In 2018, Biotechnology Innovation Organization (BIO) set specific diversity goals for female representation and said it would review membership status of companies that are “clearly inconsistent” with its values.
Those goals included achieving 50 percent representation of women at the functional leader and C-suite level by 2025, 30 percent female board membership in biotechnology by 2025, and additional goals related to racial and LGBTQ representation
Let’s not sugarcoat this: The picture is far from where it needs to be, but the goals didn’t even exist three years ago.
Counting the wins
Progress is coming from all directions; men, women, and conferences are all seriously considering the idea that gender imbalance is not only wrong but bad business.
BIO chair Jeremy Levin, CEO of Ovid Therapeutics, and his predecessor John Maraganore, CEO of Alnylam Pharmaceuticals, have been vocal advocates for women’s equality, making it a core part of their platforms during their tenures at BIO. Ron Cohen, president and CEO of Acorda Therapeutics, established BIO’s Workforce Development, Diversity & Inclusion committee in 2017 during his term as chair.
BIO and many other conferences now have active policies to ensure their panels include women.On top of that, I saw more events than ever around J.P. Morgan this year that were by women, for women.
Some have been going for a while, such as the Pfizer Women’s Breakfast, spearheaded by Barbara Dalton, senior managing partner of Pfizer Ventures, or the Women Who Venture dinner led by Nina Kjellson, general partner at Canaan Partners. Others are new, like the Women In Bio executive luncheon, this year headlined by Sandra Horning, former Genentech chief medical officer and now co-founder of EQRx.
Given that the JPM conference has been a men’s world for a long time, that’s no small win.
Getting the word out
Other changes in the past few years have seen more women in top positions, and more top women making headlines.
The biggest is the appointment of Emma Walmsley as CEO of GlaxoSmithKline in March 2017, making her the first woman to head a pharma company.
Several other major biopharmas have attracted leading women to the top role. Two examples are Deborah Dunsire (former president and CEO of Millennium Pharmaceuticals) becoming president and CEO of H. Lundbeck A/S in 2018, and Bahija Jallal (former executive vice president of AstraZeneca and president of its subsidiary MedImmune) taking the CEO position at Immunocore, one of the U.K.’s leading biotechs.
In some cases, top women have put their foot on the gas, continuing to lead in new directions.
Kleiner Perkins’ Beth Seidenberg, long a rare female member of the VC community, started her own life science investment firm along with Amgen veteran Sean Harper, raising $320 million to start Westlake Village BioPartners in Los Angeles.
Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw, chairperson and managing director of Biocon, a company she grew from the ground up, is now pioneering the production of low-cost insulin for developing markets.
And CRISPR pioneer Jennifer Doudna added two companies to her repertoire in the past three years: diagnostic company Mammoth Biosciences and stealth company Scribe Therapeutics, which focuses on gene editing. Doudna, a chemistry professor at the University of California, Berkeley, has co-founded five companies.
Against the grain, a few VC firms are seeing women tip the balance.In 2017, Chinese biopharma veterans Samantha Du, Marietta Wu, and Stella Xu launched Quan Capital Management. Canaan named Julie Grant general partner last year as women now make up five of the seven members on Canaan’s healthcare investing team. And Sofinnova Partners, led by managing partner and president Antoine Papiernik, has made a point of filling its ranks with women, as they now comprise 40 percent of the partner and managing partner levels.
What sets these apart from the discussion about a female presidential candidate is that no one is asking whether a woman can do the job. They just are.
Not all women who make it to the top have to make the issue a feature of their position; not all have to spend their time waving the banner. But that doesn’t mean others can’t look to that progress and wave the banner for them.
There’s no question that there’s a long way to go — the numbers for women in leadership positions are still dismal. But the way to make change is to recognize it when it happens and use it as a platform to demand more.
To find out more information go to www.womeninbio.org