OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAEarlier this month Liftstream published their report into gender diversity in the biotech sector, ‘Diversifying the Outlook – The X&Y of Biotechnology Leadership’. The report highlighted the gender imbalance within the sector, with ten men for every woman present in biotech boardrooms. Here, Karl Simpson, CEO Liftstream, provides more detail behind the findings of the research.

In the biotechnology sector on both sides of the Atlantic, the theme of executive leadership and board members is very much in focus. This was amplified at the recent BIA UK Bioscience Forum where Andrew Ward, Pharma Correspondent at the Financial Times, chaired a very interesting discussion which drew specific commentary from an illustrious panel of industry leaders about the challenges accessing the right skills and experience in the UK.

At Liftstream we’ve been doing some deeper analysis around this biotech leadership landscape. Our approach was to firstly do an assessment of what the executive teams and boards of biotech looked like today. We analysed 1491 companies across the European market as well as the prominent bio-clusters of the Bay Area and Boston. In looking at the companies, we saw statistical evidence which supported our assumption that women leaders are strongly under-represented in small and medium biotechs. FTSE 100 companies now have 23% female representation at board level, and no companies with all-male boards, while FTSE 250 companies have only 28 companies with all-male boards, so the biotech sector is trailing behind UK’s leading businesses in achieving improved gender balance.

In Europe, our analysis showed that 59.9% of biotech SMEs have all-male boards. Women hold just 11.2% of board seats, with only 4% as chair. The UK trailed this low average figure of 11.2% by showing only 9.6% women board members. Analysis of the leadership level showed a slightly healthier picture in terms of female representation, with the UK having 18% women leaders. However, across Europe only 7.7% of CEOs were women.

Liftstream’s report sets out clear data that proves the current environment is incredibly imbalanced in terms of gender equal leadership and that the X-chromosome is under represented. But we also wanted to know why there were ten men for every woman in board roles and what could be done to positively move this ratio. We conducted a survey of 530 industry professionals and over 60 interviews with board level executives and investors from the sector. These are prominent sector names from Europe and US, most of which have been publicly stated in the report. These topic-guided interviews uncovered clear reasons why women are not getting appointed to the key leadership positions and why they do not make up a more significant portion of the board population.

Among our conclusions was that biotech is strongly driven by personal networks and that unstructured hiring processes skew these appointments. It was often commented that the pipeline of female executives is not out there, yet we have found through our analysis of the 1491 companies and thousands of executives, that it is. Instead, the view of ‘candidate pipelines’ is a statement of personal networks, which in a sector so currently dominated by males, is clearly going to have bias. Wider and more comprehensive searches provide more diverse options. For example, pharma and big-biotech represents a very good source for executive talent and in these companies there are highly capable women with ‘entrepreneurial DNA’.

The 60-page report, ‘Diversifying the Outlook – The X&Y of Biotechnology Leadership’, is free to download and provides comprehensive analysis of the biotech sector, looking at drivers and barriers influencing gender diversity, with case studies from Cubist, Biogen Idec, Merck Serono and J&J. It explores the topic of unconscious bias and how this shapes leadership decisions and also provides a series of recommendations for industry stakeholders to address diversity.

The 60-page report is free to download now from: http://bit.ly/biotechXY