LifeSci Bosses Apologize for Scantily Clad Women at J.P. Morgan Party After Pharma Execs Issue Letter
February 5, 2016
By Alex Keown, BioSpace.com Breaking News Staff
SAN FRANCISCO – The time for scantily-clad women hired to attend pharmaceutical industry convention parties should come to an end. That’s the message from an open letter signed by more than 230 industry executives.
The letter, authored by Karen Bernstein, chairman of BioCentury Publications, Inc. and Kate Bingham, managing partner of SV Life Sciences Advisers LLP, takes aim at an after-party at the J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference hosted by LifeSci Partners LLC. Bingham and Bernstein 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.
The women were hired to attend the party to provide “balance” to the high number of male attendees, Andrew McDonald, a founding partner at LifeSci partners said in January. After several female executives decried the event, McDonald told the Phoenix Business Journal last month that he would continue to hire the female models until there is a greater balance of men and women attendees. McDonald said of his 70 biotech clients attending the J.P. Morgan conference, there were six C-level women.
However, since the outcry began following the annual conference, McDonald has changed his tune. On Feb. 4, he told BioCentury that LifeSci “made a serious mistake” hiring the models to attend the party.
"We want to apologize to our female and male colleagues throughout the biotech and bioscience industries. In addition, the open letter that Kate Bingham and Karen Bernstein wrote this week has had a positive impact on us and on our industry,” McDonald told BioCentury.
With its change of attitude, McDonald said LifeSci will 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.”
Following McDonald’s announcement, Bingham praised the fostering effort proposed by LifeSci, BioCentury reported.
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.
Possibly as a result of women only making a small percentage of pharma executives, there have been a few lawsuits and claims of sexism. Elizabeth Holmes, the embattled chief executive officer of blood-testing company Theranos said she bristles at being consistently referred to as a “young woman” in many news reports despite founding a company that has a value of approximately $9 billion. Holmes, who founded her company when she was 19, is well known for wearing an all-black ensemble of slacks and a turtleneck, much like the now deceased Apple visionary Steve Jobs, in order to have people focus on her and what she was saying about her product rather than what she was wearing.
In March of 2015, Alcon Laboratories 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.