Blog | December 8, 2017

More from the Women of Biopharma — Full Measures of Progress

Source: Life Science Leader
wayne koberstein

By Wayne Koberstein, Executive Editor, Life Science Leader magazine
Follow Me On Twitter @WayneKoberstein

More from the Women of Biopharma — Full Measures of Progress

What were the wins and losses for women in the industry during the past year, and what is their outlook for the coming year? We wanted a real-time assessment from the people most affected by those questions — women executives. The advocacy group, Women In Bio, backed by LifeSci Advisors, helped us recruit leading women in biopharma companies and organizations to share their views of women’s current state of progress and the prospects for short-term change in the industry. The article, “The Women of Biopharma — Will They Gain or Lose Ground in 2018?” (Industry Forecast 2018 issue, December 2017) summarizes the responses of those who chose to contribute as panelists in a “virtual roundtable” discussion. Here, as promised, we are posting their written responses in full. See “Speaking Up” for the list of respondents.

As in the forecast article, this web post presents 12 women and one man in biopharma. [Note: One of the contributors whose comments appear in this web post, Lynn Seely of Myovant, did not participate in the corresponding magazine article.] Although we were not aiming for “balance” here — there is a surplus of opposing opinions out there already — the sole gender-exception in this group supplies another valuable viewpoint, that of a man working hard to help other men see the world the way women in biopharma often see and encounter it.

This was not a survey or even a scientific sampling of opinions, however. We cast a wide net in numbers, size, and type of companies and organizations to seek input, but the main mission was to find women who would take the time and risk to write down deeper thoughts on the key issues. I say “risk” because one of the barriers for women executives appears to be the relatively high risk they face in individually declaring their views on controversial subjects. Risk may increase in proportion to size of company, perhaps explaining why almost all of our respondents head startups or smaller pharmas.

Complementing the print article, the complete responses posted here add insights, examples, and alternatives in thinking about how to accelerate improved conditions and parity for industry women. The “raw” responses also let the innate attitudes and interesting personalities of the participants shine through more clearly as guidance and encouragement for other present or future women leaders of biopharma. Together, the print article and this online addendum should be inspirational for women and men, if only because they feature a lively and inspiring group of extraordinary people addressing a core industry challenge cum opportunity.

A word on the complete responses, below: In the print article, we cover only 2 of the 6 questions given to participants: Question 1, which asks participants to assess the progress for industry women this year and prospects for next, and Question 6, addressing what steps women leaders and companies should take in the short term to speed the progress. Here, we show participants’ answers to all six questions including three through five, which address remaining career barriers, reasons for slow changes in gender disparities, and useful lessons from the experiences of successful industry women. Where comments by the various participants strike similar themes, the seeming redundancy reflects an emerging consensus on certain issues — the progress of individual women, the continuing and dramatic imbalance of gender and diversity in company leadership overall, and the need for positive actions to remedy the stubborn asymmetry.

These are the questions we asked:

Q1. What were the main wins and losses for women in the industry during the past year, and what is their outlook for the coming year?

Q2. What are some of the common obstacles women executives in the industry still face that men commonly do not?

Q3. What professional (or unprofessional) obstacles do you still encounter as a biopharma woman executive?

Q4. Why does it seem the surest way for a woman to attain the CEO position is to start her own company (or possibly, head a small startup vs. working her way up in a Big Pharma)?

Q5. What did we learn in 2017 about how women’s issues, in a larger context, relate to other industry and social issues such as diversity?

Q6. What do you believe should be the specific, immediate steps in furthering industry women’s progress in 2018?

SPEAKING UP

Our panel members are all leaders in their companies or fields who contributed their thoughts on progress for the women of biopharma to this discussion:

Britt Meelby Jensen, president and CEO, Zealand Pharma

Karin Hamberg, SVP, medical & regulatory science, Lundbeck

Lee Jones, CEO, Rebiotix

Sue Dillon, global therapeutic area head, Immunology, Janssen

Faith Charles, corporate transactions & securities partner and life sciences chair, Thompson Hine

Amber Salzman, CEO, Adverum

Lori Lyons-Williams, chief commercial officer, Dermira

Nawal Ouzren, CEO, Sensorion

Leah Makley, president and CEO, ViewPoint Therapeutics

Seema Kumar, vice-president, innovation, global health, and policy communication, Johnson & Johnson

Sally Susman, executive vice-president, corporate affairs, Pfizer

Lynn Seely, M.D., president and CEO, Myovant Sciences

Michael Rice, founding partner, LifeSci Advisors

 

(Table: Questions answered by each participant.)

 The Woman of Biopharma Contributors

Q1

Q2

Q3

Q4

Q5

Q6

 Karin Hamberg, SVP, medical & regulatory science, Lundbeck

x

x

x

x

x

x

 Leah Makley, president and CEO, ViewPoint Therapeutics

x

0

x

x

0

x

 Lee Jones – CEO, Rebiotix

x

x

x

x

x

x

 Michael Rice, founding partner, LifeSci Advisors

x

x

NA

x

x

x

 Sue Dillon, global therapeutic area head, Immunology, Janssen

x

x

0

x

x

x

 Faith Charles, corporate transactions & securities partner and life sciences chair, Thompson Hine

x

x

x

x

x

x

 Amber Salzman, CEO, Adverum

x

x

x

x

x

x

 Lori Lyons-Williams, chief commercial officer, Dermira

x

x

0

0

0

x

 Nawal Ouzren CEO, Sensorion

x

x

x

x

x

x

 Seema Kumar, vice president, innovation, global health, and policy communication (J&J)

x

x

x

x

x

x

 Sally Susman, executive vice president, corporate affairs, Pfizer

x

x

x

x

x

x

 Britt Meelby Jensen, CEO, Zealand Pharma

x

x

x

x

x

x

 Lynn Seely, M.D., president and CEO, Myovant Sciences

x

x

x

x

0

x

 

X = answered; 0 = not answered

 

QUESTIONS & RESPONSES

And here are all of the answers received, question by question:

Q1. What were the main wins and losses for women in the industry during the past year, and what is their outlook for the coming year?

Leah Makley, president and CEO, ViewPoint Therapeutics

I see slow but steady progress toward more representation of women in positions of leadership in the industry. In particular, I was encouraged and inspired to see Emma Walmsley named CEO of GSK this year.

