Innovation comes from a steady flow of new ideas, and the desire to remain innovative and competitive is driving many institutional efforts to boost student and workforce diversity.
The Xconomy Award finalists in the “Commitment to Diversity” category span academia and industry. A common thread among them is an effort to boost the diversity of not just their workforce, but also of the broader community. In some cases, organizational outreach includes supporting middle school programs that get students interested in science and mathematics at an early age. The hope is that the efforts of today help build the recruitment pipeline of tomorrow. Award winners will be announced at a gala on Sept. 26.
Here’s a brief look at each of the six finalists.
Biogen and Women in Bio: From ‘Raising the Bar’ to ‘Boardroom Ready’
Women hold just 10 percent of life science company board seats, says Minita Shah-Mara, director of workforce initiatives, global diversity and inclusion at Cambridge, MA-based Biogen (NASDAQ: BIIB). In an effort to bring more women into its corporate leadership, Biogen in 2015 launched the program “Raising the Bar: Advancing Women on Boards.” The program was designed to give female leaders within Biogen the skills they need for corporate governance. The six-month program covered topics such as auditing, risk management, and cyber security, and provided networking opportunities. Of the 13 women from Biogen who participated in the program in 2015, nine have since been placed on corporate boards.
Raising the Bar has expanded beyond Biogen. In 2016, the life sciences industry group Women in Bio adopted the program, re-launching it as an industry-wide offering now called Boardroom Ready. Biogen continues to participate in the new program, as a sponsor and as a source of candidates. Of the 20 women who comprised Boardroom Ready’s first class in 2016, four came from Biogen. Four participants from the 2016 class have found seats on boards so far. Shah-Mara says Biogen wanted to open up the program to women from other life science companies.
“If we really wanted to start making headway with the industry, we needed to start engaging more than with [only] our senior women,” she says.
Liftstream Digs for Diversity Data
Drug discovery involves creating and analyzing large volumes of data but when it comes to assessing the diversity of the employees that develop drugs, Liftstream CEO Karl Simpson found there was little data to work with. So Liftstream, a life sciences recruitment firm founded by Simpson, decided to collect some. Liftstream, which is based in the United Kingdom but also keeps a Boston presence, has published three studies about diversity since 2014. A fourth is expected in September.
The most recent study reviewed the composition of corporate boards at 177 U.S. biotech companies that went public between 2012 and 2015. The research found that 57.2 percent of the companies had at least one female board member in 2016. While that represents an increase compared to previous years, the news wasn’t all good. Women chaired fewer than 2 percent of life science company boards; in management, fewer than 8 percent of these companies were led by female CEOs Liftstream calculated that at the current rate of change, it would take 40 years for boards in the sector to reach gender parity.
Simpson says Liftstream wanted to focus on corporate boards because company culture is typically set at the top. Improving female representation at the level of boards and senior management could be a way to spark changes in gender balance throughout the rest of the company. Simpson sees diversity as key to Boston maintaining its biotech success. At companies of all sizes, diversity can affect a firm’s ability to recruit and retain workers. But he argues that it’s also a contributing factor to financial performance. According to the Liftstream study, companies that had diverse boards on average showed a 19 percent increase in share price while those with all male boards showed an average 9 percent decrease in share price.
Liftstream has incorporated its diversity research into its conferences, including events held in Boston, which include discussions about diversity of race, ethnicity, gender, and age. Simpson also helped facilitate discussions that led to the transition of Biogen’s Raising the Bar program to Women in Bio’s Boardroom Ready. He says a forthcoming report done in partnership with MassBio will cover the differences in diversity at small, medium, and large companies. Though Liftstream’s research to date has focused on gender diversity, Simpson says future analyses will cover race and ethnicity as well.
“Everyone is looking for a single solution—the single solution doesn’t exist,” Simpson says. “It’s a combination of factors that need to be addressed.”
Solabs: Breaking Gender Barriers in Software
Solabs, which splits its operations between Framingham, MA, and Montreal, Canada, provides software that helps life science companies manage their operations and ensure regulatory compliance. Industrywide, women make up just 5.8 percent of software developers, according to a 2015 survey conducted by Stack Overflow, an online community for developers. Solabs has bucked that trend. The 50-employee company does not … Next Page »