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WIB Executive Roundtable at BIO 2015 – Discussing Strategies for Advancement of Women in the Life Sciences

          by Kristi Sarno

Roundtable Discussion 3

When women’s groups gather at a large conference, such as the BIO International Convention, the talk often drifts to the lack of women at the executive management and board level. Many folks who hear this statement often wonder, “Why is this even an issue? I know a female CEO.” Some may speculate that perhaps there aren’t enough women who want to be in those positions. Yet speculations and vague anecdotal recollections do not tell the whole story. At the executive roundtable hosted by Women In Bio, moderated by Susan Windham-Bannister, former head of the Massachusetts Life Science Center, the conversation started with the facts.

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According to a Liftstream survey on biotechnology leadership, greater than 50% of biotech companies in Europe and the US have all male boards, and women make up less than 25% of the leadership teams in both regions. Additionally, boardroom aspirations of women and men are nearly identical, yet women are much less likely to be contacted about board positions, or even speaking roles at industry conferences.

Roundtable Discussion 1

How can women’s organizations like Women In Bio help their colleagues bring attention to these issues, in order to reach the goal of a 50% gender split in senior management and boardrooms? As participants enjoyed the hospitality and lunch provided by Saul Ewing, three categories of solutions were proposed, facilitated by Susan and panelists Debra Bowes, CBO of CapGenesis Pharmaceuticals, Renee Connolly, Head of Communications at EMD Millipore, and Louise Duffy, Head of the Biopharmaceutical Supply Chain for GSK’s Global Manufacturing and Supply Organization.

Roundtable Discussion 2

The first area of improvement discussed was how women can help themselves, by improving their own skill sets, learning how to ask for what they need, and how to frame decisions and solutions in a business context. The second area of improvement was to use the resources available at each woman’s employer, including internal women’s groups, mentors and internal champions, and taking advantage of management training when it is offered. The third area discussed was to build a network of resources and solutions outside your own company, including coaches and external mentors, both women and men, and by learning how to give back to the women at an earlier stage of their career, by passing on knowledge and tips of their own.

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The group was tasked with completing some action items as they returned to their daily working life. Each participant was asked to identify one woman within their own organization to offer their support and guidance over the next few months, even if that support was in the form of simple encouragement. Others left with renewed enthusiasm for joining or even starting their own resource groups, including Women In Bio. It will be interesting to see how these conversations have evolved when we meet again at next year’s BIO convention.

Read more about our full events at BIO 2015 here.