 

Sally Susman, executive vice-president, corporate affairs, Pfizer

Let’s focus on the progress we’ve made, and the possibilities ahead of us. The biopharmaceutical industry as a whole has made some significant advancements in recruiting, retaining, and raising women into leadership positions. We strive to nurture the talent that drives innovation. It is important that we continue to develop our people pipeline by encouraging more young women to pursue STEM education and STEM professions. As leaders in science and innovation, we are uniquely positioned to cultivate a climate of science and engineering that encourages women to dive into these traditionally male-dominated fields. Just this year, I saw a huge win for women in the biopharma industry here at my own company. My colleague, Kirsten Lund-Jurgensen, became the executive vice-president and president of Pfizer Global Supply, overseeing the manufacturing and production of our medicines worldwide. Kirsten is the first woman to hold this position—it’s exciting.

 

Lori Lyons-Williams, chief commercial officer, Dermira

Women are continuing to make important strides as leaders, taking influential roles and actively working to facilitate change throughout the life sciences industry. This year, there were numerous wins, as well as some loses for women in life sciences. Although recent estimates indicate that women currently make up about 50 percent of the talent pool in biopharma and hold more than half of the doctorates, only 18 percent of the highest-valued biotechnology companies have women in senior and C-suite management positions. Despite these challenges, there have been some meaningful wins this year, including the appointment of Emma Walmsley as chief executive officer at GSK.

As we look at the coming year, we should remain focused on creating opportunities for women in our industry. At the macro level, organizations like 2020 Women on Boards and 30 percent Club are committed to creating more diversity on boards and in the C-Suite. It will take the effort and focus of both men and women to truly drive meaningful change. Additionally, we can all make a difference at our own companies and in our own communities. This can be done by mentoring and developing existing talent, and nurturing the next generation of young girls by promoting science education, encouraging participation in STEM programs, and ensuring that we’re actively promoting interest in careers in the life sciences. And why is this all important? We aren’t focused on diversity for diversity’s sake. Beyond the intrinsic value that multiple points of view can bring to an organization, studies continue to show that diversity in leadership improves both performance and profitability when compared to firms that lack diversity.

 

Nawal Ouzren, CEO of Sensorion

According to Bloomberg’s report women occupy only 20 of the 112 top management positions at the 10 most valuable pharma and biotech companies. This situation is very similar in the 10 top biotech startups. There is still a significant gender gap in the industry. However, women have huge potential to change this situation. Here are some examples: Kate Bingham, Managing Partner, SV Life Sciences (London, UK). Not only is she one of the most influential women in European Biotech, she has been engaged with the issue of diversity in Biotech. She was one of the writers of the open letter against having women as “eye candy” in professional biotech events, which got major media coverage. The nomination of Emma Walmsley at the helm of GSK was great progress for women in the industry; unfortunately, the progress was overshadowed by the controversy around her salary. She is paid 25 percent less than her predecessor but I can’t imagine the GSK board lowering their performance expectations by 25 percent.

 

Sue Dillon, global therapeutic area head, Immunology, Janssen

Some examples of ‘wins’ in 2017 included leaders taking a stand, and taking action, against gender discrimination and harmful gender stereotypes. Google CEO Sundir Pichai fired a software engineer who wrote a memo stating the low numbers of women software engineers was due to biology vs. discrimination https://nyti.ms/2uB4FLW.

Women are still woefully under-represented on boards, but U.S. biotech companies are increasingly and proactively looking to diversify the gender composition of their boards. A notable effort to help address this gap is led by Women In Bio (WIB): http://www.womeninbio.org/news/357216/20-Executives-Selected-for-Women-In-Bios-Second-Boardroom-Ready-Class.htm.

There have been several women CEOs recognized with high visibility this past year as they’ve achieved several successes: Samantha Du, Ph.D., Chairman and CEO of ZAI Lab in China, for building a China and global portfolio; Anna Protopapas, CEO of Mersana, who led a successful IPO in 2017; and Katrine Bosley, CEO of Editas, for pioneering gene editing. At the same time, hearing about allegations of gender discrimination in lawsuits filed by high profile scientists Vicki Lundblad and Katherine Jones at the Salk Institute is disheartening. I recall Dr. Nancy Hopkins seminal work in the 1990’s detailing discrimination against women at MIT http://web.mit.edu/fnl/women/women.html. Depressing to hear about similar issues in 2017.

 

Lee Jones, CEO of Rebiotix

I am not part of Big Pharma (I run my own late-stage clinical company), so am not as aware of what is happening in the industry regarding women as I probably should be. The one event that does stick in my mind is the spectacular downfall of Elizabeth Holmes of Theranos. Her rise and fall has been mimicked many times by several men (Uber execs and Martin Shkreli, for example), but her story stood out for me because it was a she. There are so few women who are able to rise the way she did — lots of investment, high valuations, little real meat to the company — that it was a shame this happened. Unfortunately, it will stand as an example, probably until the end of time, for why not to invest in a woman-led company.

I see that when some women leaders have switched companies, it seems that their accomplishments show up briefly in the media, but they do not get anywhere near the press that the male leaders get when they leave to go to a startup or make a transition to another leadership role.

 

Britt Meelby Jensen, CEO of Zealand Pharma

One of the main wins for women must be the appointment of GlaxoSmithKline Chief Executive Emma Walmsley as the first and only female CEO in Big Pharma. It is about time!

The big loss must be that there are still far too few female senior executives. The picture is slightly better when it comes to female representation at board level, but it remains critical to improve female representation at executive level, as this is the food chain for future qualified board members.

 

Amber Salzman, CEO, Adverum

Our company, Adverum, had quite a win this year in that we recruited a very talented chief medical officer, Athena Countouriotis, who has five drugs approved to her name. Adding her to our executive team makes us an 80 percent female-led company and has created a top work environment that has already paid off. When I asked a highly sought after recent hire why he joined Adverum, he said it was because of the work environment and leadership at the top. We have a very collaborative environment and the diversity of thought has enabled us to problem-solve difficult challenges.

