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BY Samantha Samel

How a Gaffe with Scantily Clad Models Catalyzed Change at LifeSci

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Photo credit: Pixabay

TAGS: Diversity, LifeSci Advisors

LifeSci Advisors, which provides consulting services to companies in the life sciences field, hosted a party last year that exposed a major flaw in the way women are portrayed and represented. After hiring models to attend the party - which was part of an annual investor relations conference - LifeSci was called out by several women leaders in the life sciences industry in an open letter that criticized both the company and industry for their lack of diversity.

According to Bloomberg, the models -- who wore “matching short, tight, black dresses” -- were hired to “mingle and hold champagne” in order to “[balance] out a shortage of women in town for the annual J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference.”

LifeSci treated the incident as a major wakeup call. In the past year, the company has been on a mission to set a better example in their industry -- and Michael Rice, Founding Partner, LifeSci Advisors, says that “much of the initial skepticism about our commitment to this issue has faded as we’ve done more work and produced results.”

Rice recently caught up with Fairygodboss. He filled us in on how exactly his company has worked toward improving diversity and what their future plans are.

Fairygodboss: We’re excited to hear about LifeSci’s efforts this past year to improve gender equality in the life sciences industry. Can you tell me a bit about what prompted you to be proactive on these issues?

Michael Rice: LifeSci Advisors hosted a networking party at the JP Morgan Healthcare conference last year for which female models were hired to mingle with the crowd. The party (rightly) drew criticism from our colleagues in the field.

It was a wakeup call for us, and gave us an opportunity to understand the issue of gender diversity and our role in it. It was a catalyst for the gender diversity work we’ve done over the last year, and we will continue to put this issue at the core of all of our work moving forward.

FGB: I understand you now have an Advisory Board on Gender Diversity - how did you go about choosing board members? Can you tell me more about the work that the board does?

MR: We created our Advisory Board on Gender Diversity to guide our efforts and help us decide what programs to invest in and/or create to further empower women in our field. We asked female and male executives in the industry with varied backgrounds and experience who we knew would offer honest feedback, guidance and insight to join the board.

Kate Bingham, Managing Partner at SV Life Sciences, who co-authored an open letter criticizing the industry—and LifeSci Advisors—about its attitude toward women, is now also a member of our board and a partner in our work.

FGB: What kinds of initiatives have you implemented/supported?

MR: In addition to creating the Advisory Board on Gender Diversity, we supported Girls Inc. of NYC’s Eureka! Summer STEM Institute for low-income girls this past summer, and participated as the founding sponsor of Women In Bio’s Boardroom Ready Program, which prepares female life science executives to serve on the boards of directors of life science companies.

We also launched our own Board Placement Initiative (BPI), for which we’ve collected and vetted over 500 resumes of skilled candidates and placed five women on corporate boards, diversified our company internally, and sponsored and spoken at numerous gender diversity panels and conferences worldwide.

Our goal is to promote and encourage women in STEM at all stages of their careers through STEM education, mentorship, networking and professional development.

FGB: What kind of reaction have you seen from employees and colleagues?

MR: For the most part, the reaction has been very positive. Much of the initial skepticism about our commitment to this issue has faded as we’ve done more work and produced results. Many colleagues have become partners in our work, sending tips on open board positions and candidates for the BPI resume database, and offering to become mentors for the Boardroom Ready graduates.

We’re continuing to spread the word and get clients, colleagues and other organizations involved in our work, but it’s become more clear to me the challenges that women are up against when it comes to breaking into boards and C-suite positions that are often filled through networking in an industry that can still be very much a “boys club.”

FGB: Have you been able to measure results of any of these new initiatives? (If so, how? And what have the results been)?

MR: Yes. We set a goal in the middle of last year for our Board Placement Initiative to place 15 women on Boards of Directors by the end of 2017, and we have already made 5 placements.

We supported 25 girls in the Girls Inc. of NYC summer program, which introduced the young women to STEM careers, and 20 participants in the Boardroom Ready Program, and are actively working to get them placed on boards.

We’ve also seen raised awareness about this issue and started dialogues with industry partners (like Kate Bingham), which are key in making real change. Research shows that things are improving, but at a snail’s pace – we all have to work together to accelerate that change.

FGB: Do you believe gender equality is a particularly relevant issue in your industry specifically?

MR: The life sciences is one of the industries doing the poorest when it comes to number of women senior leadership roles, and research (including a new white paper from LiftStream), shows that though things are improving, it’s not fast enough. Women and men need to work together to balance the industry.

FGB: What are your plans for future efforts?

MR: In 2017, we plan to codify and cement our work through our Board Placement Initiative, supporting the second class of Women In Bio’s Boardroom Ready Program participants, partnering with other STEM education organizations, and continuing to engage with partners, colleagues and clients about the work we’re doing.

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