ideas.”

Garry Pairaudeau: “Opportunities should be open to everybody. The diversity of thought and creativity that a more diverse team brings are extremely valuable to our mission at Exscientia, where we aim to transform how the world discovers medicines by applying artificial intelligence to the entire process. Transforming the industry in this way is no trivial task and so innovation, creativity, and imagination are essential. If you hire the same types of people, with similar experiences and backgrounds, you can sometimes get similar ideas and ways of thinking.”

Charlotte Deane: “As Garry has said, our aim at Exscientia is to transform how the world discovers medicines. When you consider that health is not a problem that only touches one segment of the population, we need the full range of people involved to look at problems in the best way and create the right solutions in terms of those new medicines. Exscientia has an absolute belief in diverse leadership and workforce because it’s simply the right way to work and we value an environment where people are included and are comfortable sharing ideas. Diversity in senior scientific leadership encourages this type of diversity at all levels within teams and the wider business.”

What are some of the challenges that need to be addressed when it comes to equity and diversity in leadership?

Garry Pairaudeau: “Finding a diverse set of candidates can take longer but it is essential. Some diverse groups may be less likely to step into certain companies, and there are typically fewer diverse individuals in some candidate pools. With this in mind, it’s important to ensure that the way you interview and structure your candidate journey is inclusive. Alongside this, it’s important to keep hiring decisions focused on proficiency - no one should be hired because of a characteristic.”

Charlotte Deane: “You only ever employ people because they are going to be brilliant at the job, and that requires get a diverse set of candidates because brilliance is everywhere. Then, when it comes to development you need different types of support within an organisation to encourage some people to consider stepping up to the next level. Diversity in leadership is then essential to understand different types of people who have the potential to excel and to activate opportunities that ensure that your organisation has a pipeline of the skills you need with the widest range of individuals across teams.”  

What key factors improve diversity in STEM leadership?

Rich McLean: 
“Cognitive diversity is an essential and sometimes overlooked piece of this puzzle. At GPAS, we aim to include people with different ideas, problem-solving strategies, and mental perspectives, shaped by their experiences and background, like culture, gender, and sexual identity.”

“For me, this means hiring for culture-add rather than culture-fit. In other words, we intentionally hire people who are not alike, which can add diversity of viewpoints and innovative perspectives. In fact, we work at the intersection of a 1000-year-old institution and one of the biggest global tech companies; this collaboration with Oxford University and Oracle requires GPAS to be cognitively diverse more than most organisations.”

Julia Buckler: “It’s important to understand the value of diversity and evolve processes to maximise its potential in the workplace. For example, while people often approach hiring in terms of trying to tick all the boxes for a particular role and description, hiring with your team in view is much more powerful. If you can assess what skills, perspectives, and ideas you have, and what perspectives you might be missing, you can approach maximising diversity of thought in a way that actively mends skills gaps, and ensures you organically build the team you need to succeed.”
“Additionally, strong role models are integral for diverse groups. Leadership is a skill that you learn from your predecessors. At QIAGEN, other leaders championed me and enabled my succession through to my current role today.”

“Coaching and mentoring are other key factors to improving diversity in leadership, particularly speaking from my experience as a disabled female leader. Having a private space to bring together your thoughts with a coach, or mentor can help you balance your ideas and succeed in your endeavours.”

“I oversee a large matrix organisation and to ensure that succession is equitable, the leadership team  proactively calibrate our annual performance reviews. Through this process, we ensure that every line manager is assessing their team against the same criteria to ensure that all our recommendations and promotions are fair and balanced. By robustly consolidating every nomination for promotion across the entire line management group, we’re able to better enable equality and ensure that decisions are made in a fair manner.”

Garry Pairaudeau: “Building a successful diversity initiative takes time, and you’ve got to be prepared to dedicate yourself to ensuring that you, and your wider team, are invested in the project. We recently extended our senior team, with our CPO, Caroline Roland. Despite being a relatively new organisation, we’ve established a 41% female and 59% male proportion in the workplace – I believe our success in expanding, while maintaining this level of gender diversity, is directly linked to our wider organisational commitment to inclusivity.”

