14 Women Land Board Positions Through Women in Bio, LifeSci Initiatives

14 Women Land Board Positions Through Women in Bio, LifeSci Advisors Initiatives September 15, 2017
By Alex Keown, BioSpace.com Breaking News Staff

NEW YORK – One year after the first class graduated the Women in Bio Boardroom Ready program, it has placed six candidates on the boards of directors of public and private life science companies. An additional eight women have been selected for boards through LifeSci Advisors Board Placement Initiative, which also launched last year.

Now a second round of 20 women are taking part in the boardroom training program in hopes of gaining directors’ seats at life science companies. When the initiative launched last year, organizers hoped all 20 women would be tapped for a board slot somewhere, but as of now only six have been selected. That could change quickly though, said Mike Rice, founding partner of LifeSci Advisors and a friend of the Boardroom Ready program. Although Rice would not confirm any details, he hinted that “more announcements” will be coming soon.

Earlier this year, BioSpace profiled four of the candidates who participated in the first class, including the first participant to be tapped for a board position, Cynthia Smith, chief commercial officer of ZS Pharma . The second class, which includes female executives from companies like Biogen , Bicycle Therapeutics and OncoGenex , is about halfway through the board training program and later this year will begin to seek placements on boards of directors. Although the first class has yet to all secure board positions, Women in Bio and LifeSci Advisors are doing what they can to achieve those goals.

“The women in the first class, as well as the second class, are super-high quality people. There’s no doubt they can fit into any board,” Rice told BioSpace in an exclusive interview.

Rice said he had high hopes that the program would hit the goal of landing all 20 participants spots on boards. However, he’s since learned that there needs to be additional change agents to bring about greater diversity on boards of directors. Rice continues to push the need for gender diversity in life science boards following his own conversion to the cause.

“We need partners, people in the media, people in the industry, to help spread the importance of this,” Rice said. “Board placement programs are great, but we need visibility. At the end of the day, we’re trying to have an impact on our industry.”

In August, Women in Bio put out a national call for corporate board directors to mentor the Boardroom Ready graduates.

Some of those hurdles include finding out what boards are looking for in members. Rice said some are seeking individuals with a strong regulatory background, while others may need clinical guidance. The goal of the BPI, as well as the Boardroom Ready program, is to use the skills the women have gained over their careers to better position them for board roles.

“It’s a bigger challenge than I anticipated. It’s just not something that happens overnight. There’s a mountain to climb,” he said. “Many of the grads have had interviews for board positions, but they’ve not been the right fit. It’s an ongoing process.”

Women occupy only 20 of 112 senior management roles at the 10 highest-valued companies in the pharma and biotech industry. Women in Bio’s Boardroom Ready program sought to change that by providing training for the candidates. Training included duties board members typically deal with, such as fiduciary responsibility, corporate governance, investor relations, legal liability, corporate strategy and risk management.

Rice has come a long way since 2016 when a party his company hosted at the J.P. Morgan Healthcare Summit was criticized by female biotech executives for the number of models hired to mingle with the mostly male guests. After being the target of criticism by a number of ranking female executives, Rice became a change agent of his own and helped with the first Boardroom Ready Program. Additionally, his company launched its own Board Placement Initiative. That initiative, which has created a database of more than 700 female life science executives, including some of the Boardroom Ready graduates, has been used to pair board candidates with companies as well. LifeSci’s BPI, which also launched in 2016, has successfully placed 10 board candidates, which includes two from the Boardroom Ready program.

LifeSci’s BPI is built differently than the Boardroom Ready program, Rice said, although there is a “synergistic” relationship.

Since the first class was completed, Rice said there have been some tweaks to the curriculum to better benefit the current and future participants. He said more case studies are being used in the classroom setting, along with networking training. Many of the first 20 graduates, particularly those six who are already on boards of directors, are also serving as mentees to the current class, Rice said.

“We’re always thinking about ways we can make this more effective and drive the visibility of the program,” Rice said. “I’m constantly interacting with management teams and daily I’m talking about their boards and what they need. It’s all about connecting people. We really want to have an impact here. We’re going to make it happen. Every day we try to make it more impactful.”

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