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“Real Opportunity” to Boost Diversity in Biotech

June 7, 2018

The Biotechnology Innovation Organization has set a goal for its member companies to have 50% gender diversity in the C-suite and 30% gender diversity at the board level by 2025. How to achieve that - and other forms of needed diversity at biotech’s upper ranks - was the subject of an interactive discussion between BIO workplace development, diversity, and inclusion (WDDI) committee chairwoman and Halozyme CEO Helen Torley and Chair of BIO’s Board of Directors and Alnylam Pharmaceuticals CEO John Maraganore during yesterday’s fireside chat.

The two executives discussed the organization’s commitment to diversity and measuring its progress toward more inclusive representation, and the best ways to achieve its goals. “We all agree that having the broadest range of ideas and experiences is the best way to succeed as a business,” said Maraganore. “That’s why diversity becomes so important, and we have a real opportunity as an industry to do something fundamentally different.”

The conversation featured considerable input from the audience, and debate around the reasons for a drop-off in equal representation at the VP level in many biotech companies, the virtues of women-only talent pools and recruitment initiatives, how to attract and retain diverse talent, and how to measure progress toward the organization’s goals.

Turley pointed out that while the biotech industry has improved, there’s still a ways to go, and that at the international convention there are 18 all-male panels. “Of course there are qualified women but the challenge we have is that they’re not always part of the networks, and it can be hard to reach them,” she said. The statistic prompted Maraganore to pledge never to sit on an all-male panel for the rest of his career.

Maraganore noted it was sometimes harder to be quantitative about other forms of inclusion. But “we can measure gender diversity,” he said. In the language of clinical trial design he pointed out that “we can use it as a surrogate endpoint around this important dimension.” Meanwhile, investors are waking up to the value diversity brings to businesses, said Maraganore, a phenomenon that could create a ‘push’ in the system as limited partners in venture capital funds and institutional investors begin to demand more inclusive management teams and boards.

Hurdles remain for boosting inclusion. Attracting diverse talent to boards can be difficult if these candidates aren’t part of established networks, pointed out Turley, but BIO’s WDDI committee is working to establish a virtual network of diverse board-ready candidates. “The statistics around the lack of adequate diversity in our industry are striking,” said Maraganore, as are the clear benefits of inclusiveness from a cultural and business perspective. “We have to be explicit about seeking diversity if we want to change,” he said.