Biogen/Women In Bio

Biogen/Women In Bio

Photo courtesy of Women In Bio and Biogen.

Gender balance on biotech boards

Gender balance on biotech boards

Though women are gaining board seats, men continue to be appointed to boards (orange) at greater than twice the rate of women (red), according to Liftstream research.

Chart from 2017 Liftstream report "A Reality for Women in Biotech Boardrooms."

Solabs CEO Philippe Gaudreau

Solabs CEO Philippe Gaudreau

Photo courtesy of Solabs.

Amri Johnson, global head of diversity and inclusion at NIBR

Amri Johnson, global head of diversity and inclusion at NIBR

Photo courtesy of Novartis.

Susan Windham-Bannister, BioMedical Growth Strategies

Susan Windham-Bannister, BioMedical Growth Strategies

Joan Reede, Harvard Medical School

Joan Reede, Harvard Medical School

Photo courtesy of Harvard Medical School.

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have specific diversity programs but says its rank and file is now more than 42 percent female. In some areas, the representation is even greater. Women now comprise half of Solab’s software developers; in project management and client services, more than 80 percent of the staff are female.

“It has always been important to me to strive for equal representation in our workforce, and because of that I think that our employees feel a stronger connection to the company,” says CEO Philippe Gaudreau.

Amri Johnson Opens Novartis Doors to Students

Diversity plays an important role in Novartis’ ability to discover and develop new drugs, says Amri Johnson, the global head of diversity and inclusion for the Cambridge-based Novartis Institutes for BioMedical Research (NIBR), the innovation engine for Novartis (NYSE: NVS). Having differences in perspectives and experience in the workforce not only helps individuals reach personal goals, it also helps the company achieves business goals, he adds.

NIBR’s diversity efforts include what Johnson calls “grassroots groups,” which are self organizing but still under Johnson’s leadership. One example is a women’s resource group, which is composed of senior-level women, primarily scientists, who undertake various initiatives, such as bringing in speakers to discuss ways to create gender equity. Johnson says these efforts include partnering with male colleagues who are also committed to gender equity, a collaboration that fosters “a culture that enables all to bring their best selves to work.”

NIBR also reaches out to the community outside of the company. Its Students & Scholars program offers summer internships and research opportunities at NIBR for college students and graduates nationwide who are interested in the sciences. Many of the participants come from under-represented communities. Students are matched to NIBR mentors, and participants in the summer program complete a research project over a 10-week internship. Since 2010, more than 260 students have gone through the program, and 112 of them are from historically under-represented communities, according to NIBR. Post-baccalaureate students work on projects over the course of two years, which prepares them for graduate programs. All 34 post-baccalaureate scholars that have come to NIBR are from under-represented communities, and Johnson says those students have gone on to doctoral programs at MIT, Johns Hopkins University, and other top universities.

“Many of the students leave the programs with scientific publications in high impact journals,” Johnson says. “While not the focus of our program, we now see many of those who have been in our Scholars programs either expressing the desire to return as postdoctoral scholars, and/or recommending their friends to explore opportunities at NIBR and Novartis.”

Susan Windham-Bannister: A Career Focused on Diversity

One way that NIBR and other Boston-area biotechs can find interns is through the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center. The center makes available to companies a database of college students who are interested in science internships and covers the stipend of four students from community colleges who are hired by startups.

Susan Windham-Bannister began Internship Challenge after becoming the center’s first president and CEO in 2008. Half of the students in the program were women and half were people of color, and although Windham-Bannister left the center in 2015, those numbers have not changed under current CEO Travis McCready, according to the center. Many of the participants—the center counts more than 3,000 students so far—have gone on to jobs at local life science companies and some have started their own companies. “I’ve had people come up to me and say, ‘As a result of that program, I’ve decided to become an entrepreneur,’” Windham-Bannister says.

As an African-American woman, demonstrating that women and people of color can … Next Page »

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