If you think LifeSci Advisors has made adequate reparations after the company’s gender bias gaffe at the J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference in San Francisco in January, you should think again. In an outrageous display of sexism, LifeSci Advisors, a biotech investor consultancy, hired “leggy female models in tight, black dresses” to appeal to attendees at a party taking place at a conference whose demographic is mostly male. The company received plenty of well-deserved criticism for treating women as mere sex objects. To try to make things right, LifeSci Advisors took some steps to promote professional women in biotech. According to an article by reporter Ron Leuty this month in the San Francisco Business Times, “rather than hide behind mea culpas, the New York-based company is putting time and money behind a program with the nonprofit Women in Bio to prepare more women for biotech board positions.”
LifeSci Advisors is trying to fix its PR problem, but it got it WRONG. The idea that “women can’t serve on boards because they lack training” has got to stop! I am not against education regarding sitting on a board. However, men have been placed on boards for eons, and continue to be, without ever having to go through any prep course. Women, people of color, and the LGBTQ community are being held to a different standard than straight white men. It is insulting.
An oft-cited reason for the lack of women on boards is the limited number of women in CEO or C-level positions. Yet many male board members do not come from the C-level suite. Companies bring plenty of academics, senior vice presidents, and the like onto boards without expecting them to complete any preparedness courses or training. The LifeSci Advisors/Women in Bio training program will cover topics such as corporate governance and financial literacy. Not all men walk onto boards with corporate governance knowledge or financial literacy skills, yet no one expects that they need board readiness courses.
No one tells men what it takes to be on a board; saying that women need training shifts the problem back to the women. It is not women’s fault that they don’t have board experience. It is because companies have excluded them from serving on boards in the first place.
What LifeSci Advisors gets RIGHT is recognizing that women need to “break into new networks.” Women, people of color, and the LGBTQ community need to strategically place themselves in environments where they will connect with CEOs and nominating governance committee chairs. If LifeSci Advisors and Women in Bio can facilitate those connections, they will be on the right track. To really make an impression as a viable board candidate, you need to secure those meetings yourself. For advice on how to do that, please see my article, “Make That Meeting Happen.”
Kim Clancy is founder and CEO of search firm Hampton O'Bannon Partners, LLC (HOP, LLC). She helps technology companies attract and hire women and minorities to their boards.