Embarrassed by "Sexist" Biotech Party, LifeSci Promotes Gender Equality, Hires More Women

Published: Apr 18, 2016

Embarrassed by
April 18, 2016
By Alex Keown, BioSpace.com Breaking News Staff

NEW YORK – Coming off criticism of scantily clad models hired to attend an industry event in San Francisco earlier this year, LifeSci Advisors, an investor relations group, said it plans to add women to its staff and advance gender diversity in the pharmaceutical industry.

On Friday the company announced a partnership with Women in Bio and Girls Inc. of New York City to provide mentorship and advancement programs for women and girls in the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) fields, created an advisory board of industry leaders on gender diversity, doubled its internal female workforce and taken additional steps to become change agents in increasing gender diversity in the life sciences industry. Internally, LifeSci has more than doubled the number of women working on its staff, the company said.

The new development comes on the heels of criticism the company received about the women it hired to provide balance to the number of men attending a party during the J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference in January.

The event raised the hackles of many female executives and sparked a letter condemning the practice of hiring models for the party. In February, an open letter signed by more than 230 industry leaders equated the hiring of models for the party as believing women were nothing more than “chattel.”

According to one person who was there, “There were a lot of young women in their early 20s in the shortest dresses I've ever seen who were obviously not part of the biotech crowd. It was just degrading. And there were all these men getting really drunk. I want to talk to people and have a professional conversation, but I just didn't want to stay. It was just gross,” the letter said.

LifeSci apologized for the incident, calling the hiring of the models a “serious mistake” and pledged to undertake a series of initiatives to address “systemic issues” that include the “lack of women in management and leadership positions, the lack of mentors and professional development networks for women that are necessary to cultivate future leaders in our industry and the underrepresentation of girls in STEM programs.”

Women occupy only 20 of 112 senior management roles at the 10 highest-valued companies in the pharma and biotech industry, Bloomberg said. In startups the numbers are better, but not by much. Of the top 10 biotech startups that raised the most money in 2014, only 19 percent of top executives were female and only 8 percent of board members were female, Bloomberg reported.

On Friday Michael Rice, founding partner of LifeSci Advisors, said the firm has a “unique opportunity to achieve a positive and lasting impact on an important issue that both our firm and other companies in the life sciences field have largely ignored: the cultivation, promotion and advancement of qualified women leaders in our businesses.”

LifeSci met with the authors of the critical letter, Kate Bingham, a managing partner of SV Life Sciences, and “BioCentury” co-founder Karen Bernstein, to discuss its proposed initiatives. Among its proposed initiatives, LifeSci said it will support a STEM program for girls in New York City through Girls Inc. of New York City, and also support the Silicon Valley Watermark Conference for Women, which is dedicated to professional and personal development for female executives.

Additionally, LifeSci created an advisory board on gender diversity to counsel the company on “an on-going basis in support of its goal of empowering women throughout the life sciences industry.” Members of this board include Knightsbridge Advisers Managing Principal Barbara Piette, Stem for Life Foundation Founder Robin Smith, Renee Gala, chief financial officer of Theravance Biopharma and Annalisa Jenkins, president and CEO of Dimension Therapeutics .

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