Gender Pay Gaps Among Medical Science Liaisons and MSL Management
Dr. Samuel Dyer
The Medical Science Liaison Society
Dr. Samuel Dyer
Conflicts of Interest
The author declares no potential conflicts of interest with respect to the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article.
msl salary, msl, medical science liaison
Given the significance of annual salaries both to the individual as well as to the reputation of the employer, any differences in pay based solely on gender will likely be controversial and should cause concern. In economic terms, “gender gap” defines systematic differences men and women achieve in the labor market. In terms of wages, the term is defined as the difference between men’s and women’s wages. (1) In part due to negative economic consequences of gender inequality on the economic environment and society as a whole (2), gender pay gap has been a topic of discussion since the 1960s (1), with The Equal Pay Act, signed in 1963, and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, signed in 1964 being the first significant milestones towards gender equality. (3) However, after over 50 years since The Equal Pay Act was signed, gender pay gap continues to dominate discussions about equality in the workplace in many industries across the globe due to the fact that women still receive lower earnings than men in almost all occupations. (4) For example, in 2015, full-time female workers in the U.S. earned 79 cents for every dollar earned by men, representing a 21% pay gap. (5)
Also known as a “gender earnings ratio,” the difference in wages between sexes is exemplified by Equal Pay Day: a day that marks how far into the new year women would need to work for their earnings to match those of men in the previous year. (6) In 2016, Equal Pay Day fell on April 12th. The gender pay gap has not changed significantly since 2000, despite women currently holding 49.3% of all jobs (6) (7). The Institute for Women’s Policy Research recognizes the fact that the gender pay gap has been slowly narrowing over the years, but also notes that it will not close, at the current rate, until 2059. (7) The gender pay gap remains an issue both in the U.S. as well as on a global scale across numerous professions.
To date, gender pay gaps have not been studied or revealed within the Medical Science Liaison profession but have been investigated in numerous professions within healthcare and the pharmaceutical industry, including pharmaceutical and biotech sales representatives (8), healthcare sales (9), and medicine (10). Gender pay gaps for medical sales reps were revealed in a 2015 study conducted in the U.S., where female pharmaceutical sales representatives earned $10,403 or 11.0% less than their male counterparts (11), while female biotech sales representatives earned $11,387 or 9.9% less per year. (12)
Gender pay gaps have also been revealed in medicine. A study of physician researchers in the U.S. showed that the mean annual salary for males was $200,000, while females earned just over $167,000, representing an 18% higher salary for male physician researchers. Even after adjustments for work hours, academic rank, research time, specialty and other relevant factors, female physicians earned less than their male counterparts. (10) A U.S. survey of Anesthesiologists also highlighted the gender pay gap in medicine, and revealed a difference in salary of 30%; in 2012, female anesthesiologists earned about $313,000 on average, while their male counterparts earned about $404,000. (13)
Although gender pay gaps have not been studied specifically within the Medical Science Liaison profession, the Medical Science Liaison Society recently conducted the 2nd annual global survey on Salary and Compensation levels for both Medical Science Liaisons (MSLs) and MSL Management, which included salaries for both groups based on gender. While the primary purpose of this survey was to gain a better insight into the present level of MSL and MSL Management salary and compensation levels across biotechnology, pharmaceutical, medical devices, and other healthcare companies, gender pay gap differences were revealed for the first time.
Despite the existence of significant pay gaps in associated professions and industries, including pharmaceutical sales representatives (11), healthcare sales (9), and medicine (10) (13), MSLs and MSL managers are not affected by the significant gender pay gaps experienced in other professions.
The 2015 MSL Salary & Compensation Survey includes 1,259 MSL professionals from 69 countries. The original report and data were made available in multiple versions, including the overall global results and results for nine individual countries: Australia, Brazil, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, U.K., and the U.S.
The online survey was open from November 9th to December 31st, 2015 using Survey Gizmo survey software. Both fully completed and partial surveys were counted in the results. The survey was only open to current MSLs (or equivalent title) and MSL management. Respondents were only allowed to participate one time and duplicate surveys from a single email address were not accepted. During the entire research process, the MSL Society ascribed to a Total Survey Quality methodology that is designed to minimize any errors at each stage.
Respondents were invited to participate in the survey through multiple sources, including:
- Announcements in the “Medical Science Liaison & Medical Affairs Networkers” LinkedIn group as well as other LinkedIn groups
- The MSL Society electronic newsletter
- Personal direct LinkedIn contacts of the author
Because of how the survey was distributed, we are not able to calculate a response rate.
We have – and are aware of – no reliable data on the size or characteristics of the global (or U.S.) MSL population. We were therefore unable to determine whether there was any sampling or response bias, so we did not attempt to weight the results. However, the sample contains a balanced gender mix and considerable diversity across other attributes (experience, etc.), and we have no reason to question its representativeness.
