JPM17: A Year Later, Alison Arter Sees Progress with Women in Bio Boardroom Ready Program

Published: Jan 09, 2017

JPM17: A Year Later, Alison Arter Sees Progress with Women in Bio Boardroom Ready Program January 9, 2017
By Alex Keown, Breaking News Staff

Alison Arter, president of biotech consulting firm Apted, Baer & Clark, sees the Women in Bio Boardroom Ready program as an important first step in creating diversity on biotech corporate boards of directors.

Arter was one of 20 women participating in the inaugural class of the program, which has a goal of getting each participant a spot on a biotech board. It’s a goal that for some has been long coming.

“The way boards have been put together in years past, you have people with a lot of similar backgrounds and skills. There’s been a lot of changes in the commercial environment, that it seems strange to not have a diversity of view to help drive the strategy of a company,” Arter said. “This is a first step. This is an important step.”

One of the most striking experiences during the multi-day training program was an apology issued by Michael Rice for a LifeSci Advisors networking party during the J.P. Morgan conference in San Francisco a year ago January that included a number of women in scantily-clad dresses hired to mingle with the mostly male executives who attended the party. The hired women sparked a firestorm of outrage from female biotech and pharma leaders who sent a letter to Rice condemning the practice. The letter caused Rice to reassess and in turn call for greater diversity in the boardroom and C-suite levels.

During the program training, Rice addressed the issues raised by the party and offered what Arter described as his “sincere apologies.”

“I felt he put a lot of time and effort into understanding from a woman’s point of view why there was such a backlash,” Arter said. “I think he’s sincerely spending time and energy to get the Boardroom Ready program off the ground and he helped line up a lot of the supporters of the program. All of that’s going to have a great benefit.”

Not only did Rice become a driving force for the Boardroom Ready program, but Arter said he has used his own social capital to become a catalyst for change in boardroom diversity. She said Rice has personally called upon his contacts in board positions to advance the conversation—and in some cases has met with resistance.

When Rice expressed his own frustrations about the difficulties he had encountered while attempting to drive change among his friends and contacts in the life sciences industry is when Arter said she knew he was making a sincere effort.

It’s just that kind of effort to shake things up in board rooms that drew Arter to the Boardroom Ready program. She applied because a board position, to her, was a logical choice in her career path. “I have all the skill sets and competencies for the boardroom. When I saw they were going to have the program, I thought it was a good way to validate my skills,” Arter said. With the skills gained from a long career, as well as those learned in the Boardroom Ready program, Arter said she’s looking forward to an opportunity to serve on a board—but it could take time to find that opportunity.

“One of the general hurdles will be learning about potential board openings,” she said.

But, Arter added that the program created a broader network for the participants, which will help alleviate some of those concerns.

“There were hands-on workshops about networks and how to use them. There was also training about how to use publicly available material from the SEC to identify boards that will have openings coming up,” she said. “There was also advice from various folks about how to actually approach companies and third parties about possible board openings.”

Following the final session of the inaugural Boardroom Ready program, Arter said she planned to go through her personal network and see if she already has any board connections. If so, Arter said she wanted to let them know she was interested and qualified to serve on a board of directors.

“I’m not only going to let them know about me, but the 19 other women who took part in the Boardroom Ready program and who have the credentials,” Arter said. “This was a well-run program and it seems to have the momentum in helping more women get on boards. But, it will be up to each participant as an individual to follow through on the resources we’ve been given.”

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