JPM17: One Year after ‘The Party,’ Michael Rice, LifeSci Advisors Spearhead Gender Diversity in Life Sciences

JPM17: One Year after ‘The Party,’ Michael Rice, LifeSci Advisors Spearhead Gender Diversity in Life Sciences January 9, 2017
By Alex Keown, Breaking News Staff

SAN FRANCISCO – For Michael Rice, a founding partner of LifeSci Advisors, 2016 was a year of tremendous personal growth—growth brought on in part by public outcry.

For Rice the outcry and anger began during the J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference in January 2016. LifeSci Advisors was the sponsor of a party that hired a number of “scantily-clad” women to mingle with the primarily male attendees. That party prompted a number of female executives to send an open letter condemning the party and treating the hired models as nothing more than “chattel.” The open letter sparked dozens of stories about the party and the lack of women in executive positions in the biotech industry.

At first, Rice said he did not understand why the party sparked an outcry and why more than 230 women signees of the letter were so upset.

“I just didn’t get it. I wasn’t educated,” Rice said in an exclusive telephone interview with BioSpace.

But instead of dismissing the criticisms, Rice picked up the telephone and called Kate Bingham, managing partner of SV Life Sciences Advisers LLP, who was one of the principal writers of the letter. He offered to fly to London where she was at the time to meet, but she had planned a trip to New York and agreed to meet him there. The two set a meeting and Rice went in with an open mind and a willingness to listen to honest criticism.

It was a meeting that forced Rice to take a good look at the industry and see how women were under represented in leadership roles.

“This was an awakening. I hadn’t been paying attention,” Rice said. “But, there’s an issue and there needs to be people who do something about it.”

Since then, Rice and LifeSci Advisors have become agents of change and leading voices in pushing diversity in leadership positions. Rice credited Bingham for her leadership and guidance in his journey of understanding. Over the past year LifeSci Advisors has supported multiple programs that encourage women in science, as well as launching their own Board Placement Initiative, which connects highly competent female candidates with life sciences companies that have open board seats. Rice said LifeSci Advisors has vetted more than 500 resumes from women executives and is touting their accomplishments to companies that may have board openings. The women executives are “beyond qualified” in the areas of life science regulatory issues, business development, clinical development, finance and others, Rice said.

To date the initiative has placed five women on boards since it was launched in the autumn. Rice and LifeSci Advisors also served as sponsors of the Women in Bio Boardroom Ready program. That program has a similar mission to the LifeSci Advisors initiative, which is placing more women on life science company boards of directors.

Rice addressed the 20 women who participated in the Boardroom Ready program and talked about his newfound understanding, as well as his personal goals in driving diversity. Alison Arter, president of Apted, Baer & Clark, was one of the women involved in the program and praised Rice for his candid talk. In an interview with BioSpace, Arter said Rice “used his own social capital to become a catalyst for change in boardroom diversity.”

Rice said the initiatives LifeSci Advisors has taken are something the company will be part of for a long time.

“It’s not easy to admit you were wrong and made a mistake. It’s what we do once we make those mistakes. It’s what we learn, how we address those mistakes where we can make a difference,” Rice said. “The only agenda I have is to do the right thing.”

This week Rice has returned to San Francisco and the J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference with a different frame of reference. He is meeting with clients and other industry leaders and discussing the initiatives LifeSci Advisors has backed. Rice said he will also have on hand the resumes of the women who are available for boardroom positions. “I want to go to the events (at the conference) and let people know what we’re doing. I want to keep the momentum going,” he said.

Rice said LifeSci Advisors plans to unveil some new initiatives later in 2017, but would not divulge any details. With new initiatives, Rice and LifeSci Advisors will continue to be drivers in encouraging greater gender diversity in the life sciences industry.

“We want to do the right thing and we’re not going to let this momentum stop,” Rice said.

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