06.29.18

Senator Murray Writes to BIO, PhRMA CEOs Calling for Stronger Industry Steps to Address Workplace Harassment

Murray sent letters to associations representing biomedical and pharmaceutical companies asking about harassment in the industry and what steps they are taking to address harassment in the workplace

 

Inquiry follows troubling reports on industry-sponsored party: Biotech Firms Run Away After Industry Party With Topless Dancers

 

Murray: “Workers across the country are speaking out about their experiences, and their stories have made clear that we all have a great deal of work to do to address this pervasive, systemic, and longstanding issue.”

 

Letters are part of Murray’s continued efforts to press industries to focus on addressing workplace harassment

 

(Washington, D.C.) – Yesterday, Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), ranking member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee, sent letters to James C. Greenwood, President and Chief Executive Officer of the Biotechnology Innovation Organization (BIO) and Stephen J. Ubl, President and Chief Executive Officer of the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers Association (PhRMA) about what steps they are taking to address harassment in the biomedical research industry and among their member companies.

 

“Over the past year, stories of sexual harassment across all places of work have dominated national headlines and sparked a conversation about power dynamics, equality, and change in the workplace and beyond. Workers across the country are speaking out about their experiences, and their stories have made clear that we all have a great deal of work to do to address this pervasive, systemic, and longstanding issue. I hope and expect that in your position as the leader of the industry’s trade group, you are taking steps to address concerns about misconduct among member companies and to ensure that your members’ workplaces are free from harassment,” wrote Senator Murray in her letter to BIO.

 

“As the Ranking Member of the U.S. Senate Committee with jurisdiction over issues of workplace harassment, I am deeply concerned about the striking lack of public initiative within the pharmaceutical industry, especially as many other sectors are beginning to make much-needed and overdue changes to protect workers. Actions taken with the goal of achieving greater gender balance in the pharmaceutical industry, from encouraging young girls to participate in STEM education to executive board-led efforts to increase diversity in the industry, will always be undercut by issues of harassment and culture.  It has long been clear that the magnitude of the problem in your industry should not be ignored. I am hoping that the recent focus on this issue will provide the needed push to make real progress and writing to request insight into your efforts,” she wrote in her letter to PhRMA.

 

The letters are part of an ongoing effort from Senator Murray to press industry leaders to address workplace harassment. She has also previously sent letters to tech associations, federal Department leaders, and other trade associations to press them for information on workplace harassment.

 

Full letter to BIO below and a PDF can be found HERE.

 

Full letter to PhRMA below and a PDF can be found HERE.

 

 

June 28, 2018

 

James C. Greenwood

President and Chief Executive Officer

Biotechnology Innovation Organization

1201 Maryland Ave SW

Washington, DC 20024

 

Dear Mr. Greenwood:

 

I write to you as head of the Biotechnology Innovation Organization (BIO) with deep concern regarding harassment in the workplace, particularly in light of the recent event sponsored by your member companies associated with the BIO International Convention, that have called into question the role that BIO plays in fostering industry antidiscrimination and harassment standards. Over the past year, stories of sexual harassment across all places of work have dominated national headlines and sparked a conversation about power dynamics, equality, and change in the workplace and beyond. Workers across the country are speaking out about their experiences, and their stories have made clear that we all have a great deal of work to do to address this pervasive, systemic, and longstanding issue. I hope and expect that in your position as the leader of the industry’s trade group, you are taking steps to address concerns about misconduct among member companies and to ensure that your members’ workplaces are free from harassment.

 

I am particularly concerned about events that took place earlier this month at BIO’s International Convention. It was my understanding that BIO was undertaking efforts to ensure greater participation of women in the conference and entirely prevent all-male panels this year thanks to increased BIO attention to issues of inclusion. However, the convention featured 25 panels without a single female speaker, and men accounted for roughly 70 percent of the speakers and panelists at the convention.[1] The lack of female representation at the conference, even in light of panels specially geared toward women and their advancement, is disappointing and speaks to the larger issues of diversity and equal opportunity for advancement in the biotech industry.

 

Additionally, the well-known and highest rated “must-attend” party associated with the convention, but not sponsored by BIO,[2],[3]  featured topless female dancers painted with the logos of party sponsors, including BIO member company Selexis.[4] This event has a highly concerning history of objectifying women and using culturally inappropriate themes, over the course of its multiple-year tenure associated with your convention and sponsored by your member companies. Though some party organizers defended the dancers as “artsy and edgy,”[5] the bottom line is that objectifying women and exploiting cultural traditions for the purposes of entertaining industry members devalues diversity and inclusion.

 

After the party, you and your Board Chairman[6], as well as other industry leaders[7],[8] spoke out against the event; however, I’m not aware of anything your organization and these industry leaders have done to ensure there are real consequences for sponsoring companies, nor used your leadership roles to address the broader workplace challenges in the biotechnology industry.

