BOSTON — Biotech leaders acknowledge the industry has a ways to go to promote women and other groups not traditionally represented at the top.
But they say they're trying.
"I've always believed [diversity] is important, but I think what has really come to a head is the some of the data and statistics about the lack of diversity in our industry, which I think are striking. Then I think also the current political environment, which is one that focuses on exclusion, is for me unacceptable. We as leaders, and companies, and society have to promote inclusion," Alnylam Pharmaceuticals CEO John Maraganore said during a discussion at the convention.
The biotech and pharma industry is traditionally made up of white men, despite a broad array of diverse candidates majoring in the sciences and working in labs. Yet, as candidates move up the ranks, women, in particular, tend to drop out of the workforce. The conversation around gender diversity has gained momentum in the last few years. A social event at the J.P. Morgan Healthcare conference three years ago that included paid models brought the conversation to the forefront of the industry. Now organizations like BIO and others are trying to make women an equal part of the industry leadership.
Today in biotech, only 20% of C-suite and functional leadership are women, noted Helen Torley, CEO of Halozyme Therapeutics, during the discussion. Both Torley and Maraganore are looking to expand diversity within the industry – Alnylam currently boasts a mix of 40% diversity within its leadership ranks.
"As an industry [we] are developing medicines to treat a broad range of diseases, many of which are global diseases, and many which afflict people of great diversity. Our patients are diverse by definition – diverse in race, diverse in gender, diverse in orientation. There is that diversity in the customer that we are addressing. So not to have a diverse organization that meets the needs of the customer or takes that perspective is wrong," he added.
The conversation highlighted the gender diversity at the conference itself — and lack of it.
BIO had 18 "manels," or panels that were only men. Torley pointed out that the problem isn't a lack of qualified women, but that the women don't have the same networks as many of their male counterparts.
As part of solving that challenge, BIO is creating a database of potential candidates for boards, so that more women and other candidates of diversity will be called out as eligible for these positions. Torley highlighted her own experience as a female CEO, noting she hired a Navy seal coach to help her develop the confidence and presence she needed as a CEO to "be in the room" with many of her male counterparts and have the conversations needed to run her own business successfully.
"There's no doubt the talent is there," added Maraganore.
In the last couple of years, the industry group BIO launched the Workforce Development, Diversity and Inclusion committee aimed at encouraging workplace diversity.
Maraganore is chair of the board for the BIO organization and Torley serves as a member of the Health Section Governing Board of BIO. Both executives are working to change the diversity makeup of the industry, particularly at the board level. "We have to make it make business sense," said Torley, who has been struggling with balancing diversity with the strategic fit of Halozyme's board.
Like BIO, Alnylam has its own committee that focuses on creating a more diverse workplace. "At the end of the day, we all know that diversity means everyone," said Maraganore.