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BIO Has Big Diversity Goals. Does It Have the Means to Reach Them?

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I showed the leadership potential. What made me most able to be a CEO was at Amgen, I moved from a strategic marketing function to running a P&L [a “profit and loss” business unit within the company]. Somebody took a major chance on me, given I didn’t have a lot of commercial background. Those types of things accelerate and develop talent. Large companies do that all the time. It’s harder to do in smaller companies.

X: Any other tools?

HT: We’re creating a database. CEOs can nominate their talented candidates into the database and BIO members can search it for particular skillsets so they can add diverse candidates to their search for board positions.

X: These are ambitious goals by 2025. A lot of companies are at zero.

HT: These goals are not that dramatic, in my view. By doing the interim metrics we’ll see if we’re on track. It won’t just be BIO doing this. Investors are also very focused on this, and California companies are being mandated to put a woman on the board.

Small companies can get access to funding because there are female-only funds available. It’s not BIO talking about this in a vacuum.

X: What do you think of the California law? Not everyone is on board with a legal quota.

HT: It’s always a worry that quotas can be seen as resulting in tokenism. There was a bit of backlash. But there are a lot of qualified candidates who can be on boards, and our database will be helpful for that. I worry that a few people will feel it’s a political correctness coverup, but I think we should embrace it.

X: Whether it’s government mandating quotas or a powerful trade organization like BIO suggesting quotas, isn’t that risking tokenism?

HT: BIO isn’t suggesting quotas in any way. Goals are very different than quotas. BIO is raising awareness: how to develop a more diverse set of candidates for the top of the house and how to access the already large pool of diverse candidates who aren’t being called. Half the time I guarantee the women and racially diverse candidates are going to win. They simply aren’t getting their shot. If you have the philosophy of always bringing forward diverse candidate slates, you will achieve the goals. Not quotas: that risks people picking the wrong people.

X: Let’s talk carrots and sticks. BIO has a stick in its hand, which is membership. And you’ve already waved that stick a bit after PABNAB, to say if there’s more bad behavior your membership will be up for review and we might kick you out. If companies are recalcitrant about meeting BIO’s goals, could they be kicked out?

HT: There may be occasions where the most qualified candidates happen to be male candidates. There will be times at my company where I skew to one gender or another. BIO wants a CEO to make sure you have diverse candidate goals and pick the best person. We don’t want to be draconian, you have to leave it to the CEO to figure out the best candidates.

X: No sticks, then. What about carrots? What can BIO do to reward companies that have increased diversity?

HT: We haven’t focused on that. One thing we do is have CEOs write articles, showcase them. Some form of recognition and acknowledgement will probably be important.

X: It’s hard to increase board diversity in the private sector because boards include a lot of venture capitalists, who are still largely a boy’s club. Does BIO have to put pressure on the biotech VCs?

HT: We need to work on the early part [when creating startups]. We don’t have an answer, we’ve focused so far on public-stage companies.

X: How has the #MeToo movement affected the push for diversity in the biotech sector?

HT: It doesn’t come up often in conversation. We as an industry have had appropriate behaviors for a long time. I’ve heard very little. The only controversy I can think of recently has been the PABNAB party. People say sometimes in early startups it’s a different dimension. I read some articles about that recently. That’s not been my experience.

X: Have you run into companies that don’t have an accepting culture, or old-school male executives who are hostile to changing company culture?

HT: That hasn’t happened to me working on this diversity initiative. Now, there may be inertia to take action, and a fear of not finding someone with the right experience. That’s a more common pushback: “What if I find a more qualified male?” I say, “Then you’ve got a more qualified male, but make sure you’ve looked to interview a very qualified diverse candidate, too.”

Image by Wonder woman0731 via a Creative Commons 2.0 license.

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