 

Over the past few years, industry leaders and companies have been called on to account for their actions and committed to doing so but little real progress appears to have been made.[9] I understand that BIO formed a diversity and inclusion council last year that released a set of principles on “workforce development, diversity, and inclusion (WDDI) for the biotechnology industry.”[10] However, the council has yet to release industry standards for creating safe and equal workplaces.

 

Efforts to create such standards must especially consider some of biotech’s most vulnerable workers: medical researchers. Unacceptably, one in three female biomedical researchers report sexual harassment.[11] Harassers often can be close supervisors who have the power to help or hurt a young scientist’s ability to establish themselves in the research field. As a result, these professional costs make it incredibly difficult for individuals to report harassment in research settings. It is past time for biotech to be a leader and to consider ways to rid all of its workplaces—from the corporate offices to academic medical laboratories—from harassment and discrimination.

 

As the Ranking Member of the U.S. Senate Committee with jurisdiction over issues of workplace harassment, I am extremely concerned about this issue. Actions taken with the goal of achieving greater gender balance in the biotech industry, from encouraging young girls to participate in STEM education to efforts like the WDDI standards, should not be undercut by issues of harassment and culture.   Over the past few months, I have asked industry associations for an update on efforts to prevent and address harassment in workplaces across the country. As part of that effort, I am interested in the ongoing discussions, plans, and actions within BIO aimed at protecting employees and establishing an equal and harassment-free workplace. While we understand that BIO does not control its member companies, your trade organization represents members’ interests, and their actions impact your reputation and reflect on the industry as a whole. I request a briefing with my staff within the next three weeks to discuss recent efforts you have undertaken to assess and address workplace harassment in your industry. I also request the following information:

 

  1. Any polling, surveys, or research BIO has conducted in order to understand the scope of the problem within the industry;
  2. Any research or actions BIO has undertaken to assess and address risk factors specific to the industry;
  3. Any surveys BIO has conducted to solicit feedback from employees about how to best address harassment in the industry and the results of the surveys;
  4. Any steps BIO has taken to ensure its associated employers are fully and properly educating their employees about workplace harassment policies and rights;
  5. Any best practices the BIO has identified among its associated employers to accurately assess and address workplace harassment; and
  6. Any suggestions you may have about how to strengthen and improve legal protections and processes in the workplace.

 

Studies have shown that workplaces that tolerate harassment have more of it, while workplaces that intentionally act to address issues of harassment have less.  Employers and employees in your industry are undoubtedly looking to you for leadership in how to tackle this persistent problem with the urgency it requires. I appreciate you taking this matter seriously, and I look forward to our continued discussions. If you have any questions regarding this letter please contact Carly Rush or Laura Aguilar at 202-224-0767 with my Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee Staff.

 

Sincerely,

 

Patty Murray

United States Senator

Ranking Member, Senate Committee on

Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions

 

 

June 28, 2018

 

Stephen J. Ubl

President and Chief Executive Officer

Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers Association “PhRMA”

950 F Street, NW

Suite 300

Washington, DC 20004

 

Dear Mr. Ubl:

 

I write to you in your role as CEO of PhRMA with deep concern regarding harassment in the workplace. In recent months, stories of sexual harassment have dominated headlines and sparked a national conversation about power dynamics, equality, and change in the workplace and beyond. Workers across the country are speaking out about their experiences, and their stories have made clear that we all have a great deal of work to do to address this pervasive, systemic, and longstanding issue. In past months, we have seen headlines about leaders in the pharmaceutical sector who were called to account for their actions. I hope and expect that in your position as the leader of the industry’s trade group, you are taking steps to address concerns about misconduct among member companies and to ensure that your members’ workplaces are free from harassment.

 

According to a 2016 survey of 1,067 women in biomedical research positions, 30 percent of respondents reported experiencing sexual harassment in the workplace.[12] Among the women reporting harassment, 40 percent described more severe forms and 47 percent reported that these experiences negatively affected their career advancement. What’s more, the fear of retaliation seems to be especially pervasive in the medical research community, due to the impact direct supervisors can have on a young researcher’s career advancement, whether in academia or industry.[13]

 

While we have seen high profile cases of sexual harassment in several of your member companies (including Novartis, Pfizer, and Sanofi) these accounts likely underestimate the pervasiveness of sexual harassment in the pharmaceutical industry.[14][15] The EEOC estimates that 85 percent of all workers who are subjected to harassment never file a formal legal charge, and 70 percent of all workers never file a complaint internally.[16]

 

We also cannot ignore the problematic public reports of gender discrimination and objectification propagated member companies. For example, earlier this month, Bayer, the Head of Pharmaceuticals & Member of Board of Management of which sits on your Board of Directors, sponsored a party at an industry conference that featured topless female dancers painted with the logos of other party sponsors.[17]  This Bayer-sponsored event has a highly concerning history of objectifying women and using culturally inappropriate themes. Though some party organizers defended the dancers as “artsy and edgy,”[18] the bottom line is that objectifying women and exploiting cultural traditions for the purposes of entertaining fellow industry members is a deeply troubling indication of the way the industry leaders still devalue diversity and inclusion. [19]  More concerning, since the party, PhRMA has been silent regarding Bayer’s involvement, and has not taken any public steps to address the broader workplace cultural problems that clearly exist in the pharmaceutical industry.