For each of six sample groups – all US MSLs, new US MSLs, US MSL managers, all global MSLs, new global MSLs, and global MSL managers – we used a three-step process to assess gender gaps in MSL salaries. We first calculated average salaries for males and females, and checked to ensure that these averages were not distorted by extreme values. We then calculated the difference between average male and female salaries, in both dollar and percentage terms.
Finally, we performed an independent samples t-test comparing the male and female averages to determine whether the dollar gap was statistically significant (i.e., significantly different from zero). We used a 95% confidence level for this test, but the results would have been the same using a 90% confidence level. It is important to note that gender salary gaps could exist in the population even for groups where the sample gap was not significant; in such cases, the sample gap wasn’t large enough and/or based on enough respondents for us to reject the hypothesis that male and female MSL salaries were equal.
The 2015 survey includes 1,259 MSL professionals from 69 countries, and is the largest database of MSL salaries in the world. As a result, it is the most comprehensive and only reliable resource on both U.S. and global MSL and MSL management salary and compensation levels in relation to gender pay differences.
Both the global and U.S. data includes MSL professionals across various company types (pharmaceutical, biotechnology, clinical research organizations (CRO), diagnostic, and medical device) and various formal educational levels, representing a wide range of years of experience. The salary calculations in each figure are for base salaries only and do not include bonuses and other compensation.
The overall results had an almost equal distribution of male-to-female respondents for both MSLs, as well as for those that identified themselves as an MSL or management. When split by gender for all participants (MSLs and management) globally, 52% of the respondents were male, and 48% were female. In the U.S., 51% of all the respondents (MSLs and management) were male, and 49% were female.
For MSLs, the U.S. data includes 497 MSLs; 251 or 50.5% of those were female, and 246 or 49.5% were male. The overall average salary for those that identified themselves as an MSL in the U.S. was $135,608 for females versus $143,090 for males (Figure 1). This represents a statistically significant difference of $7482, or just over a 5% gender pay gap for MSLs in the U.S.
The global data includes 1037 MSLs, of which 517 or 49.9% were female, and 520 or 50.1% were male. The gender pay gap difference for MSLs globally was on average lower than in the U.S. The overall average salary for those that identified themselves as an MSL globally was $101,064 for females versus $105,015 for males (Figure 2). This represents a difference of $3951, or just under a 4% gender pay gap for MSLs globally. However, this dollar difference is not statistically significant.
For the U.S. data., there was an equal distribution of males and females among the MSLs with less than one year of experience. (Figure 3)
For the global data, there was an almost equal male-to-female distribution among the MSLs with less than one year of experience, with 48% male versus 52% female. (Figure 4)
For MSLs in the U.S. with less than one year of experience, the gender pay gap was 4.6%, with new male MSLs earning on average $5726 more per year (Figure 5). However, this dollar difference is not statistically significant.
Globally, for MSLs with less than one year of experience, the gender pay gap was exactly the same as in the U.S. at 4.6%, with new male MSLs earning on average $4176 more per year (Figure 6). As with the U.S. results, this dollar difference is not statistically significant.
For those that identified themselves as a Manager or Director of MSLs in the U.S., 45% of respondents were female versus 55% male. (Figure 7) For the global data, it was 39% female versus 61% male. (Figure 8)
While the gender pay gap for MSLs in the U.S. was just over 5% (Figure 1), for MSL managers in the U.S. the gender pay gap was about half that size at 2.7%, with males being paid on average $5174 more annually (Figure 9). This dollar difference is not statistically significant.
In stark contrast to all other gender pay gap differences in this study, the gender pay gap was reversed for MSL managers, with female managers being paid 11.2% or $16,200 more per year than their male manager counterparts (Figure 10). However, this dollar difference is not statistically significant.
The objective of this analysis was to identify if pay gaps based on gender existed among MSLs and MSL managers. Significant pay gaps have been identified in various other professions within healthcare and the pharmaceutical industry, including an 11% difference for pharmaceutical sales representatives (11), a 9.9% difference for biotech sales reps (12), and an 18% difference for physicians. (10) While there are many potential reasons for gender pay gaps that have been cited in other studies for other professions, these variables were not evaluated in this study.
Although there are many important factors to consider in the successful recruitment and retention of staff, salary remains one of the most significant. The 2015 global survey on salary and compensation levels for both Medical Science Liaisons (MSLs) and MSL Management conducted by the Medical Science Liaison Society revealed gender pay gap differences for the first time among the MSL profession.
The results of the 2015 MSL Salary and Compensation Survey reveal that although gender pay gap differences were observed in all of the groups evaluated in the study (MSLs in the U.S. and globally, MSLs with less than one year of experience in the U.S. and globally, and MSL managers in the U.S. and globally), only the difference between male and female MSLs in the U.S. was statistically significant (Figure 1). Whether apparent gender pay gaps reflect salary differences due to other MSL characteristics (company type, academic background, therapeutic area, years of experience, etc.), and what is causing any actual gender gaps (backgrounds, negotiating styles, etc.) are all worthwhile topics for future research.
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