Opportunities for women to move into leadership positions are not materialising as frequently as they are for men: C-suite women are much less likely to be contacted for a potential board position than C-suite men. In our survey of companies within Europe and the US, we found that 59.4% of C-suite men but just 16.0% of C-suite women have been contacted in relation to non-executive director (NED) positions.
Biotech companies use two main routes to appoint new board members: personal networks, and executive search firms. Among many factors influencing the boardroom appointments, the two most common are the lack of structure in the recruitment practices of many Start-up and SMEs (which frequently results in appointments from within the immediate network of today’s leaders), as well as the presence of unconscious bias. Unconscious or unintentional bias is shared by both men and women. Awareness of bias, however it is termed, is low amongst today’s biotech leaders, despite the existence of established processes and tools for reducing such unconscious prejudices in our decision making. The onus is on individual leaders to question their approach to the hiring process and to put in place processes to minimise unconscious bias.
Additionally, our research did find that in some instances women are turning down leadership opportunities and that they do so more frequently than men. Caring responsibilities, outside of the workplace, remain more of a deterrent for women who might be seeking such positions than their male equivalents; however, a larger factor affecting a woman’s decision to turn down board positions is the current biotech leadership environment, its setting and culture – which continues to ensure a male-dominated leadership team.
Despite this variety of factors, our research indicates a general belief, amongst those in biotech leadership that: ‘the door is open for women on boards, but they don’t want to step through it.’ Such an attitude will not lead to an increase in female NED appointments. To improve composition and diversity of experiences of biotech boards companies must evaluate their approach to recruiting and promotion and take steps to ensure that the natural and unconscious biases that we all have are not causing sub-optimal hiring decisions.
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