In general, we’ve seen several women being added to biotech boards and leadership roles this year and a woman being named CEO of a top pharmaceutical company. But we still have a long way to go. I was at a meeting with biotech CEOs last week and was disappointed to see that less than 10 percent of attendees were women.

However, I’m encouraged by a recent trend where shareholders are now expecting boards to benefit from a diverse makeup, and at times have not voted in a board member even when excellent men are being proposed. This pressure will require companies to tap into different networks than the ones that have been used to date. There are some extremely talented women who could significantly enhance a board but are not yet on the radar as their male counterparts are. More progress in this area would greatly benefit companies and help change the overall atmosphere to allow a diverse workforce to excel.

 

Michael Rice, Founding Partner, LifeSci Advisors

Some really excellent, thorough research has been published this year by MassBio and LiftStream that shows that we’re making slow progress toward advancing gender diversity, but the rate of change is dismal. A LiftStream white paper from earlier this year (April) showed that the way things are going, we’re on track to reach gender parity at the board level of life sciences companies in 40 years (2057). That’s not nearly fast enough. We still have a lot of work to do and men need to be allies in this work. Though the statistics look grim, I think there has been more discussion about gender diversity in the last year, and more men are starting to wake up and take ownership over their role in this issue. That will hopefully lead to more involvement from men and women across the industry. The more people we have aware of and actively engaged in making change on this issue, the faster we’re going to affect positive change in our industry.

 

Faith Charles, corporate transactions & securities partner and life sciences chair, Thompson Hine

The continually growing recognition of the need for diversity and inclusion in the workforce is a win for women throughout the entire business community, as creating and fostering a diverse and inclusive corporate culture strengthens any organization. Having women at the C-level, in the boardroom, or as outside counsel advising a company’s officers and board members adds a perspective that may not otherwise be present. Women make up about 50 percent of the talent pool in the life sciences workforce but are underrepresented in leadership roles. An industry must represent the population it serves, and having a female presence at the executive level to provide input on critical decisions and help set strategy is important for businesses so they can ultimately be innovative, effective, successful and profitable.

There are several industrywide efforts being undertaken by trade organizations and life sciences companies to enhance diversity and inclusion. Leading companies such as Biogen and Johnson & Johnson have developed best practices for increasing gender diversity in the biopharma area, including reviewing hiring practices and providing diversity training. Boardroom Ready, developed by Women In Bio along with its sponsors, including LifeSci Advisors, prepares exceptionally qualified WIB members for board service by providing certification training and assistance in seeking public and private corporate board opportunities. In addition, there has been an increased focus on STEM, as the industry is trying to attract more young women to pursue careers in science and technology. Efforts like these provide competitive advantages and contribute to stronger company performance. The results are promising, as the number of women on boards has increased in the last year. We are making progress, albeit slowly, and I have not encountered any real setbacks.

 

Karin Hamberg, SVP, Medical & Regulatory, Lundbeck

I’m not sure I’ve actually seen any groundbreaking wins or losses. At a global level, women continue to be significantly underrepresented in senior executive roles, the gender wage gap remains and the shortage of childcare facilities, even in Western European countries, makes women of child-bearing age less attractive to hire due to the risk of them taking longer maternity leaves. Having said that, gender diversity is increasing in importance as a driver of the business and many multinational companies are now investing billions of dollars in diversity initiatives.

Personally, I am not a big fan of policies favoring more women in business. Long-term, I believe the best way to achieve equality is to ensure women have the qualifications they need to be successful in the workforce. One key way to achieve greater equality of opportunity in the workplace is to provide free education like the Danish government offers. From my perspective, free access to higher education for everyone is critical to developing a strong talent pool and is an immensely important factor for securing diversity — not just gender diversity, but more broadly speaking.

 

Seema Kumar, vice-president of innovation, global health, and policy communication, Johnson & Johnson

One win worth celebrating is that in 2017, the number of women CEOs running Fortune 500 companies reached an all-time high. These 32 women mark the highest population of female CEOs in the 63-year history of the Fortune 500. While 6.4 percent women is still in the single-digits, the upward trend in executive leadership is promising, and a positive example for young women in business today. That said, of course, we women executives would like to see the numbers climb up much higher — double digits. I am excited for the growth of women in business, and as we continue to make improvements, I would love to see a more diverse representation among female leaders. Our challenge for 2018 is to elevate women of all backgrounds and ethnicities into executive positions.

 

Lynn Seely, M.D., President and Chief Executive Officer, Myovant Sciences

You have seen female leaders assume key roles all across the industry. Emma Walmsley took the helm at GSK as the first female CEO of large pharma. One of her first moves was to add Laurie Glimcher, CEO of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, onto the GSK board. Of course, overall the percentage of chief executives of Fortune 500 companies who are women is only six percent.

This year has brought intense publicity around the obstacles faced by women both in the workforce and in leadership, particularly in the high-tech arena, but also across industries as evidenced by the cover article in the New York Times Sunday Review, “Why Women Aren’t CEOs.” Almost two years after the now infamous party by LifeSci Advisors during JP Morgan 2016, the focus of that firm and the attention of others in the life sciences has turned toward improving the exclusionary culture in the biopharmaceutical industry. That being said, much remains to be done. Although some think of Silicon Valley and the San Francisco Bay area as progressive, the number of women in leadership in venture capital firms and venture-backed companies remains dismal. Women hold just under 12 percent of the partner roles at both accelerators and corporate venture firms and, according to CrunchBase data, in the last three years, only 16 percent of newly launched venture and micro-venture firms, 20 firms in all, had at least one female founder.

Finally, on a positive note, I have to focus on the surge of interest and investment in women’s health, which is a positive industry development for women overall. There are many notable examples of established and emerging companies, including my own company, Myovant, focusing their attention on unmet need in women’s health, a field that has largely been ignored by large pharma for the last decade.

 

Q2. What are some of the common obstacles women executives in the industry still face that men commonly do not?

Meelby Jensen

I believe two key influencing factors for the overweight of men over women in C-level recruitment are the lack of adequate focus in recruitment and promotion practices, and the influence of unconscious bias.

Overall, I think men are better at networking and promoting themselves and each other than women, and they are less reluctant to take risk. Some women could push themselves more to jump into unknown territory, be better at helping each other to succeed while also getting into the game of networking.

