An Analysis of Women-owned Scientific Suppliers

Summary

When a lab hires HappiLabs to be their virtual lab manager and do their lab shopping, we want to make sure we buy from suppliers who fit the values of the lab. Recently, one of our customers asked, “Who are the female owned suppliers? We’d like to buy from them.” Therefore, we hired Dr. Vidhya Sivakumaran (above photo), a cardiovascular–focused postdoc from Loyola University, to do research on the topic. This is an informal study assessing the population of women-owned suppliers of scientific supplies, services, equipment, and reagents.

happilabs shops for women-owned scientific suppliers
The 70 companies that were surveyed for this analysis

Methods

  1. We selected 70 suppliers with whom HappiLabs has purchased from over the past 6 months
  2. Scanned their website to identify the sex of ownership
  3. If it wasn’t clear, we confirmed website findings with a phone call or email

Note: If we missed any women-owned business beyond the 70, please notify us: hello at happilabs.org

Discussion

It is well know that most industries are male-dominated. However, this is slowly changing and with this many labs are looking to buy and work with women-run scientific suppliers when it comes to purchasing pipette tips, chemicals, antibodies, centrifuges, etc. It was our hypothesis that there are few women-run businesses. Based on our research, this is true. However, science is doing better than the Fortune 500.

Lab shopping for female owned science businesses
92.9% male vs 7.1% female owned scientific suppliers

From the sample we looked at, 5 out of 70 or 7.1% of science suppliers are owned and/or run by women: DotScientific, Chemglass Life Science, Gilson, Macherey-Nagel, and Science Exchange. This is slightly higher than the 4.8% of fortune 500 companies run by females (Catalyst.org). Yay science!

happy labs shopping for women-owned scientific suppliers

We did find out through the course of our study that women-owned businesses out-survive male-owned businesses in several industries and areas, such as education and restaurant establishments (Kalnins et al, Journal of Business Venturing, 2014).

We also observed that only 16.9% of corporate board seats were held by women in 2013, with little progress in narrowing the gender gap (Huffington Post). Michelle Rowley, a tech entrepreneur and founder of Code Scouts (a non-science business), knows this feeling all too well. She was quoted in Entrepreneur magazine as saying, “that is a weird dynamic – being the only woman in the room – and they are all staring at you because they have to. I thought, I wonder how the dynamics would change if we could get more women involved.”

How does HappiLabs want to help? HappiLabs is interested in supporting women-run companies by making it easier for scientists to purchase supplies and services from them. We also plan to reach out and possibly work with several groups that promote women in science, such as AWIS Chicago, the Field Museum Women in Science, Women in Bio, and the Chicago Collaboration for Women in STEM.

Please share this post with other scientists who might be interested in knowing about women-owned scientific suppliers. And sign up to receive our monthly newsletter with updates about tips and suggestions for being a conscious shopper (and user) of scientific supplies:

 

#LabShopping Tip Number 1

chuttersnap-233105-unsplashLab supply shopping can be a time-consuming task. For example, at least 17 companies sell 50 mL conical tubes. So how do you avoid low-quality, experiment-ruining brands? Which supplier has the best price? That’s where we come in. At HappiLabs, we know how to get these answers efficiently and fast.

Over the next few months, we’ll share #LabShopping tips we swear by for buying the highest quality and most affordable equipment and supplies for our scientist friends. If you have any recommendations of your own, we’d love to hear them! Please tell us in the comments or tweet us @HappiLabs_org using #LabShopping. Now, on to our first tip:

Never Pay List Price…

….without asking for a lower price. Many companies sell the same product, competition is high and there is always someone willing to give you a discount. Just ask.

If you’d like help with searching or shopping for lab supplies, get in touch!

What’s in the Box?

Quantities matter in science. Ordering the requisite items for present experimental needs is efficient, avoids clutter, and reduces waste.

The language of quantities when ordering lab supplies, however, is often ambiguous:

“Order a tube of Taq.”

“Get three boxes of serological pipettes.”

Some suppliers are easy with quantities designated by unique catalog numbers (Thank you NEB and Biolegend).

Some make it harder.

Each, Pack, and Case

Each, pack, and case can all be considered a box of an item and sometimes one catalog number corresponds to all three tiers (e.g. some listings at VWR).

boxes-1170966_1920 Pixabay CC0
What and how much in each box?  Photo credit: Pixabay, CC0

Packs and cases can also contain single items. Requesting a case of media supplied one bottle per case will result in receiving one bottle. Unless the request was stated in number of bottles, less media than requested will arrive.

