By Elizabeth Jeffords
“All for one, and one for all!” If we were French aristocrats brandishing swords, this would be an everyday phrase. But for most women in the upper echelons of life sciences, it’s an uncommon sentiment, and every day can be a slightly lonely experience.
It hasn’t been an easy path to get to our current roles: As officers and C-level executives, we’ve moved around the world, found and left jobs, made sacrifices, changed paths, and our partners and families have provided extreme levels of support along the way. But even though we’ve “arrived” as biotech executives, there’s more to be done: serving as CEOs, advisors, and directors to help companies achieve their missions. But as another saying goes, “What got you here isn’t going to get you there.”
For the 20 of us in the Women In Bio Boardroom Ready 2019 cohort, it was a surprising and special notion that the mission of the program is to create a society of women who know you, who support you, and who will put your needs as high as their own. This mission was made perfectly clear from the first second we showed up in the George Washington Business School classroom by Carolyn Brougham, the founder of the program, with help from dedicated volunteers Peggy Vorwald, Kelly Huang, Elese Hanson, and all the school’s staff. We weren’t here to be developed — because Boardroom Ready isn’t a training program — we were already ready. We weren’t here to find board seats for ourselves — although that would be a lovely outcome. We were here in Washington for these two weeks and part of the Boardroom Ready family forever to help more women move into the boardroom, to lift the companies we would serve, and to make a difference to patients and healthcare.
I have an amazing job working on the executive team of Alkahest, a clinical-stage company discovering and developing therapies for diseases of aging. Additionally, I act as an advisor to women-led companies through Springboard Enterprises and have served on two for-profit affiliate boards and several nonprofit boards. I’m incredibly drawn by the intellectual challenge of helping companies build and grow. So, when a colleague from LifeSci Public Relations told me about the Boardroom Ready program, I jumped at the chance to apply. I was thrilled to be accepted into this wonderful society of female musketeers.
We know that companies who embrace diversity of all kinds perform much better than their nondiverse peers. We’ve known this instinctively for some time, and even those who needed empirical proof have known this for more than a decade. Yet the numbers of executive women, even while growing, remain dismally low with approximately 5 percent women CEOs and 15 to 20 percent female board members. It’s perfectly rational to want board-experienced board members or executives and to want someone on your board with whom you are already comfortable. There’s no evil mission afoot to keep women out. If we are going to change a perfectly rational but unsuitable situation, creative solutions are needed. That’s where Boardroom Ready comes in. If 20 women per year, with support from their companies, mentors, families, and a village of volunteers, could come together and create a purposeful band of life science musketeers, they could change the world. With the addition of those of us who are 2019 alumnae, the network has grown to 80 women. In 2020, it will be 100.
And that’s what will get us from here to there.
ELIZABETH JEFFORDS has more than 20 years of experience in the life sciences industry working with Alkahest, Genentech, and Roche in global commercial, access, communications, and development roles across oncology, neurology, ophthalmology, genomics, and women’s health.