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“Diverse Candidates Can Win If They Can Get the Interview.”

October 18, 2017
Diversity is gaining more attention among biotech investors and companies alike. At entry level, 50% of workers are female, but by the functional leader stage, that number tapers off to 30% and continues to fall to 16% at the CEO level. Ethnic representation in executive roles is just as bleak. As an industry, leadership that is more reflective of the people it serves will drive innovation and produce better business results. The #BIF17 Business Panel, “Practical Approaches for Improving Leadership Diversity” tackled the issue and discussed ideas for getting diverse candidates prepared for the C suite. The panel was moderated by Helen Torley, President and CEO of Halozyme, who leads BIO’s Workforce Development, Diversity, and Inclusion Committee. Panelist included:

  • Sabrina Martucci Johnson, Chief Executive Officer and Founder, Daré Bioscience, Inc.

  • Nina Kjellson, General Partner, Canaan Partners

  • Ted W. Love, MD, Chief Executive Officer, Global Blood Therapeutics

  • Robin Toft, President & CEO, Toft Group Executive Search

The panel focused on two key themes—mentorship and sponsorship. Women and minorities in leadership roles need to help others get through the door. The women on the panel recommended that successful women should support, guide, and motivate other women. Young women and girls should be encouraged to strive for the CEO position, not just CFO or COO. The same goes for minority leaders and minority youth. Everyone must think about how culture, policies, and workplace norms can be conducive to the advancement of diverse candidates. In many cases, organizations are unaware of the benefits of being intentional—a key to building diversity.

An organization must create policies that reward performance and recognize potential. This might mean redefining position profiles differently than the way they’ve historically been done. Current leaders must say, “Diversity is a quality we need” and be sure everyone knows it. These ideas must be infused into a company culture. Dr. Ted W. Love, CEO of Global Blood Therapeutics, has found success in his organization by “thinking outside of the box”. If the only way to be CEO is by being nominated by the board, and the board is full of white men, there will never be sufficient progress. Choose “non-traditional” people for the board, even if they are outside of the industry. Choose someone who has held immense leadership positions, and has demonstrated experience in creating diversity and working with women and minorities.

Women and minorities are also lacking within the board network. Nina Kjellson, General Partner at Canaan Partners, gave two recommendations for ensuring the ability to diversify a board. The first is term limits which give flexibility and the opportunity for change overtime. The second is writing diversity and inclusion into term sheets. Investors have begun to pay more attention and score companies based on their governance. Investors must step-up themselves and be committed to backing female-founded and female run companies. Discussion about diversity should begin at the seed-investment stage. Ask questions about how the company envisions the board evolving and have dialogue about expectations.

Finally, an organization must hold itself accountable. Report on diversity statistics to see where there has been improvement, and where there is still room to grow. Diversity begets diversity. The first is hard, the second is a little easier, and so on. Companies with more diverse leadership have the potential for greater success because a team who has interchange and different ideas will be better at innovating new products.
“Diverse candidates can win if they can get the interview.”
Robin Toft, President & CEO, Toft Executive Search