JPM: 100 biopharma execs take gender-diversity pledge

More than 100 biopharma leaders have signed an open letter advocating for the adoption of 10 best practices to increase gender diversity in the industry. Publication of the list, which was signed by people from Big Pharma, biotech and venture capital, comes one year after the hiring of models to attend a party at the J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference sparked protests and soul searching in the industry.

In the wake of that storm, trade association MassBio set about drafting lists of guiding principles and best practices and getting biopharma executives to commit to them. The result is a letter that commits executives from companies including AbbVie, Sanofi and LifeSci Advisors—the financial firm that held last year’s infamous party—to taking steps to improve the gender diversity of their organizations and address the unconscious biases that hinder the process.

Some of the commitments are potentially important but intangible, such as declarations that gender diversity is a priority. But others tie the signatories to making concrete changes to how they run their businesses. One of the best practices is a commitment to reviewing hiring practices and training hiring managers on diversity. Another ties the signatories to measuring and tracking the promotion of women to senior management positions.

Commitments to providing formal mentorship and sponsorship programs are similarly forthright, but some of the other best practices give signatories room to eschew changing their practices while still signalling their commitment to diversity. Notably, rather than committing to setting concrete hiring goals to achieve gender parity, the signatories “agree with the importance” of this practice.

Even so, the best practices represent a step forward for an industry that has so far fallen well short of having an even mix of men and women in senior positions. An oft-cited Liftstream report found men outnumber women in biopharma boardrooms by 10 to one. More than half of all boards have no women.

One of the commitments made by the signatories is aimed directly at this problem: “We will ask our board members to be active sponsors of women who are 'board ready' to pursue board appointments. We will endorse and sponsor our high potential female talent to take part in training programs to become 'boardroom ready,'” the signatories state in the letter.