Greater Philadelphia’s life sciences industry is booming thanks to an abundance of resources, infrastructure, and a talented workforce that increasingly consists of women who are driving the region’s growth, according to an analysis released recently by the Chamber.

The Chamber’s analysis, using data from Bureau of Labor Statistics extracted by Lightcast, a global labor market data and analytics company, showed life sciences companies in the region employ about 4,000 more women than men in key occupations such as biochemists, biophysicists, and other scientists and technicians. Over the past decade, industry job growth among women has been 12% compared with 8.6% for men, according to the analysis.

The growth shows the strength of the Greater Philadelphia life sciences ecosystem: Each year, research universities in the region graduate many women who step into research, clinical, and business management roles at nearby companies. The proven success of women in this ecosystem makes the region more attractive to companies seeking a diverse and talented workforce.

The data further underscores a fundamental fact about the opportunities for women in the life sciences, said Audrey Greenberg, Co-founder and Chief Business Officer of the Center for Breakthrough Medicines (CBM) located in King of Prussia, PA.

“Women are attracted to careers in life sciences for many reasons, one of which is that lab results don’t lie – in a merit-based environment, women have the chance to demonstrate success,” she said.

It hasn’t always been that way.

When Dr. Susan Furth’s grandmother graduated from medical school in Europe in the 1920s and moved to Philadelphia, she could only do a residency at the Women’s Medical College of Pennsylvania because few other places would admit women.

A century later, Dr. Furth, MD, Ph.D., is Chief Scientific Officer, Executive Vice President, and an attending physician at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.

“When I trained in pediatrics, I had many female role models who were excellent physicians and teachers who also managed to have families and successful careers,” Dr. Furth said. “Seeing them, and being mentored by them, was a major inspiration for my own career.” 

Greenberg comes from a line of female entrepreneurs, stretching all the way back to her great-grandmother. Greenberg obtained her MBA from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania and worked in investment banking and private equity before the “dream to do something more” led her to start Discovery Labs and CBM. She and her partners then repositioned the newly acquired GSK R&D headquarters into a cell and gene therapy manufacturing center of excellence.

“I left behind the corporate world, took a risk, and envisioned a future where cancer and disease could be cured by advanced precision medicines,” she said. “I am proud of the CBM team and the lifesaving work we do every day.”

More of that lifesaving work is being done by women in the region each year, according to the data released by the Chamber of Commerce for Greater Philadelphia. Some highlights:

  • Medical scientists (except epidemiologists) – There are 655 more women working in this category than men. From 2001 to 2022, women as a share of “medical scientists (except epidemiologists)” increased by 5%, equating to 842 jobs. This compares to a growth of 348 jobs for men, indicating there has been 59% more job growth for women. This is another high-salaried, higher-educated role.
  • Biological scientists – This category has seen an increase of 870 jobs since 2012. In that time, the number of women working as biological scientists increased by 273%.
  • Biological scientists, all other – Women comprised 51% of the workforce in this group in 2022, compared to 47% in 2001.
  • Biological technicians – This field has grown by 1,862 jobs since 2012. The occupation has seen an 87% increase in women working as biological technicians in that timeframe.

Additionally, senior-level jobs are opening up for women. Greenberg said she’s proud that women make up 50% of CBM’s executive leadership.

“It wasn’t a conscious decision to have so many strong, capable women in leadership roles at CBM, as we examine all candidates equally and select those whose past experiences and skills, combined with their strategic vision, are the best fit,” she said. “But CBM was started by a strong female team, which sent a message to women looking to be part of an entrepreneurial, inclusive environment.”

An environment like the one in Greater Philadelphia where younger women are surrounded by so many potential mentors is also invaluable. 

Role models from a diversity of backgrounds are particularly important,” Dr. Furth said. “Seeing individuals who look like you or who have common experiences to yours gives you confidence that you can succeed in a similar role.”