 

Salzman

I still see more unconscious biases and different assumptions being made about women than about men.

It’s human nature for people to relate more to people who are “more like themselves” and who have grown up with “similar” experiences. Being a different gender makes you less similar.

Women often have to more consciously engage in a “relatable” way and find styles of communication that reinforces their ability to be “heard” by men to operate and deliver for their businesses.

 

Dillon

Janssen and Johnson & Johnson have an inclusive culture, and I’ve not experienced obstacles during my tenure — in fact quite the opposite! However, I think all women have had the experience of being the sole female in business meetings or functions where it was a struggle to truly have a seat at the table.

 

Charles

The reasons women in this or any industry succeed — or don’t — have been discussed and debated for years. Much has been written about the strengths, weaknesses, societal perceptions (and misperceptions), unconscious bias (by both men and women who make hiring/promoting decisions), family obligations and other factors that contribute to how high a woman climbs on the corporate ladder. It all comes down to earning respect, being seen as having the same qualifications and skills as our male counterparts, and being given the same opportunities they receive. We’re making progress here, too, but old ideas and old habits die hard; it takes time to overcome long-held beliefs and stereotypes.

Not necessarily an obstacle, but one thing men recognize that many women don’t is the value of having a sponsor. Women seek out mentors who give valuable advice but not sponsors who can be instrumental in helping advance a woman’s career by finding or creating opportunities, advocating on her behalf with decision-makers, and providing practical coaching and guidance. Women often tend to be more passive and think that having education, exceptional talent, and proven experience will get them where they want to go, but as the old adage goes, it’s not what you know, it’s who you know. Having a sponsor who will champion your cause and open doors for you is invaluable. I know — I’ve been fortunate to have male and female sponsors and mentors to help me get to where I am today.

 

Kumar

This summer, I wrote about Hedy Lamarr, a trailblazing inventor and glamorous movie star who defied the stereotype associated with women in science. In it, I made the point that, in the past, many of us thought that to climb the male corporate ladder meant we had to wear the power suits — pantsuits with big bulky shoulder pads — to prove our leadership mettle. The fashion reflected, in part, a culture that told women that, to be successful, you had to look, act, and talk like a man. Lamarr showed us that we can blaze our own trails; you can be feminine and be successful in STEM. Although we have come quite far since the days where women had to act like men to be taken seriously, I believe that female executives still have a higher hurdle and find themselves working harder to prove their value because of hidden, and sometimes unconscious, biases. We are making progress, but we still have more progress to make.

 

Lyons-Williams

Though we see many women today building long-lasting careers in the life sciences industry, there are still fewer women entering and graduating with science and technical degrees as compared to men. When women do elect for a career in life sciences, two of the more common obstacles I’ve seen are related to compensation and career development. On average, women are paid less and lack the same career trajectory with regard to promotions and advancements as their male colleagues. And despite a focus on creating more balance in the workplace for women and men, women still report feeling more pressure to choose family versus advancing their careers compared to men, and often don’t receive access to the supportive programs they may need to help them succeed. With fewer female leaders than we’d like to see, this cycle can often perpetuate, as younger women often assume that if they don’t see women in leadership, the personal and professional obstacles will be too large for them to overcome.

 

Hamberg

One of the key obstacles to women reaching senior executive positions is linked to gaps early in their career when women exit the workforce during maternity leave or to raise their children. Since this typically happens early in a woman’s career, the wage gap never closes, leaving women with lower salary levels and other reduced benefits like pensions. I am not sure there is an easy solution to this, except for making part of the leave periods available only if also taken by the father, as is the case in some Scandinavian countries. Generally, I believe people should be rewarded based on their business contribution, not based on seniority or “fairness” principles.

 

Ouzren

We are facing the following challenges: conflict with raising a family; lack of available female candidates for very senior roles; data demonstrating that female CEOs have more challenges to raise money than their male peers; corporate culture that does not support gender diversity (it can unfortunately be conscious or unconscious); “Boy’s Club” culture; limited support from senior leadership; and limited sponsorship of female leaders due to limited exposure to senior leadership.

 

Jones

Women in general do not belong to the same networks that men do, and when they do, there are so few women executives, it is difficult to get recognition. I believe people tend to invest in people who look like them, have friends in common, or are part of a group that are recognized. For example, I see lots of money being thrown at male executives who start their own companies or move to a startup company because someone else, generally another male, sees them as being smart. Or they are a friend, or a friend of a friend. This happens even to the point that appropriate due diligence is not done, but it doesn’t seem to matter. Women are held to a much higher standard. They generally don’t get the benefit of the doubt that they will be successful, but must prove it step by step first, before the investment comes their way. And when they do, generally they are replaced by a male — so that it will be easier to attract investment.

The other excuse that I have heard often from my male counterparts and it gets used often — even when hiring for non-executive positions — is that they are looking for the best “person” for the job. If a woman is not being recognized for her accomplishments or invested in as an executive, what chance will she have had to develop or demonstrate the skills that will make her the best “person” for the job? Whenever I hear that, it is always from a male and I always ask if they interviewed any women. The answer I hear most often is that they couldn’t find any qualified women. What they mean is that they didn’t find them in their networks. This is a self-perpetuating problem.

 

Rice

I have seen two things firsthand in our work to place women on corporate boards. First, many boards and leadership teams are looking for people with prior board experience — but this creates a cycle of keeping women off boards because without being on a board you can’t gain the experience required to be on one. This is why we support Women In Bio’s Boardroom Ready program, a board certification-training program that helps equip women executives with some of the basic knowledge required to serve on a corporate board. The second, related issue is that people tend to want to work with people they know and have worked with before, so these all-male or majority-male boards tend to be full of the same directors over and over again.

 

Susman

In my experience, diversity and support for women are goals and objectives that are held in high regard, not only at Pfizer, but across the industry. That being said, we must acknowledge the unconscious biases that may persist. This is challenging to address, because these are the unfounded stereotypes that people form outside of their own awareness. In business, I’ve seen this occur when male aspirants may be given the benefit of the doubt when presented a promotion or increased responsibilities, whereas women seemingly need to prove themselves before, during, and after the offer has been extended. There is a great deal of disparity between professions and industries — and some are further along than others. We need to reach a time where an established, professional woman can walk into her corner office without feeling she has to validate her reason for being there. With the number of female CEOs in Fortune 500 companies stuck around 6 percent, it’s impossible for me to believe that some aspect of disparity does not still exist.

