C-Suite Advisory

8 Reasons Women Should Forge Ahead in Biotech

While gender in-balance among C-level executives and within the technology industry has been highly publicized, the biotech industry in particular has suffered greatly from a lack of females at the helm. Biotech is an industry which encompasses science, engineering, technology and math (“STEM”).

These categories broken down by gender, look like this …less than 10% of physicists are women, only 15% are engineers, and 0.4% of teen girls plan to major in computer science. Put that all together, and you get a health care industry in which only 4% of CEO’s are women, yet women account for nearly 80% of all health care spending. Without diversity in leadership, we limit the diversity in thought, approach and life experience.

Among entrepreneurs and business leaders, past experience has been a huge driver of innovative thought. For many women’s health issues, it takes a female to experience them and then vow to
make a change.. Here are 8 reasons why we need more women in biotech leadership roles.

  1. We Represent Half the Workforce – Women make up half of our available workforce, but significantly less of our leadership. When biotechnology is striving to access talent to spur
    innovation wherever we can find it, how do we tell half the workforce that their career path won’t end in a corner office?
  2. Women are Under-Represented in Leadership Roles – The top 10 highest valued biotech companies employ women in only 17.9% of their leadership roles. As Rosana Kapeller wrote, “What we need is a frank dialogue at the decision making level to change the ratio (of men and women).” Hiring practices and advancement analysis by gender might not be the most comfortable topic for a biotech company to have, but in doing so, we can empower a significant portion of the talent pool while toughening up the other half.
  3. Inherent Bias in Due Diligence – A recent study by Harvard Business Review found troubling news for female entrepreneurs seeking traditional funding. This study, covered in
    Tech Crunch, found that potential investors conducting due diligence interviews would tend to adopt a ‘promotional orientation’ when questioning male entrepreneurs, asking about hopes, growth and ideals. When conducting similar research with female entrepreneurs, this inquiry would instead take a ‘prevention orientation,’ asking about safety, security and responsibility. This is an important hurdle to understand, as each prevention question raised to an entrepreneur was found to result in $3.8 million less in funding.
  4. There is a $285 Billion Global Credit Gap for Women-Owned Enterprises – While female entrepreneurs have made tremendous strides in the last several decades, huge institutional hurdles remain. Earlier this year, Goldman Sachs reported a $285 billion credit gap for formal women-owned small and medium-sized enterprises worldwide. This means when compared to male-owned companies, there is a credit gap for female-owned businesses nearly the size of the GDP of Ireland.
  5. Leadership Begets Leaders – By growing female leaders in biotech, we can open pathways for more women to pursue the field. It’s troubling to read about that the sharpest drop in women scientists occurs at the postdoctoral level. Would this be the case if our young female scientists were encouraged, mentored, and engaged by people that had walked in their heels (I know, wearing heels in the lab is crazy, but you get my point). How can we expect our young rock star biotech researchers to feel empowered and embraced if they still face inherent bias from their mentors and colleagues questioning their ability at the biological level?
  6. It’s Not Just about Balance and Equality – Biotech is one of the fundamentally important areas of research and innovation. This is the arena where nearly every discovery can save or at least improve lives. Let’s be honest, if we’d encouraged women in STEM 200 years ago, would the person inventing the tampon be named Earle? We know that men’s and women’s bodies are different, but many of those differences can’t be captured in a textbook or lecture hall. The life experience of a female researcher lends perspective into the unique functionality of the female body, including variations in the way certain symptoms present. But we still have to get excited that Lego is selling figures showing women as scientists? It’s cool, and I’m excited about it, but Lego shouldn’t be regarded as breaking the mold in doing so.

  7. Businesses Led by Female Entrepreneurs Often Outperform Male-Led – Babson College researchers found in a 2014 study that businesses with a woman on the executive team are more likely to have higher valuations at both first and last funding (64 percent higher and 49 percent higher, respectively). This is remarkable, considering that the same study found 85 percent of all venture capital–funded businesses have no women on the executive team and only 2.7 percent of venture capital-funded companies had a woman CEO. So, despite outperforming on valuations, the business world still lags in female leadership.
  8. Even Bigger Challenges for Female Entrepreneurs of Color – Women of color receive about 0.2% of all venture funding. The Institute for Women’s Policy Research found that from 1997 to 2014, there was a 265% increase in black women-owned business. These challenges exist and are real, but with so many women of color building their skills through education and taking the risk of starting a business, the numbers should support more investment and success.

There’s never been a better time to be a woman in biotech. Opportunity is represented in the disproportionate statistics of male to female in biotech. It opens the door to new discoveries for unmet medical needs for over half the world population…women.

Anna Villarreal
Anna Villarreal is the founder and CEO of LifeStory Health, a bio-science company focused on the female biology. A strong advocate for women's healthcare, Anna's pioneering vision to map the menstrual blood proteome through a set of resolute, data-leading principles and an award winning scientific methodology has led to extraordinary discoveries. These discoveries are the bedrock of a groundbreaking platform technology which is paving the way to truly novel diagnostic and therapeutic targets. The vast implications in the women's healthcare space are very exciting from both a patient advocacy standpoint and a commercial perspective. Under Anna’s leadership and vision, LifeStory Health has the potential to materialize into a successful operating public company that would be both profitable for shareholders and positive for women’s public health.