Magazine Article | March 8, 2017

Gender Diversity – Can Biopharma Do Better?

Source: Life Science Leader

By Rob Wright, Chief Editor, Life Science Leader
Follow Me On Twitter @RfwrightLSL

This February I attended the 19th annual BIO CEO & Investor Conference in New York. Similar to its January counterpart (i.e., the annual J. P. Morgan Healthcare Conference in San Francisco), BIO CEO provides an opportunity for companies to conduct company presentations and Q&As (about 173 in total for 2017). However, where BIO CEO differs from JPM is that it also provides attendees with a number of educational forums. And while this year’s selection included hot topics such as value-based therapy payment models, biosimilars, IPOs, and a post-inauguration market outlook, the session that captured my attention was “Embedding Diversity into Board and Executive Team Recruitment.” Moderated by Julie Gerberding, M.D., EVP, and chief patient officer at Merck (and also the subject of our January 2016 cover feature), the session promised to explore how, despite biopharma’s enormous growth, inclusion of underrepresented groups (i.e., minorities and women) in influential board positions has failed to keep pace. As a result, company boards are often neither a very good reflection of the employee bases they lead nor the patient populations they serve.

The challenge of achieving diversity among company boards is nothing new. For although 99 percent of S&P 500 companies have at least one woman serving on a board, the reality is that less than a quarter (21 percent) of these publically traded company board positions are presently filled by women. Perhaps this is one of the reasons why in January, the Massachusetts Biotechnology Council (MassBio) published an open letter to the “BioPharma Community” listing best practices for increasing gender diversity within our industry. Thus far the letter has been signed by more than 200 industry thought leaders, and I am proud to say, a number of Life Science Leader magazine editorial advisory board members. Should you concur with MassBio’s open letter, I encourage you to show your support by signing. And while such an initiative is an excellent start, the goal of achieving diversity in the boardroom remains unfulfilled. Though the BIO CEO session provided attendees with some practical approaches and examples for improving the diversity of leadership recruitment efforts, the journey to the boardroom most often begins with the candidate. This is one of the reasons why I jumped at the opportunity to moderate a session entitled “Seeking A Board Seat” for BioBreak in Philadelphia this past December.

Following the publication of my BioBreak experience in my January 2017 “Editor’s Note” (i.e., What You Need To Know About Being Ready To Join A Board), I received a number of emails from readers seeking advice. Thus, it seemed appropriate to share some expert wisdom from those currently serving on boards, which is why we created a three-part Journey To The Corporate Board Room Series. In this issue you will find Part 1 — Are You Ready To Serve On A Corporate Board? — providing insight on how to go about finding corporate board opportunities. In April we will dig into company considerations when building a board. We will conclude the series in May with insights on what corporate board service entails. We hope you enjoy the first Journey To The Boardroom installment, and, as always, we welcome your feedback.