MedCity Influencers

Why diversifying the sciences requires an industry-wide approach

I have seen how difficult it is for even very skilled, very qualified women to get placed on a board, and it has renewed my commitment to being an ally in this fight for gender diversity.

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The life sciences industry has a gender diversity problem. A recent study published by MassBio and LiftStream revealed that only 1 out of 10 board seats at public biotech companies are held by women, and though there’s been progress in recent years, at this rate we won’t reach gender parity until 2057. This current trajectory is unacceptable, and it’s time for life sciences companies to commit to diversifying the boardroom and leadership across the industry.

There has been more discussion about this issue than ever before, but we need to move beyond talk and commit to taking concrete actions to tackle the problem. As the founding partner of LifeSci Advisors, an investor relations firm, I am constantly having discussions with management teams, investors, partners and colleagues about the importance of building stronger and more diverse corporate boards. My eyes have been opened to the depth and breadth of this problem, and my team and I are taking concrete steps to advance gender diversity in our industry. We believe that by placing female leaders on boards and in C-suite positions we can accelerate the progress toward increased gender diversity—not just in senior executive roles, but at lower levels on the corporate ladder, too. We’re committed to making progress with a top-down approach.

Taking action has not been as easy as I imagined. Talking to female colleagues, investors, clients and partners about their experiences has shed light on the challenges women face in their career development as they aim for board seats and C-suite positions. Often, boards recruit members from their networks with whom they’ve worked before, and those people historically tend to be men. Many management teams are searching for members who have had previous board experience and most of the people with previous experience are also men. This tends to result in the same group of directors being “recycled” on to many different boards. It also reinforces the “boys club” attitude that keeps many women out of leadership roles.

We’ve seen these challenges arise over and over again firsthand with our Board Placement Initiative (BPI), a program we launched just over a year ago to help facilitate board placements of highly qualified female candidates to corporate boards of life science companies. The goal of the initiative is to advance gender diversity at the board level of our industry. To accomplish this goal, we encourage companies to expand their network and cast a wider net when they’re looking to fill a board seat.

To date, we’ve made 10 board placements, but I’ll admit that I thought we’d have twice as many appointments in this amount of time. Making a successful board placement is a long and multi-step process, and even with a network of over 700 outstanding and qualified candidates with varied backgrounds and skill sets, sometimes we aren’t successful. I have seen how difficult it is for even very skilled, very qualified women to get placed on a board, and it has renewed my commitment to being an ally in this fight for gender diversity.

Gender diversity is not a “women’s problem.” It’s an industry-wide problem, and we all—men and women—need to work together to create a more inclusive space. Though statistics show progress is slow, they also show that once a company’s board diversifies, the company performs better. The LiftStream study that showed only 1 out of 10 board seats are held by women also found that of the companies studied, those with at least one woman on their board outperformed companies with all-male boards by approximately 28 percent in share price. In our data-driven field, these statistics speak for themselves.

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Placing more women on boards is just one of the many ways to help further gender diversity in our industry. The more organizations, initiatives, and partners we have working on this issue, the more the industry will improve, and the better it will perform as a whole. If we come together and address the issue from different angles, we can make greater strides in a much shorter amount of time.

It’s time for all of us to work together and become the change agents for gender diversity that our industry needs. We’re not going to get there overnight, but we need to get there a lot sooner than 2057.

Photo: baona, Getty Images

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