Amy Smith: “Our goal at CPI is to hire the best possible person for a position and create diverse teams – this means making the recruitment process as inclusive as possible to ensure that we get the broadest selection of potential candidates. This can include recruitment practices such as blind CVs, to ensuring that your recruitment panel is diverse, and offering flexible working practices.”
“When it comes to enabling diversity in internal hiring, it is integral that there is investment in staff development and that opportunities are communicated across teams without elitism. Additionally, for people to thrive, they need to operate in psychologically safe workplaces. Educating leaders on psychological safety and supporting a model of inclusive leadership are two other major factors to paving more opportunities for diverse individuals in leadership.”

“As part of our DEI initiative at CPI, we actively run affinity groups for employees to help cement a sense of community for diverse groups. I also act as senior leadership team sponsor, to ensure that diversity metrics are brought to management and our organisational board. We are currently working through the inclusive employer’s accreditation, and implementing the recommended frameworks, running D&I campaigns, and we have reviewed all of our policies. We have also reviewed all job adverts to ensure that inclusive language is used, while assessing the language used across the organisation for unconscious bias. We also run professional inclusion workshops and now cover neurodiversity in our management development programme.”

Summary: sharing ideas to enhance improvement in the STEM industry

At SRG, we believe in sharing ideas and collaborating to boost improvement within the scientific community.

While DEI should be personable and actionable to your organisation, by discussing this topic with leaders from QIAGENCPIGPAS and Exscientia, we can summarise some of the key takeaways, to help inspire how your organisation could enhance its approach. 

Overall, diversity in leadership positions means leading from the front to enable positive change throughout the wider business. When you introduce more diversity to your leadership positions and workforce you encourage different ideas, perspectives, and ways of thinking, giving your business a creative edge, whilst creating a more inclusive working environment for all. 

Having a leadership team that is willing to coach and mentor individuals, whilst helping to open the door for career progression of more diverse groups, can really make a difference to a company’s overall culture. Leaders are the ones that can spot issues, barriers, or gaps in DEI, and put processes and training in place to tackle them, enhancing overall business success. 

In addition, a big contributor to a business’s DEI is how robust their hiring process is, removing barriers to enable more inclusivity by, for example, using blind CVs, creating tailored and flexible working packages, advertising on a variety of platforms, to result in culture-add, rather than culture-fit. 

Need help establishing diversity in leadership?

Our executive and specialist recruitment team at Search by SRG actively support organisations across STEM in producing strategies to widen senior talent pools, and diversify leadership. 

Connect with author Jacob Midwinter on Linkedin, or email solutions@srgtalent.com to arrange a discussion about optimising your talent attraction strategy. 

SRG, and its parent company, Impellam Group plc, promote Equity, Diversity & Inclusion, abiding by the principles of equality, impartiality, dignity, and safety. We recognise the value, potential, and growth opportunities that exist within our organisation, as well as those opportunities found in our network of clients and partners.

Our global teams are supported by leaders like Ann Bookout, Head of Culture & Fulfillment, mental health first aiders, and internal focus groups that look to identifying and dismantling attrition gaps for diverse groups. 

About the author: Initially joining SRG through the strategic sales team, Jacob’s passion for technical search and his experience managing global recruitment means he now heads up Search by SRG, and is Director of both Search by SRG and Client Solutions. Jacob is passionate about partnering with clients to ensure that there is unity. Jacob is still very much hands-on. He recognises the importance of ensuring that the right people are in the right jobs to increase productivity, diversity of thought, and ultimately the success of our clients.
Outside of executive search and client solutions, Jacob can also be heard discussing all things work-related on our Think Bigger Series podcast. 

The front of the guide is shown, its purple with a dynamic network of candidate logos in the upper right hand corner. the text reads srg 2022 equality diversity and inclusion guide in collaboration with new scientist
2022 Global Guide to Diversity and Inclusion

Download SRG's comprehensive report on the global trends, challenges and opportunities surrounding diversity and inclusion in STEM, created in collaboration with New Scientist Jobs.


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