This year will be the year of the executive woman in biotech, no doubt about it. At least you’d think so based solely on the level of industry indignation after a certain biotech advisory firm was publicly outed last year for hiring female models to work the room at a party held at the annual industry fete that is the J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference.
After such a vigorous public flogging, surely the industry will be motivated to rightly recognize female business and scientific professionals in its midst? Mmmm, maybe. But my guess is that until we see less outrage and more shifts in corporate culture, all the public flogging about improving the stature of women in biotech and tech will be only that.
One obvious change women could make themselves to improve their lot as executives--get better at faking it at work. Women consistently get dinged, in perception and actuality, for being too honest about needing work-life balance.
A mother might ask for a flexible schedule or to reduce travel time to better meet the needs of her family, thereby garnering disapproval for a lack of commitment. Whereas a father might make similar adjustments in order to meet family needs, but likely more surreptitiously. Both strategies can effectively cut back on outlandish work hours, but a typically feminine approach is perceived negatively in the workplace.
That was the conclusion of my current favorite New York Times diatribe on studies about gender disparity in the workplace. Another top one cites the need for women to wear red lipstick to be taken seriously.
Women are in the largely unenviable--and somewhat clichéd--position of having it all.
We usually get the traditionally feminine things by default--every social gathering pulled together, bake-sale participated in, provision of care for aging parents, and the list goes on. In short, it's all the everyday minutiae that ensures that families survive and thrive--and often the very essence of what gives life its flourish--that increasingly no one, including women themselves, has the time to do.
In the context of all of this, women are competing in the workplace at higher and higher levels, breaking new ground all the time. This is seen clearly in this year's presidential election.
And although gender parity has been achieved when it comes to, for example, rates of earning a bachelor’s degree or even a law degree, it’s still not clear how and when these shifts will translate into the laboratory or the boardroom. Women account for roughly one out of 5 corporate board members, a depressing enough figure. But they also hold fewer than 5% of the CEO spots for S&P 500-listed companies.
Women executives sometimes cringe at these “Top Women” lists. I’ve heard grumbling about their very existence and even had some outright refusals to participate.
Still, we just can’t help it. We all want to know. How have you become successful against some very long odds?
To that end, please offer your nomination for the Top Women in Biopharma. We want to be inspired. Make us believe that being the best in biopharma is achievable regardless of gender.
Nominations are due by mid-August.