 

Seely

I joined Medivation as the third employee and the chief medical officer. I oversaw the development of Xtandi [enzalutamide], a drug that prolongs life in men with late-stage prostate cancer who have failed other treatments. from the first-in-man study through global approvals. Over a 10-year period, I helped grow Medivation from a tiny startup to a successful commercial company that Pfizer acquired for $14B. Despite this tremendous experience and a key seat on the executive leadership team, I did not receive a single CEO offer after I left Medivation. Many companies approached me about chief medical officer roles, but nobody called looking for a CEO. After one too many chief medical officer pitches, I finally told the recruiter I would only be interested in a CEO role. All too often, women executives have to overcome unconscious biases about who is a qualified candidate, or even who looks like a qualified candidate. I am very happy to report that once I self-declared and advocated for myself, I did not face any gender bias in finding a great CEO role.

 

Q3. What professional (or unprofessional) obstacles do you still encounter as a biopharma woman executive?

Hamberg

Not a lot, actually! Perhaps I am oblivious to the barriers or maybe I am just a very resilient “never give up” type of person. Sometimes, I believe we (“we” being women) create more barriers for ourselves than others actually place on us. Sometimes I am my own worst enemy by always pressuring myself to do better, rather than feeling happy about what I do well. Less perfectionism and more pride would suit us.

 

Makley

Being underrepresented, it's admittedly hard not to feel out of place sometimes. Women find themselves not only tackling the challenges of their job descriptions, but also bearing the burden of being trailblazers, willingly or otherwise.

 

Ouzren

I feel very fortunate to have achieved what I have achieved, and as a summary, I had more people supporting my journey than ones throwing obstacles. Having said that, I personally experienced the “double-bind” challenge. I faced aggressive behaviors from male counterparts (other male biotech CEO’s, colleagues or KOLs) as soon as I got promoted for non-obvious reasons (at least non-job related). At the beginning, it threw me off and I defended myself, but I eventually observed that my defensive and combative behavior was not serving me well. I then changed my attitude; I made sure I was always over-prepared and stoic during meetings. It did not necessarily change their behaviors, but it helped me develop a solid reputation of having stamina and being courageous. I cannot agree more with Sheryl Sandberg’s observation that women’s popularity decreases with their power (contrary to men). The other side of the “double bind” is related to one of my core principle “work hard and be nice to people.” By being nice, colleagues (male and even female) sometimes questioned the fact that I had the “leadership or the spine” to do the job. Thankfully, my business results and strong followership proved them otherwise. But I never heard this type of criticism for male bosses or colleagues who were equally nice and hard working.

 

Salzman

I spent much of my career at a top-five global pharmaceutical company and served as one of the very few female senior VPs. While I thoroughly enjoyed my time there and felt I was able to learn, lead, and have a significant impact on our ability to serve patients, I did have to overcome many challenges. Therefore, I’m loving the environment at Adverum where everyone can engage and contribute and we do not have much of the unconscious bias that can take place. We are pleased that when we interact with investors and shareholders, they have confidence in the leadership at Adverum.

 

Meelby Jensen

I have been fortunate not to experience major obstacles in advancing my own career. Hard work and focus on delivering results have paid off.

 

Charles

Speaking from the perspective of outside counsel who advises executives and board members on a daily basis, I have noticed that both men and women exhibit unconscious bias. When a woman displays leadership behaviors — such as assertiveness, decisiveness, confidence — she often is perceived as unfeminine and aggressive. When she displays more typically feminine characteristics — for example, being sensitive to others’ needs or less vocal in meetings — she is seen as less competent. Earning respect is often a struggle, and proving that you are a leader takes more time, but it is not impossible.

In my personal experience, I have found that my ideas receive more scrutiny than those of my male colleagues. It is also hard to come in as a senior woman and give direction to others; I worry about coming off as too aggressive. Additionally, I am often the only female in the room, and it can be intimidating and unnerving to be the sole representative of a “group” present. For example, often when I walk into a networking event, I can count the number of women in attendance.

 

Kumar

When I go to meetings around the world, I am often the only woman, not to mention the only Indian woman, in a room full of men. Some might consider that an obstacle. But over time, I have come to realize having unique experience and perspective gives you so much more to offer. In companies like Johnson & Johnson, the practical obstacles to balancing work and family life are continuously being removed by offering generous family leave policies, flexible work environments, daycare on-site, benefits and a culture that encourages speaking up and being supportive. We are also trying to ensure ways to remove unconscious bias — including within one’s self — by rolling out training to combat it.

 

Jones

I believe the biggest obstacle I face is others’ perceptions or expectations of me. I have been told many times that I do not fit the mold of a typical ____. (You fill in the blank.) In various incarnations of jobs, I have been told: that I am too focused on achieving the next milestone; that I work too hard and the other executives (male) don’t like to see that; that I am not a public company CEO (I don’t know how they would know that, because I haven’t had the opportunity to be one); that I don’t have commercial experience (I built and ran a sales force all throughout Europe, as well as a large sales organization in the United States); and so on and so on. I generally try to understand what they are trying to tell me so I can be prepared and mitigate the objection (hire a male to stand in for me in certain circumstances, for example). Many times, I just ignore the comment if I try it on for size and decide that I don’t believe it. I haven’t let it stop me from doing what I need to do to achieve the success I want. It is just tiring.

The best part of being a biopharma CEO is when I meet women at other companies. Often, it is in the restroom. It is rare to go to the women’s restroom at a company and find a line to wait in — unlike most public events. The women I meet tell me that it is rare for them to meet a woman CEO in their field and that they are pleased to meet me. I hope that I inspire a few of them to reach for the top.

 

Susman

I am fortunate in that I don’t currently feel subjected to bias in the workplace. I’ve encountered my share of judgments, criticisms, and hurdles throughout the course of my career. I understand what it’s like to be underestimated on the basis of whatever it is that makes you different. I’ve learned from these experiences and am a better person and professional because of them. That being said, I see my role as a leader to include ensuring my department has fair and equitable opportunities across the board. I cannot overstate the importance of candor in the workplace. I make it a priority to provide transparency around benefits, promotions, and any other issue that impacts the livelihood and well-being of my colleagues.

