Women in the biopharma-marketing sector are earning 63% less on average than their male counterparts, according to MM&M’s latest Career & Salary Survey. Alarmed by this disparity? Angry about it? Among the range of emotions such news might trigger, surprise should not be one of them. 

The industry has been on notice of a snowballing pay gap for at least the last couple of years. From 2017 to 2018, for instance, the pay gap widened to 33.6% from 18.9%, and this year it nearly doubled again. 

To a large extent, how we got here is a story of numbers: Men’s pay continues to climb while women’s salaries keep dipping. There’s now a nearly $100,000 gap between average male/female paychecks.

Among the causes of the imbalance, men hold most of the higher-paying roles, with women claiming just 42% of director-and-above positions. That was the case last year, too. 

This phenomenon is not specific to our industry. “You see a lot of dropoff in senior management among women,” notes Lauren Ferrara, director of operations for executive search firm Creative Circle, which specializes in creative and marketing staffing in a number 
of industries.

At a certain point in their careers, women might choose to leave the industry or look for more flexibility, Ferrara continues. “You end up not having as many [women] go through the ranks.” 

Having fewer professional women in the corporate environment, especially at the mentoring level, makes it that much harder for others to break into the old boy’s club. Indeed, average experience levels were also lower among the women respondents.

Yet even when we adjust for years in industry, the pay gap remains. And even if you say junior men are more apt to negotiate their salary than are junior women (they are), the bottom line is that the genders are not sharing equally in the lucrative niche that is life sciences marketing. The disparity extends to bonuses, commissions and perks; it extends from the lower ranks to the upper echelons. 

What’s the fix? For one, companies must find “paths for growth for women within these industries, where if they do end up having to take time off, they’re able to return to the workforce in a meaningful way as opposed to having it be a knock to their resume,” Ferrara says.

But employees — and employers — shouldn’t wait for industry to reflect on its systemic disparity problem. Women must take matters into their own hands, urges Lisa Suennen, cofounder of C-Sweetener, a mentoring organization for women. 

“Shame on those who perpetuate the centuries old trend of undervaluing women and hiding behind opaque HR rules,” Suennen writes in response to emailed questions. “It is time for women to start asking their peers what they get paid and asking if it is an equal pay setting during job interviews. If the hiring leads don’t want to answer, you don’t want to work there.

“It’s particularly disturbing to think that those doing the paying have wives and daughters who will get treated this way too, but they don’t even think of that.”