Women in Biotech Underrepresented on Boards of Directors Across the Bay Area

Women Executives

The proverbial glass ceiling for women in biotech has some cracks but it may not yet have shattered – particularly in the Bay Area hotbed.

A recent survey conducted by the San Francisco Business Times indicates there is still a “glaring gender divide” that includes “blatant sexism, subtle verbal slights and stunted career growth.” Sadly that’s a story that’s become quite familiar to the biotech industry over the past several years. The issue came to a head two years ago during an infamous industry party at the J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference that featured models in tight dresses.

Some headway has been made through new platforms like the Boardroom Ready program sponsored by LifeSci Advisors (the sponsors of the infamous party who have made strides to correct past mistakes) and the nonprofit organization Women in Bio. The Boardroom Ready program is an intensive training program that seeks to place more women on life science company boards of directors. In the two years since the Boardroom Ready program was launched 40 women have gone through and less than 15 have found positions on board of directors. Additionally, LifeSci Advisors launched its own Board Placement Initiative, which connects highly competent female candidates with life sciences companies that have open board seats.

In its survey of the 20 largest biotech companies in the Bay Area the Business Times reported that 86 percent of boards of director seats were held by men. That’s compared to the 80 percent average across the S&P 500, the Business Times said. Of those 20 biotech companies, one-fourth had no women in director positions. Those companies include Genentech, FibroGen, Nektar Therapeutics, Boehringer Ingelheim and NGM Biopharmaceuticals. The Business Times noted that while Genentech’s board may be all male “women hold 40 percent of positions within the executive ranks and are accounted for in 50 percent of officer succession plans.”

Women who have risen to some of the highest c-suite ranks in the Bay Area continue to run into classic “boys club” behavior. In its report the Business Times talked with Karin Lachmi, founder and chief scientific officer of life science search engine developer Bioz, who shared some of the negative behavior she has experienced, including being asked to go into a hot tub with a male investor and another who asked her to kiss him.

The number of females serving on boards of directors in the Bay Area may be small, but the Business Times noted it’s still higher than the biotech hotbed of the Bay State. Citing a report by MassBio less than 15 percent of board seats are held by women, the Business Times reported.

While women are underrepresented in biotech boardrooms finding a solution to creating more diverse boards is proving to be difficult.

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