The good news there: ordering more is easier than having too much and trying to return some.

Item quantities are variable and every supplier is slightly different.

Check the Amount

Virtual Lab Managers meticulously checks quantity when ordering.

Asking the requestors to clarify is a best practice:

“This media is sold 1 bottle/case. Do you need more than one bottle?”

“A case contains 3,000 syringes. Do you need that many?”

Ordering the right quantity is good science.

 

Clear Communication

Misheard numbers, letters or words cause communication miscues and inefficiencies.

A system for clarity is helpful.

For instance, The Radiotelephony Spelling Alphabet, also known as the NATO alphabet:

Radiotelephony_Spelling_Alphabet_(1955)

Virtual Lab Managers talk with scientists and suppliers talk on the phone quite a bit. Clarifying spelling or letters in POs and tracking numbers saves time. Using The Radiotelephony Alphabet, or other clarifying system, helps keep communication clear, efficient, and reliable.

A tip from Hotel-Alpha-Papa-Papa-India Lima-Alpha-Bravo-Sierra.

Image: Public domain.

Purchasing Standards for Suppliers

Supplier standards for HappiLabs virtual lab managers

This post is for suppliers.

We want to help you help HappiLabs help scientists.

HappiLabs is developing an evolving set of standards to help our Virtual Lab Managers decide which suppliers to buy from so that scientists get what they want, at a fair price, quickly. Keeping their experiments on schedule, within budget is good for science and global human health.

We manage purchasing for >150 scientists, spending more than $400,000 per month from >200 suppliers. Sometimes we have no choice who to buy from because the scientist has a very specific request. But in many situations, we are given the flexibility to choose the supplier.

Some suppliers stink at what we call the Purchasing Experience, and some are excellent. The gold standards on our internal ranking system are NEB and AbCam. They are reliable, quick, and give us the information we need when we want it.

Here are 3 actions you can implement as a supplier to make us happy with your purchasing experience, and therefore, more likely to keep buying from you.

1) Get us a quote faster than 24 hours.

When we ask for a discount on an item we don’t already have a quote for or we are buying in bulk, we don’t want to have to wait 2-5 days. It’s silly that we depend on sales reps in the field who can’t respond to our requests until they get to a computer. Don’t undervalue the inside sales rep.

Fist bump to Matt G. from LifeTech (Thermo), Sean from P212121, Chris S. from VWR, and Marwan at Bio-Rad.

2) Send automated shipping updates.

To keep scientists on track and on-time we notify them of when their order will arrive. Obtaining a UPS, Fedex, etc tracking # is how we do this.

We do not want to spend 5-10 minutes logging into your website or calling customer service to find the tracking #. NEB and Amazon are exceptional. Once an item ships, they send an email with tracking number. Fisher, you should know your “Shipping Notifications” are useless. Our Virtual Lab Managers have learned to ignore it. The “Here” link is a dead end. Can you fix this?

Useless-Fisher-Shipping-notification-happilabs

This is a winner:

Tracking number for scientific orders

3) Send automated invoice (PDF format is preferred)

Most companies do, but some don’t, which require us to make phone calls to customer service or log into websites. Save us 5-10 minutes and automatically send this via email, and a PDF is preferred. Life Technologies (Thermo), Qiagen, and Amazon we’re looking at you.

Keeping scientists happy is our #1 goal, but keeping the accounting department happy is important too.

Bonus points if….

1) You have online chat.

Online-chatVWR, P212121, IDT, Fedex….great job!

2) You provide us a dedicated customer service agent. 

Our Virtual Lab Managers move fast, like Jimmy Johns. We do not like losing 5-10 minutes on the phone with customer service. Therefore, we’ve started allowing a dedicated customer service agent access to our team via a private Slack channel. Thank you to Sigma, E&K Scientific and the few others who have provided us a dedicated person. It is very helpful and allows us to post a question and come back to it later.

3) It takes less than 2 days to update a shipping or billing address.

We’re constantly baffled by how long this takes for most suppliers. The process requires filling out paperwork and then waiting for some kind of approval. We understand, due to the nature of some supplies that are regulated, that it takes time, but better communication about timing will be appreciated. 🙂

GE Healthcare, it’s taking a week. What does this mean, from a customer service agent:

“I’ve started a work flow to have the address updated in our system.”

Suppliers, we want to build a relationship with you. If you have questions, reach out: https://www.happilabs.org/contact/