The announcement last month by the Baker Administration and the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center (MLSC) that they are providing more than a million dollars for STEM equipment and professional development in five large under-resourced school districts across the state is the latest indication that the need for young, smart, diverse leaders in this industry is bigger than ever. The Commonwealth trails only California in life sciences employment, generating more than $13 billion in total wages. However, there are signals of a growing talent shortage in the industry, and as the sector continues to expand, so too will the challenge of finding the best people to push companies forward at a time of increasing competition.

What makes the STEM District Initiative, Project Onramp, and similar programs unique are their emphasis on reaching into historically underserved neighborhoods in Massachusetts. They will provide ambitious young women and men with a path forward toward a challenging, lucrative, and satisfying career, while also creating more diverse candidate pools for companies industrywide in the years to come.

As CEO of one of the top life sciences executive recruiting firms, I can attest to the challenges we face in building diverse candidate pools for our client partners in Massachusetts and elsewhere. In most cases, highly qualified diversity candidates are pursued by multiple companies at the same time, so companies that don’t act quickly often lose out.

Yet I have also seen how many companies are increasingly recognizing the high value brought by recruiting talented and ambitious diverse executives to their leadership teams. They know that the right diverse candidates can bring unique sets of skills and perspectives to the table, spurring creativity, change, and progress in an environment where ingenuity and innovation win.

The best leadership teams in the life sciences and other industries reflect the ever-changing consumer marketplace. Companies whose leaders don’t reflect the marketplace miss out or move too slowly to recognize and respond to emerging market trends, while competitors with diverse teams are more likely to diagnose those shifts quickly and act on them. Diverse leaders help shape the internal culture of their organization and drive the innovative technologies and market strategies necessary to succeed in an industry where there is constant upheaval.

Recruiting diverse candidates in the Massachusetts life sciences will only become more critical in the coming decades as other states and municipalities ramp up efforts to lure top companies and their employees to their locales. But with more than a hundred colleges and universities, Massachusetts has the educational infrastructure in place to compete for the best students and train them for life sciences careers. There is an opportunity, if not the obligation, to try to keep them in the commonwealth, but that will require intense and sustained efforts by the entire life sciences ecosystem.

The STEM District Initiative and Project Onramp are a good start, but over time there will need to be even more and larger programs like them with continued support from the biggest life sciences employers in the state. Providing a pipeline to help encourage, mentor, and funnel the most qualified diversity candidates to leadership positions at top companies will serve the people, the industry, and the commonwealth for decades to come.

Leslie Loveless is CEO of Slone Partners, a Virginia-based executive search firm specializing in the life sciences.

This editorial was originally published by Boston Business Journal. To visit their website, click here.