 

Seely

I think much of the bias in our business is unconscious and that continued efforts at awareness are needed. That being said, I never cease to be amazed by comments such as “I can’t find a qualified woman to fill my leadership role.” My answer is always, “Look harder and ask yourself why women are not interested in your roles.” There are hundreds of qualified women out there for every role and CEOs and corporate leaders should make sure women and other diverse candidates are among the candidates considered for each position.

 

Q4. Why does it seem the surest way for a woman to attain the CEO position is to start her own company (or possibly, head a small startup vs. working her way up in a Big Pharma)?

Hamberg

I’m a data-driven person and I’m not aware of the data to make this case. In general, I would assume that anyone (men or women) would have an easier course toward leading a small business than becoming the CEO of a multinational business. If I am correct in this assertion, perhaps freedom could be an explanation — freedom to select your own working hours, freedom to control your own working environment, and freedom from onerous bureaucratic decision processes. Finally, I am actually not sure the CEO position in Big Pharma is necessarily always something to strive for. So, who says women lose the race? Maybe some of us just make deliberate choices based on other values in our lives?

 

Jones

That’s an easy question to answer. She surrounds herself with advisors or boards that want to see her succeed and she gets the support and advice that will make that happen. She can pursue her own ideas and generate a culture that she wants to work in that further promotes success. She doesn’t have anything to prove to anyone else on a day to day basis — she is the CEO — so she can focus her time and attention to making the company successful. At the end of the day, she is betting on herself to do the best job and it provides great job security.

 

Rice

It’s the same reasons I mentioned above — the C-suite can be a “Boys’ Club,” and when women start their own companies, they can create their own leadership team.

 

Dillon

I’m not sure if this observation is unique to women — many CEO’s seem to have garnered experience and moved up the ladder in pharma prior to moving a few steps up into a biotech CEO role.

 

Kumar

I don’t buy that premise fully. As I said, one win worth celebrating is that in 2017, the number of women CEOs running Fortune 500 companies reached an all-time high. Of course, the chances for women and minorities in top leadership positions within bigger organizations remains limited, but even for white males, the likelihood of becoming a CEO of a big company is a pretty high bar. Many of my male friends and colleagues have started their own companies as the surest way to be a CEO.

Of course, we still have to tackle decades of unconscious bias in the past in the science fields in both industry and academia. At Johnson & Johnson, we couple unconscious-bias workshops with diversity-mentorship programs with programs that encourage girls to enter STEM disciplines, and we support women at every stage of their careers in the sciences. We have a WiSTEM2D initiative (Women in STEM, Manufacturing and Design), which is a systematic way we encourage women into science and engineering careers from kindergarten all the way to university to professionals at all levels and also professionals who are re-entering the workplace after a break. I hope more organizations will consider approaches like this.

 

Ouzren

I was fortunate enough to have had very senior roles in Big Pharma (heading up multi-billion franchises) and being now a small startup CEO. I see opportunities and challenges in both environments. My observation from Big Pharma is that many talented women believe hard work is enough to get promoted. Unfortunately, performance is our entry-ticket, but far from being enough for that big role. What matters the most is exposure to senior leadership (C-level) and board members in particular to get that CEO role. We also need more women in line-management (P&L) roles and not just functional roles. By starting your own company, you take charge, and you do not rely on others’ will to get you that role. Having said that, other types of obstacles exist in the small startup world,s too.

 

Salzman

When you start your own company, successful strategies and execution speak for themselves, so there’s much less of the unconscious bias at play.

 

Meelby Jensen

I worked my way up in a Big Pharma company before taking on the role of CEO in an established company, so I am one of the exceptions. However, it is disappointing that so few women make it to the top in big corporations. If we can create an environment in which the very best people rise to the top, then we are not only accessing a greater talent pool, but also taking a more meritocratic approach to developing leaders. Then women will no longer be the “minority” in leadership!

 

Makley

Startups by definition develop their own structure and culture from scratch, and ultimately live and die by the strength of the science or technology, so perhaps they are a bit more meritocratic. Moreover, there’s a great deal of determination required in the startup world, so I’d say female founders tend to be stubborn and I see that as an advantage.

 

Susman

When a woman starts her own company, she is taking an enormous leap of faith. It’s a direct jump to the top of decision making, circumventing the often-bureaucratic hierarchies that still exist. Navigating the corporate culture can be challenging, even when you’re lucky enough to work for a forward-leaning company like Pfizer. The surest way for a woman to attain a CEO position is to play a central role within the company — one that embodies the core mission of the business. For a biopharma company, having a research and development or sales background may present the clearest pathway toward becoming CEO. Encountering obstacles, challenging problems, and identifying solutions is the nature of scientific work. You have to have these traits in order to successfully lead at the highest level of any industry, especially “Big Pharma.”

 

Charles

The surest way for anyone, man or woman, to attain the CEO position is to start their own company. Again, it may be false perceptions or unconscious bias that dictates how someone views women in the workforce — it is unlikely that the majority of modern-day biopharma executives had full-time working mothers when they were growing up. As society advances and better understands gender equality, meaningful change will come in time. Today, there are successful women who have attained C-suite positons in the bio and pharma industries, including CEOs such as Susan Molineaux at Calithera Biosciences and Annalisa Jenkins at Dimension Therapeutics. It is also helpful when venture capitalists bring more women onto their portfolio company boards and leadership teams.

 

Seely

The smaller the company, the less politics play a role, and the more high performance is valued, regardless of what you look like. It is well-appreciated that women are underrepresented in leadership roles in the high-tech industry, but few are aware that the numbers of women in leadership and in the board room in the biopharmaceutical industry is just as bad.

 

Q5. What did we learn in 2017 about how women’s issues, in a larger context, relate to other industry and social issues such as diversity?

Dillon

As the political climate has grown more hostile toward diversity in general, the need to create a broadly inclusive culture in the industry and in our society has never been more important. Women’s issues are part of a bigger picture where prejudice is unfortunately alive and well.

