2020’s Top Employers: Rapid response to COVID-10, diversity, and innovation

Original article written by Alaine G. Levine | October 30, 2020 | Sciencemag.org

In a year like no other, 2020’s Top Employers Survey not only highlighted the best working environments in pharma and biotech but also addressed some of the unique issues that arose this year, such as how to respond to a pandemic.

When an employee boasts that your business, Vertex Pharmaceuticals, is “the best company I’ve ever worked for,” you tend to take note. This was just one of hundreds of comments from respondents to Science’s 19th annual Top Employers Survey. Another observation concerning Vertex, a Boston-based firm that moved up four places from last year to No. 8, states that “Vertex puts its employees first. I am so proud to work here.”

The Top Employers Survey was conducted by Cell Associates and Brighton Consulting. This year, the online survey took place from March 3 through May 3, 2020, and included approximately 7,600 respondents from across the world. Typically, the survey has highlighted pharma and biotech companies’ commitment to innovation and progressive corporate culture as well as advanced technology and cutting-edge techniques, such as the use of CRISPR-Cas9 for genome editing and artificial intelligence, and machine learning for design, development, and manufacture of therapeutics and interventions. Not surprisingly, we saw these trends emerge again. But as we know, 2020 is unlike any other year. Given that the survey rolled out as quarantines were taking effect, respondents were able to provide a peek into the ambitious initiatives their companies were pursuing in response to COVID-19—which include everything from developing new work-at-home policies for family-focused employees to rapidly shifting corporate assets to support public health concerns and develop novel therapeutics.

For the companies that emerged in the top 20, remarks from respondents reflected their pride and gratitude in the fact that the organizations they represented had continuously invested in their well-being while still putting science and patients first. When employees see meaningful action by their employers that is designed to empower and support them in every way possible, they respond in kind: They produce their best work. And in the arena of pharma and biotech, that easily translates into better patient outcomes.

Gratitude is particularly strong among respondents whose corporations have appeared on the list before. “Being recognized is a great thing,” says Hervé Hoppenot, CEO of Incyte (No. 2, advancing from No. 3 in 2019), a Delaware-based pharma company. “It means a lot to be on the list. Being at the cutting edge of science and having the best people want to work here [gives us] a sense of pride.” John Frels, vice president of R&D at Abbott, a Chicago-based medical device and health care company that moved up to No. 14 this year from the No. 17 spot last year, notes the placement “validates what I have come to appreciate over my career: This is a company concerned about the long-term sustainability of delivering great value to our patients and customers, and it’s a great place for scientists to apply their skills. We bring out the best in our scientists over the course of their career.”

Having a work culture aligned with employee values is another important driver for the top employers and is referenced many times in the survey comments. Says one respondent, “Vertex innovates with speed and ferocity like no other company, while also putting a priority on culture that is amazingly open and supportive.” An employee of Syngenta, the No. 4-ranked Swiss-based biotech firm that focuses on agrochemicals and seeds, notes what they consider to be their company’s benefits: “Organizational culture, concern with the environment, concern with the well-being of employees.” And a respondent referring to Alnylam Pharmaceuticals, headquartered in Cambridge, Massachusetts (No. 3), practically shouts their answer: “GREAT culture!! Collaborative! Inclusive! Exciting!”

Read more here about 2020’s top employers in pharma and biotech.

By Erin Wise
Erin Wise