Female Execs Livid by Report Models Were Invited to Liven Up Biotech Bash

Female Execs Livid by Report Models Were Invited to Liven Up Biotech Bash
January 20, 2016
By Alex Keown, BioSpace.com Breaking News Staff

SAN FRANCISCO – A decision to hire women to attend a party during the J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference in order to provide “balance” to the number of males attending, has raised the ire of some female biotech leaders, the Phoenix Business Journal reported this morning.

According to the report, female biotech executives and scientists said they were offended by LifeSci Partners LLC's party held during the conference last week. Magda Marquet, co-founder and co-chairwoman of Althea Inc. in San Diego, told the Journal that she was “shocked” at the women hired to attend the party, however, she noted the reason for the models was the lack of representation of women at high levels in the pharmaceutical industry.

"If we were out there, they wouldn't have to replace us with models. I think we have to find ways to be more present,” Marquet told the Journal.

Likewise, Joan Koerber-Walker, president and CEO of the Arizona BioIndustry Association, told the Journal that women, although making gains in the industry, are “underrepresented in the C-suite.”

Until that balance is achieved, Andrew McDonald, a founding partner with LifeSci Partners LLC, said he will continue to hire models to attend the parties. McDonald told the Journal that of his 70 biotech clients attending the J.P. Morgan conference, there were six C-level women.

“Instead of having it being all male, we said let's bring in some females and try to get it close to balanced. It turned out to be an overwhelming success," McDonald told the Journal.

Still, some female biotech leaders were not impressed. Anna Protopapas, chief executive officer at Mersana Therapeutics Inc. told Bloomberg she opted to attend some women-only events at the conference. She told Bloomberg that the models, clad in short, tight black skirts, was not how women should be portrayed.

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 said.

In April of 2015, Alcon Laboritis Inc., a division of Novartis AG , was slapped with a $110 million gender discrimination lawsuit. In their lawsuit, the two plaintiffs, Elyse Dickerson and Susan Orr, say the company specifically violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits gender discrimination by employers, and the U.S. Equal Pay Act. Both charge they were paid less than their male counterparts and that the company created a boy’s club atmosphere that created a hostile environment for female employees. The plaintiffs say women make up less than 15 percent of leadership positions at Alcon.

The J.P. Morgan Healthcare conference brings pharma and biotech industry leaders together with potential investors each January. This year’s event drew more than 9,000 attendees—the majority male, Bloomberg said. McDonald said this year’s event was the second time he hired female models to balance out the gender in the room. He told media outlets that he received no complaints during the party. McDonald also noted during an event he hosted over the summer he hired male models for an event, but that “didn’t go well.”

LifeSci Partners, LLC is a New York-based consulting practice that provides a range of development services to the pharmaceutical, biotechnology and medical device industries. The company’s principals are pharmaceutical executives specializing in oncology, immune and hormonal disorders, respiratory diseases, metabolic diseases, and hemostatic and coagulation disorders and other therapeutic areas, LSP said on its website. They have played key roles in the development and commercialization of biologics, small molecule therapeutics, radiopharmaceuticals, in vitro diagnostics and medical devices.

Back to news