JPM17: Boardroom Ready Program Prepares 20 Women for Spots on Biotech Corporate Boards

Published: Jan 09, 2017

JPM17: Boardroom Ready Program Prepares 20 Women for Spots on Biotech Corporate Boards January 9, 2017
By Alex Keown, Breaking News Staff

SAN FRANCISCO – The makeup of biotech corporate boardrooms could begin to change to include more women members—that’s the goal of the recently completed inaugural Women in Bio Boardroom Ready program that featured 20 women executives from the pharma and biotech industries.

So far, at least one of the graduates of the program have won a spot on a board. Cynthia Smith, chief commercial officer of ZS Pharma , a subsidiary of AstraZeneca , joined the board of directors of Nivalis Therapeutics late last year.

In addition to Smith, BioSpace spoke with four of the participants in the Boardroom Ready program who shared their experiences and their motivations to take part in the certified training process. Each of the women leaders underwent intensive training in the five-day period. While Smith may be the first classmate to find a spot on a board, the others believe the program’s plan to place each of the 20 women on a board within a year will be met.

More than 70 female executives applied to participate in the program and the first 20 class-members were selected following an in-depth review of the applications.

Women occupy only 20 of 112 senior management roles at the 10 highest-valued companies in the pharma and biotech industry, Bloomberg reported earlier this year. At 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.

The program provided training for the duties board members typically deal with, including fiduciary responsibility, corporate governance, investor relations, legal liability, corporate strategy and risk management. In addition to the coursework, the 20 women were paired with mentors who provided insight into board selection processes, as well as additional networking tips.

Women in Bio’s Boardroom Ready program followed the lead of Biogen’s Raising the Bar initiative to help drive diversity on boards.

While the first class has now ended, Women in Bio said the Boardroom Ready program will become an annual curriculum to continue the push for life sciences board diversity.

The success of the inaugural program follows the heartfelt mea culpa of Michael Rice, founding partner of LifeSci Advisors, a life sciences investor relations consulting firm. Rice’s organization was roundly criticized a year ago for hosting an industry event in San Francisco during the J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference that featured scantily clad models. 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.” Part of that apology resulted in partnering with Women in Bio on the Boardroom Ready program.

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