Women Promoters Rule India's Life Sciences Sector, say Industry Experts - The New Indian Express

Women Promoters Rule India's Life Sciences Sector, say Industry Experts

Published: 09th March 2014 09:20 AM

Last Updated: 09th March 2014 09:20 AM

The Rs.75,000-crore Indian pharmaceutical industry has a distinctive feature. Unlike other male-dominated sectors, women play a major role in shaping this industry. Kiran Mazumdar Shaw of Biocon, Swati Piramal of Piramal Healthcare, Reddy sisters of Apollo Enterprises, Vinita Gupta of Lupin, Suchitra Ella of Bharat Biotech and Villoo Morawala Patell of Avesthagen Ltd, to name a few, not only contribute significantly to their company topline, they are also the voice (and face) of their sector.

“In the West, pharma companies are professional entities and, as a result, the sector continues to be an old boys’ club. In contrast, the Indian life sciences sector (be it pharma, biotech or healthcare services) is largely promoter-driven and you see women steering it from the front,” says Shaw, who founded biotechnology firm Biocon in 1978. Some 35 per cent of the Bangalore-based company’s 7,000 staffers are women. Interestingly, a large number of them work in R&D. “We have an R&D workforce of about 3,500 and I can proudly say 40 per cent are women. Also, 20 per cent of our leadership pipeline comprises women,” adds Mazumdar.

Industry experts say the sector encourages an entrepreneurial spirit and that’s why women venture into this space. “Amid cut-throat competition, one doesn’t need to innovate how to run the business. Instead, focusing on an innovative product will fetch them good business,” says Sangeetha Reddy, managing director, Apollo Enterprises Ltd.

It is interesting to see gender diversity not only at the helm, but also down the ladder. Quintiles India, a contract research organization, has a 13:12 ratio of female to male employees (for which it won the highest percentage of women employer award by Software Technology Parks of India, or STPI, in 2012). Karmic Life, another contract and clinical research organization, has a male-female ratio of 7:8.

The numbers are rising every year. A 2010 report from the Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation said women comprised 15.27% of the workforce in pharma, medicinal, chemical and botanical product manufacturing. In 2013, the pharma industry had a workforce of about 4,50,000. This included researchers, scientists, doctors and project managers.

“Over 20-30% of the total workforce now is female,” says Shaw, adding that the manufacturing and marketing functions continue to be male-dominated. Adds Moorthy K Uppaluri, CEO, Randstand, an HR services firm: “There is high demand for junior and mid-level professionals, and areas such as quality assurance and human resources are completely managed by female employees. Other departments  like business development, clinical operations, data management and medical affairs are either led by women or have female employees significantly outnumbering their male counterparts.”

Perhaps, women do better here due to the highly-regulated and time-consuming nature of work in this industry. “The sector is knowledge-driven and requires long gestation periods. (Typically it takes more than seven years to produce a new drug, provided the regulatory approvals come in time). Unless there’s passion, commitment and capital, surviving in the sector can be a challenge,” explains Suchitra Ella, co-founder, Bharat Biotech International Ltd. “If I am successful today, you should consider the 17-year struggle that has made our company what it is today.”

Shaw, Piramal and most of the other promoters have put in equal or more years to find success. “Product development in this sector is time-consuming. No other sector, perhaps, requires as much time to get a product to market. Also, getting access to capital for a prolonged period can be a challenge,” says CSN Murthy, CEO of Aurigene, a biotech company based in Bangalore.

Given the capital scarcity, incubating the concept and product, defining its commercial value, scaling up the business and finally making commercial sense out of it, makes the boss’ job all the more difficult.

They say women are better at seeing over the horizon: good thing, the industry has women at the top.

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