 

Ouzren

We made progress, but we still have a long way to go. I was stunned by what I read in the news about challenges happening in the high-tech industry or in politics (Uber, Google etc). We also have great examples like the SalesForce CEO who fixed the salary gender gap issue with a $3M check. We need to continue to work on that matter from the ground and from the top of the organizations, hand-in-hand with the men. We need to inspire more girls to study science, we need to keep women when we lose them the most (middle-age career as they balance career and family), and we need more females at the top demonstrating their talents — especially CEOs in Big Pharma, CEOs in startups, female VCs, female analysts, and senior female bankers.

 

Jones

We reaffirmed that there is an enormous double standard that exists in our society when it comes to women. We saw that in the big picture of the presidential election where a man with a horrible record for respecting women, who was a dishonest businessman who went bankrupt several times, who treated the poor as dirt under his shoes (because they were poor, they were not successful like him), and who had no track record for race relations, began the year as president of the United States, elected over a woman who had served her country for her entire adult life and had great accomplishments throughout the world. It was all about the story — a TV personality vs. a person who was accomplished but not viewed as warm and who wore pantsuits. This to me is reflected throughout industry in what we see for diversity and gets back to my earlier point regarding people who generally tend to invest in (read as: hire, help, support, advise) people who look like themselves. It is comfortable and easy to do that and I believe most people don’t even know that is what they are doing.

 

Salzman

We saw some very bad behavior in the fabric of some prominent tech companies. The reason this hit me so hard was that the average age of the people involved was much lower than the average age of key players in biotech. Therefore, we can’t relax and say the lack of women in key roles is just a generational issue. I recall early on in my career that I was told that the reason there weren’t many women in senior roles was that only recently were there equal ratios of women graduating in science, so it will take 10-20 years before these women work their way up the chain. While there may have been some validity to that statement being made over 20 years ago, it is blatantly clear now that there is much more at play. Therefore, we would benefit from implementing programs with measurable objectives to ensure our companies can leverage the talent of a diverse workforce.

 

Meelby Jensen

From a global perspective, we are still far from equal rights for men and women. We are making baby steps in the right direction. An important milestone in 2017 was that women are now allowed to drive a car in Saudi Arabia, but that we had to wait this long for this shows how far we are from equal opportunities.

 

Charles

The push for diversity and inclusion and the spotlight it has created for all who are not part of the majority is important, not only from an equality standpoint, but also as an imperative if our society is ever to evolve to see beyond color, sex, religion, and so on. Acknowledging and addressing critical issues at the executive level is vital to creating a culture that promotes equality. A classic top-down approach would seem to be the obvious way to address diversity in the workplace, but while that is the ideal solution, getting there takes buy-in at all levels and a willingness to be proactive to create a work environment where all can succeed. Gender diversity and inclusion are critical for all industries. Having diversity of thought and experience is essential for any board or company. To make good decisions requires the ability to hear and consider different points of view, which will come only from people who have varied experiences, skillsets, talents, personalities, backgrounds and training.

 

Hamberg

Probably that there are no easy solutions. This remains a long haul, but with increasing focus on diversity as a driver of business success and with companies developing female talent into role models, I am confident that we will get there eventually.

 

Kumar

I always talk about how being different is a strength — it means you are differentiated. Differentiation helps you stand out from the crowd, and allows you to see a new perspective. At Johnson & Johnson, we believe that a good idea can come from anywhere, and in the past year I feel the industry has really started to embrace fresh perspectives. In an increasingly globalized world, we’ve come to realize that we need more than just a token woman in the boardroom — we need women throughout the executive ranks who are representative of the diverse populations we are trying to reach.

 

Susman

It’s interesting that the “Battle of the Sexes” movie is currently running to the top of the charts. I remember watching the match as a young tennis player — in awe that Billie Jean King could outpace an accomplished champion nearly twice her age, on national television, with millions of people holding their breath at the outcome. What the dynamic between the two symbolized for our culture at the time placed an enormous amount of pressure on a tennis match. It became more than tennis, it was truly a “Battle of the Sexes.” What this win meant for women’s issues at the time was monumental. The fact that it still resonates in 2017 means that making the same case for parity and equality still has resonance.

 

Rice

I’m not an expert on diversity, but gender diversity is an issue across all industries, and I believe that men need to step up and be allies in making progress.

 

Q6. What should be the specific, immediate steps in furthering industry women’s progress in 2018?

Kumar

Women, and particularly diverse women, need to express their voice, and act as role models to pave the way for future generations of diverse leaders in the biopharma world. Storytelling plays a tremendous role in furthering progress for women. Positive role models allow women to not only dream of being successful in the industry, but seeing that these achievements are possible. Many people today struggle when asked to name any living scientist, let alone a female living scientist. The next generation needs role models to look up to that are relatable and current. Movies like Hidden Figures do a wonderful job of telling the untold stories of these trailblazers, but we need to do a better job of bringing these stories to light. I’m doing my part by publishing a Women in STEM LinkedIn series, where I’ve been highlighting the female heroes of STEM — both past and present.

 

Makley

If fully half the population is discouraged from pursuing careers or starting companies in biopharma, whether implicitly or explicitly, that is to the detriment of the industry (including patients and shareholders!). Pragmatically, biopharma needs all the brains that can be brought into it, and this should be universally acknowledged. In my company, I will continue to focus on building the best product and company I possibly can. I hope that, in doing so, I also will help shift the entrenched pattern and make the path a bit easier for the next female founders who come along.

 

Salzman

Companies should take on measurable diversity goals from entry level positions all the way up to their boards. That’s the only way to move past the unconscious biases that often take place.

 

Lyons-Williams

I am incredibly proud to work with a talented and diverse group of women who bring unique personal and professional experiences to the company each day. At Dermira, only one woman serves on the company’s board and I am the only woman in the C-suite. I see an opportunity for these numbers to improve over time, since more than 60 percent of our employees, including seven VP-level functional leaders are women. These are talented women who are capable of rising to the ranks of the C-suite or board. It is our duty, as executive leaders, both men and women, to do more than mentor these individuals. We must actively identify development opportunities and pave career paths for these women.

