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Xconomy’s Diversity Award Winners Show How to Foster an Inclusive Workforce

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Raising the Bar, which launched in 2015 to prepare women for corporate governance positions. The program gave participants a crash course on a wide range of corporate topics, such as the duties and responsibilities of serving on the board of public and private companies, financial literacy, crisis management, and investor relations. It also provided them the opportunity to make the business connections that can lead to board seats. Of the 13 women from Biogen who participated in the program in its first year, nine have since been placed on corporate boards.

Raising the Bar caught the attention of Women in Bio, which was thinking about starting a similar program for its members nationwide. Kristi Sarno, a past president of Women in Bio and a consultant with Latham BioPharm Group who accepted the Xconomy Commitment to Diversity Award on behalf of Women in Bio, described the appeal of the program to Xconomy’s Alex Lash during our Awards Gala. She said: “It’s something that women can go out and say ‘I did this because I really am interested and I really am qualified’.”

Women in Bio ended up taking over the program from Biogen last year to bring it to a wider audience. Biogen stayed connected as a sponsor of the program, which was renamed Boardroom Ready. Training for corporate boards is only part of the program. Women in Bio also matches participants with “boardroom coaches,” people from industry who can help participants with the networking that’s so important for finding board positions. The organization says it hosts receptions that draw investors, executives, board members, and others who can weigh in when board positions become open. This fall, the second Boardroom Ready class of 20 candidates began.

As Sarno said at the Xconomy Awards Gala in September: “We understand that taking a class does not get you on a board. But it begins a conversation. The networking is continuing and we’re working hard to make a difference and really impact the industry by having most of these women eventually join a board.”

For this work in creating and running Boardroom Ready and its other diversity-promoting activities, Biogen and Women in Bio were named co-winners of Xconomy’s 2017 Commitment to Diversity Award.

Even though the Boardroom Ready program is no longer part of Biogen, Shah-Mara says continues to affect the company in unexpected ways. For example, she notes an increase in the number of men at Biogen referring women for senior roles at the company.

Shah-Mara describes diversity efforts as a journey. Along the way, organizations should have benchmarks for accountability to mark the progress made in fostering a more inclusive culture. Things may not always go according to plan, but she says there are always opportunities to learn.

“The work is usually not linear, and you learn as much from your mistakes as you do from your successes, so it’s also powerful to celebrate the successes,” Shah-Mara says.

Photos by Alex Gagne and Rythum Vinoben. 

This is the eighth in a series of articles profiling the 2017 Xconomy Award Winners. You can read about Ed Kaye (CEO), Amy Schulman (Newcomer), Nikhil Wagle (Patient Partnership), Armon Sharei (Young Innovator), Bridge Project (Big Idea), Rob Perez (Community Contribution) and Lita Nelsen (Lifetime Achievement).

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