BIO Calls for Increased Gender Diversity in Leadership Posts of Member Companies


After negative reports about after-hours parties that have been deemed disrespectful toward women, and multiple reports about the lack of gender diversity on industry boards of directors, biotech’s biggest trade association is taking action.

Multiple outlets are reporting that BIO (Biotechnology Innovation Organization) issued a letter to its member companies this week demanding companies achieve gender diversity on its boards of directors within the next six years and also put an end to post-BIO-event parties that could be deemed sexist or misogynistic. In the letter, as reported, BIO is calling for member companies to raise female representation at the senior management and leadership level to 50 percent by 2025. That’s been bumped up from current levels of 25 percent, FiercePharma reported. BIO is also demanding that board of directors have at least 30 percent female representation. Current levels are about 10 percent, according to the report.

If those goals are not met or if salacious parties continue to be held, BIO said there could be consequences, including a loss of membership within the organization, according to the report. In the letter, which was signed by BIO Chief Executive Officer Jim Greenwood, Chairman John Maraganore, who is the CEO of Alnylam, and Helen Torley, CEO of Halozyme and chairperson of BIO’s workforce development committee, BIO calls for members to “embrace equality and inclusiveness, confront unconscious bias, and address sexist biases in all aspects of the biotechnology ecosystem.”

Over the past two years, the industry has been red-faced over reports from two after-event parties that were deemed disrespectful to women. The infamous 2016 party at the J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference in San Francisco and this past year’s post-BIO function, the annual Party at Bio Not Associated with Bio (PABNAB). That party included topless dancers who were covered in body-paint that featured the logos of some sponsoring companies.

BIO’s Greenwood also criticized that party this summer. He said the party did not “reflect the values of this industry, BIO or the event’s sponsors.”

“At a time when our industry and BIO are determined to come together to embrace equality, confront unconscious bias, and condemn sexist attitudes, this event – which is independent of BIO – showed lack of awareness and sensitivity,” Greenwood said in his statement.

The backlash against the 2016 J.P. Morgan party served as a call to action for many within the industry to promote gender diversity, including the sponsors of that party, LifeSci Advisors, which has since done an about-face and is leading the charge to bring more women onto boards of directors. They’re not the only ones making the same call. Earlier this year, David Lucchino, CEO of Woburn, Mass.-based Frequency Therapeutics, called for greater diversity prior to being named the chairman of MassBio (Massachusetts Biotechnology Council). He pointed to the organization’s ability to lead the charge for change in the state’s life sciences sector, BioSpace reported earlier this year. Lucchino’s words followed MassBio’s 2017 open letter to the biopharma community calling for greater diversity. In that letter, the organization said having a more diverse leadership team will provide better decision making, increase productivity and financial performance and assist with recruiting and retention of talent.

There are other biotech hubs like the Boston-area that are also pointing to a lack of women on board. Earlier this year, a survey conducted in the Bay Area by the San Francisco Business Times indicated there is still a “glaring divide” when it comes to gender diversity. The survey showed that 86 percent of boards of director seats at the 20 largest biotech companies in the Bay Area were held by men. 

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