Most importantly, we also have an opportunity to drive interest in our industry for young women through STEM education programs, and by partnering with academic institutions with established internship programs. Through these channels, I believe we can take meaningful steps toward supporting one another’s growth by sharing experiences, learning from others’ diverse backgrounds, and instilling ambition in young women with a passion for the life sciences. With this commitment, I’m confident my daughter and my two sons will grow up in a world that has made significant advancements toward a more diverse workplace, and I hope to be some small catalyst for that change.

 

Jones

Every hiring manager in biopharma should be challenged to interview as many women as men for every job and should be encouraged to hire as many women as they do men for the jobs they have open. It may surprise people that qualified women are indeed available if one looks. The result of that will be to create a culture where people are valued for what they bring to the table and the companies will be better able to serve their customers. The research points out that women-led companies tend to grow faster, generate more jobs and create a better return. Why wouldn’t everyone want a fast-growing successful company in their portfolio?

 

Ouzren

I would start working on the metrics and set up targets to close the gaps asap (board representation, salary gaps, percent of diversity in workforce). Every CEO should hold their direct reports accountable to close the gaps (and it should be part of year-end performance feedback and subsequent salary increase or equity pay-off).

 

One quick win is to make sure that you have a diverse pool of candidates for every single position and in particular very senior ones (board seats, C-level, …). This effort will provide exposure opportunities to diverse candidates. The preparation for employment interviews will be a meaningful and learningful exercise. I am convinced that, short term, this discipline of bringing diverse talents to every senior role interview will open up more doors to women because they will find more sponsors supporting their professional growth.

 

If progress is not made fast enough, probably policymakers should start taking charge. The example of Sweden is quite relevant where they mandated to have a 50/50 women representation on boards for private and public companies. It happened even before the 2008/2009 financial crisis and the performance of the Swedish banks managed by female CEOs is quite telling.

 

Hamberg

I am a strong believer that free education for all is a key driver of long-term societal success. I recognize that this option is not offered in all societies but I believe this approach, available in countries like Denmark, has advantages of leveling the playing field. Some more immediate drivers of change would be more flexible working conditions, as well as talent development and mentorship programs to ensure that female talent is identified, developed and can benefit from having role models who can advocate for them and help them shape the future.

 

Charles

We must look inward and identify what is causing the lack of women executives and board members in the life sciences industry and open dialogue about ways to address it. Assuming that simply hiring more women in the industry will fix the issue is not the answer — we must first understand the underlying causes to find solutions. We need to continuously analyze whether plans we put in place are working and whether our initiatives and organizations are making progress, not just form a committee so we can say we have one. Committees and initiatives charged with implementing changes to create and sustain diversity must be empowered and given the resources to actually make a difference.

One of my roles as a lawyer is to educate clients about the experience, qualities, skillsets and qualifications their people need to facilitate the evolution from early-stage to public company, and I take advantage of the opportunity to point out the strengths women offer whenever possible. We also should stress the need for more women in independent board member roles and on private company boards. More women in boardrooms will naturally lead to more women in CEO and other C-suite positions.

Above all, women need to have more confidence in themselves and take control of their careers. Enlist a sponsor, network, let people know you are looking for CEO or other C-suite jobs and pursue your desires fearlessly. We also need to encourage and inspire other women and support them in any way possible.

Things will change over time. I believe that and I tell my clients that, but it is a process, one that comes with advances and setbacks. Learning from the past and our mistakes will enable us to make larger strides in moving forward.

 

Rice

Everyone needs to get involved in this issue if we’re really going to make change across the industry and make this a more inclusive space. We need to keep having open, honest dialogues and really listen to women in the industry, and then we need to take action. We at LifeSci feel that getting more women into leadership and specifically board roles is going to change the culture of companies from the top-down and make them more diverse, inclusive and welcoming to female talent. We have launched our own Board Placement Initiative to help facilitate the appointment of women to corporate boards in an effort to accelerate gender diversity.

 

Dillon

We have to approach this from several angles — building women’s presence on boards and in executive roles is a must. This is happening, and though not fast enough, I believe we will continue to make significant progress on this front, especially as the network of female executives (and male supporters) continues to grow. Equally important is proactively training and mentoring the up and coming generation of women to unleash their potential, and their confidence, early in their careers. I’m optimistic that this tsunami of next-generation talent, connected with the growing cadre of established women leaders, will break barriers like we’ve never seen.

 

Susman

I’ve seen a great deal of progress in advancing women’s issues and diversity and inclusion throughout my career. Often, we move the ball forward much more quickly when it’s being pushed by senior leadership. I want to tip my hat to Ian Read, Pfizer’s CEO and Chairman of the Board. He has consistently demonstrated that promotional decisions are based on merit alone. We have four strong female leaders on Pfizer’s executive team, and I feel incredibly fortunate to be one of them. Of course, there is always more we can do to create and sustain a fully-inclusive culture. Based on my experience, I feel the paradigm shift for Pfizer is well underway — we’re excited about where we’re headed, and we’re going to continue this momentum forward through 2018 and beyond.

 

Seely

The status of women in our industry is crucial – and an important indicator of how successful we are as leaders and companies. There are very few female leaders in biopharma. Almost 50 percent of the workforce is female and yet less than 20 percent of senior management is composed of women. The percentage of female CEOs is even lower. This is unacceptable. These statistics are just as bad as they are in the tech industry. We need to encourage and prioritize the professional development of women in our companies. As we do this, we cannot underemphasize the symbolic value of women executives.

On many occasions, young women have approached me to express their excitement about my role as CEO — they are hungry for more mentors and evidence that women can be successful leaders. I believe interviewing and hiring women and other diverse candidates should be a part of each manager’s performance review and that those who excel should be rewarded for adding value. The financial value of adding diversity to corporate leadership is well-established, including by a McKinsey report in 2012, which found that companies ranking in the top quartile of executive-board diversity had return on equity that was 53 percent higher, on average, than they were for those in the bottom quartile. At the same time, EBIT [earnings before interest and taxes] margins at the most diverse companies were 14 percent higher, on average, than those of the least diverse companies.

 

Meelby Jensen

Many mistake the issue of gender diversity as being for women alone. Both men and women are needed to enable change, and we need to look beyond gender bias to capture the very best leadership talent. I encourage women to go for the opportunity and also urge that they are given the opportunity to prove that they can do the job. I guarantee that we can!