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Educating a New Generation of Women Leaders in the Biosciences


1/5/2009 4:03:40 PM

Annual Next Generation Bioscience Leader's Forum
Brings Women Leaders Together

By Suvarna Bhatt, Feature Writer

A unique group of life science professionals is gearing up for conference in Southern California like none other in the nation. The second annual Next Generation Bioscience Leader’s forum will take place from January 19-23 in Claremont, Calif. The gathering will feature 22 guest speakers, including eight female CEOs from across the life science industry. Its entire focus is educating a new generation of women leaders in the biosciences.

The event is a partnership between the Keck Graduate Institute, which focuses on the development of business leaders in bioscience and Smith College's Executive Education for Women, which specializes in the strategic leadership development of women.

“The goal of the program is to enhance management skills of women who have been working in a narrow area of a life sciences company,” said Diana Bartlett, Director of Corporate Partnerships at Keck Graduate Institute.

Bartlett developed the curriculum for the forum along with partners at Smith College. She also recruited prominent guest speakers to lead specialized workshops which are designed to give women grounding in the important functional areas of a life science company such as finance, marketing, supply chain, research and development, commercialization, and more.

“Women are generally very narrowly trained and experienced,” Bartlett said. “I think they tend to stick to their area of expertise because they are very good at it and they need support in order to step outside their comfort zone.”

To Bartlett, the most important aspect of the NGBL forum is that it allows women to learn from and network with veteran women executives from leading pharmaceutical, medical device, and biotechnology companies. “They are able to interact with them freely, and in many cases enter into mentoring relationships with the executive instructors,” she said.

Jennifer Marcum, CEO of Sentry Logistic will be co-presenting a session on supply chain management with Rebecca Lyons from Johnson and Johnson.

Marcum says the challenges of rising to leadership positions aren’t specifically for women. As a first time CEO, she says it’s primarily gaining the experience, and demonstrating an ability to deliver that is most important for those who want to be leaders. She encourages women to have knowledge about the moving parts of an organization, seek diversity in their skills, and have accountability for the results of others.

Marcum says many women leaders have paved the way for women in the last 10-20 years. “Our kudos to them for banging their heads against the proverbial glass ceiling,” Marcum said. She says women have as much, if not more opportunity today then maybe decades ago. Marcum doesn’t believe there is an intentional glass ceiling. “I don’t think companies are putting in mechanisms to prevent women from rising,” she said. “I think organizations are looking for individuals that can rise and break through any barrier.”

Vivian Liu, CEO of NexMed (NEXM) says in spite of the opportunities, there still aren’t very many women in senior, executive, or board room positions. “I think gender may still play a role; the glass ceiling may still exist and prevent women from reaching the top,” she said. Still, Liu is optimistic the day will come when being a man or woman won’t be an issue. Liu herself stepped into her position from being the CFO when the founding CEO of the company stepped down. “Under normal circumstances, I probably wouldn’t have gotten the position, but because of my knowledge I was considered the best candidate going forward,” she said.

Liu would like to see more women in leadership positions. “We are good leaders, rational decision makers, and we have a collaborative leadership style,” she said. “We tend to appreciate differences.”

Balancing family with work may be one of the greatest challenges facing working women, and may contribute to the number of women entering high powered leadership positions. Women may opt for less challenging positions because they feel like they have to choose between raising a family and pursuing a career.

Liu said balancing work and family challenges women more than men workers. “Women tend to have to juggle more responsibilities, which might ultimately be a glass ceiling of sorts,” she said. But she says the work place is changing favorably for women and some employers are promoting telecommuting and permitting flexibility in hours as long as the job gets done.

Liu says she knows how hard it can be for working women because at one point, she balanced her own career and family. As part of the juggling act, she was married to her job early on and decided to have a child later in life. Still, she is one of the lucky women with strong family support. When she has to travel or work long hours, she knows her daughter is in good hands.

Liu stresses that as employers become more responsive to the needs of their female workers by creating day care on site, permitting telecommuting, and focusing more on results instead of clocking hours, women will advance in their careers faster.

Dr. Elizabeth Posillico, CEO of Elusys Therapeutics, Inc. agrees there aren’t as many women as men in leadership positions, and while the opportunities have increased, a lot of women just don’t choose those positions.

Posillico worked her way up the ladder after working in the life sciences for over 20 years. Starting out as a R&D manager, and gaining broad experience in other facets of the company including marketing and sales, she eventually became Vice President at Genzyme after about 10 years. She has been in senior management positions ever since.

Posillico pursued her PhD before having kids, but when she ultimately did start a family, she took a lot of time. “I didn’t think I was sacrificing my family and I didn’t think I was sacrificing my career,” she said. “Once you get into it, there is a way to find balance and find it rewarding,” she said.

Posillico says if women feel they are being pigeon-holed, they have to take the initiative to “try something new or take an opportunity that someone else doesn’t want—that’s a way to get a promotion,” she says. “Build friendships with people and show you can be counted on, get out and keep going. If you want it enough, you will get it.”

Posillico says there is often a compensation difference between men and women and suggests women work their way through that by demonstrating they do qualify for higher compensation. A lot of it has to do with women starting off by accepting lower salaries. She says women should negotiate for a slightly higher salary when they first join a company.

In the end, Posillico says women have to be able to work with men, “You have to show you can compete, do what you can do, and show people what you are good at, get along with people, make friendships, go the extra distance, don’t whine, and don’t think about the gender thing,” she advises.

Organizers of the NGBL conference are hoping to have about 40 participants this year. The registration fee for the conference is $4,975 inclusive of hotel, materials, meals, and instruction. Last minute registrants can be accommodated. The deadline for registering has been extended until January 9, 2009.

For more information about NGBL, contact Diana Bartlett at diana.bartlett@kgi.edu or Iris Marchaj, director of Smith College Executive Education for Women, at imarchaj@smith.edu.

Read at BioSpace.com

 
 

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