One question, that is coming up a lot in the media, is why there “seems” to be an imbalance in gender distribution in the workforce and more importantly a gender pay gap? We set out to analyze whether this was the case for MSLs, using our 2017 global MSL salary survey where we surveyed close to 600 MSLs in their local currency.
Our salary survey data showed that there are large variations of female MSLs per countries, ranging from 71% in Belgium to 25% in India. Focusing on starting MSLs (0-2y MSL experience) we noticed a MSL gender pay gap of at least 10% in favor of male MSLs for the following countries: Brazil, Belgium, the Netherlands, Italy, Spain and the UK. In two of those countries the difference could be explained by male MSLs having worked (many) more years in pharma, however, leaving four countries with a true MSL gender pay gap.
This is the first and largest MSL salary survey of its kind, using each country’s own currency and reporting on gender workforce imbalance and gender salary inequality amongst Medical Science Liaison professionals.

Gender imbalance in the MSL workforce

Analyzing our global MSL salary survey we noticed there was an even distribution of female and male MSLs globally in our survey (50% females, n=575, figure 1). However, there was a large variation between countries (25-71% female MSLs). The top 3 countries in our survey with more female MSLs than male MSLs were: Belgium (71%), Spain (69%) and Italy (62%). Whereas the bottom 3 with the lowest percentage of female MSLs were: India (25%), Austria (33%) and Germany (33%).

Fig 1.jpgFigure 1. Percentage of female MSLs in each country.

Starting MSLs salaries 

Using our global 2017 MSL salary survey we next set out to explore if there was any gender imbalance in remuneration for MSLs with a gap of ≥10% salary difference. For the analysis in this paper, we looked at MSLs that had only recently started working as an MSL and had 0-2 years of MSL experience (senior MSLs were excluded). The reason for this selection is that “years worked as an MSL” can have  a very strong positive influence on the salary and we wanted to avoid that confounding factor.

table 1

Table 1. Average female and male MSL salaries and the difference shown in the local currency.  Red indicates that female MSLs are earning less than male MSLs and blue indicates that female MSLs are earning more than male MSLs.

Fig 2.jpgFigure 2. The average female MSL salary displayed as a percentage of the average male MSL salary in that country.

We noticed that in Canada (+9%, CAD 8,228) and Austria (+8% EUR 5,000) there is a trend for female MSLs to earn more than male MSLs. Whereas in the following countries female MSLs earn less than male MSLs: the UK (-11%, GBP 6,355), Italy (‑12%, EUR 6,313), Spain (-15%, EUR 8,449), The Netherlands (-16%, EUR 10,550), Belgium (-16%, EUR 11,114) and Brazil (-19%, BRL 28,489).

Is the MSL gender pay gap real?

Next, we analyzed if the observed MSL pay gap could be explained by parameters other than gender (i.e. years of pharma experience and/or education qualifications).
In Italy and the UK the apparent MSL gender pay gap could be explained by male MSLs having a lot more (>10) years pharma industry experience (in jobs other than MSL) than the female MSLs. Experience is a positive driver for salary growth and could be a good reason for the salary difference. Interestingly, removing those MSLs with a lot of pharma experience from the analysis and focusing only on MSLs with similar amount of previous pharma experience showed no difference in salaries between male and female MSLs in Italy and the UK.
However, in Brazil, Belgium, The Netherlands and Spain we could not find any difference in years of pharma experience nor differences in education qualification between male and female MSLs that could explain the MSL gender pay gap.

Money piles.jpg


Gender imbalances and gender pay gaps are often a focus point of senior management. Many companies are actively working on minimizing these differences and providing a balanced workforce and a fair and balanced remuneration package for males and females doing the same work.
Although globally male and female MSLs were completely balanced in our salary survey (50:50), we observed a large range of female MSL participation ranging from as low as 25% in India to as high as 71% in Belgium.
Focusing on the remuneration of starting MSLs (<2 years MSL experience), we noticed a gender pay gap of ≥10% in favor of male MSLs in: Brazil, Belgium, the Netherlands, Spain, Italy, and the UK. For Italy and the UK, increased years of pharma experience (other than MSL) drove the salary up for male MSLs, while in Brazil, Belgium, the Netherlands and Spain, we could not find a valid reason why females were paid less than their male colleagues.
Based on these results, it appears that the gender pay gap amongst starting MSLs varies across countries. Whilst we are unable to explain why these cross-country gender ppay gaps exist, there may be other factors (not captured in our survey) that contributes to these gender salary imbalances e.g. cultural differences or cultural ‘norms’ in each country, females who may have taken extended periods of time out of the work force, and females who may work slightly shorter hours to accommodate caring responsibilities.
In conclusion, in our 2017 MSL salary survey we observed an MSL gender pay gap in: Brazil, Belgium, The Netherlands and Spain that could not be explained by total years of pharma experience or education qualifications.


Of note, even after careful analysis it could still be that these gender pay differences can be explained by other factors that we have not captured in our MSL salary survey and this should be considered when reviewing and reading the data.

Co-written by:

Diana Nazemian Pour, BPharm
Senior MSL (Immuno-Oncology)
LinkedIn profile

Martijn Better
Dr Martijn Bijker, PhD MSc
Founder of “from SCIENCE to PHARMA” – the most comprehensive global online Medical Science Liaison (MSL) training platform; helping Bachelors, Masters, PhDs, MDs, and PharmDs to maximize their chances of becoming an MSL. Free MSL webinar





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