 

As the Ranking Member of the U.S. Senate Committee with jurisdiction over issues of workplace harassment, I am deeply concerned about the striking lack of public initiative within the pharmaceutical industry, especially as many other sectors are beginning to make much-needed and overdue changes to protect workers. Actions taken with the goal of achieving greater gender balance in the pharmaceutical industry, from encouraging young girls to participate in STEM education to executive board-led efforts to increase diversity in the industry, will always be undercut by issues of harassment and culture.  It has long been clear that the magnitude of the problem in your industry should not be ignored. I am hoping that the recent focus on this issue will provide the needed push to make real progress and writing to request insight into your efforts.

 

Specifically, I am interested in the ongoing discussions, plans, and actions within PhRMA aimed at protecting employees at member companies and ensuring that they are in equal and harassment-free workplaces. While we understand that PhRMA does not control its member companies, your trade organization represents member’s interests, and their actions impact your reputation. I request a briefing with my staff within the next three weeks to discuss any recent efforts you have undertaken to assess and address workplace harassment among your member companies.

 

I also request the following information:

 

  1. Any polling, surveys, or research PhRMA has conducted in order to understand the scope of the problem within the industry;
  2. Any research or actions the PhRMA has undertaken to assess and address risk factors specific to the industry;
  3. Any surveys the PhRMA has conducted to solicit feedback from employees about how to best address harassment in the industry and the results of the surveys;
  4. Any steps the PhRMA has taken to ensure its associated employers are fully and properly educating their employees about workplace harassment policies and rights;
  5. Any best practices the PhRMA has identified among its associated employers to accurately assess and address workplace harassment; and
  6. Any suggestions you may have about how to strengthen and improve legal protections and processes in the workplace.

 

Studies have shown that workplaces that tolerate harassment have more of it, while workplaces that intentionally act to address issues of harassment have less.[20] Employers and employees in your industry are undoubtedly looking to you for leadership in determining how to tackle this persistent problem with the urgency it requires. I appreciate you taking this matter seriously, and I look forward to our continued discussions. If you have any questions regarding this letter please contact Carly Rush or Laura Aguilar at 202-224-0767 with my Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee Staff.

 

Sincerely,

 

Patty Murray

United States Senator

Ranking Member, Senate Committee on

Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions

 

###



[2] https://www.facebook.com/pabnabevent/photos/a.523700737769307.1073741828.523680027771378/526500097489371/?type=3&theater

http://archive.boston.com/business/technology/innoeco/2012/06/the_bio_party_list_which_event.html

[3] http://archive.boston.com/business/technology/innoeco/2012/06/the_bio_party_list_which_event.html

[6] https://www.statnews.com/2018/06/12/topless-dancers-bio-convention-pabnab/

[7] https://www.massbio.org/news/recent-news/massbio-statement-on-the-party-at-bio-not-associated-with-bio-pabnab-decision-to-feature-topless-dancers-143394

[8] https://www.biospace.com/article/another-biotech-conference-another-party-involving-half-naked-women-covered-in-corporate-logos/

[12] Reshma Jagsi, Kent A. Griffith, Rochelle Jones, et al., Sexual Harassment and Discrimination Experiences of Academic Medical Faculty, JAMA (May 17, 2016).

[13] Leah Samuel, In the wake of #MeToo, a new spotlight on harassment in biomedical science, STAT News (Dec. 15, 2017).

[14] Alex Keown, Sexual Harassment Scandals hit Novartis and Pfizer’s Korea Units, BioSpace (Nov. 30, 2017).

[15] Eric Palmer, Sanofi in #MeToo fight with ex-executive who has dismissed for sexual harassment, (Mar. 7, 2018).

[16] Chai R. Feldblum & Victoria A. Lipnic, Select Task Force on the Study of Harassment in the Workplace: Report of the Co-Chairs, U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission 16 (June 2016), https://www.eeoc.gov/eeoc/task_force/harassment/upload/report.pdf.

[19] https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2016-01-13/at-biotech-party-gender-diversity-means-cocktail-waitresses

[20] Id. at 32.