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Biotech leaders call for more women in top roles; Mylan CEO weighs in

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Biotech leaders call for more women in top roles; Mylan CEO weighs in

The heads of the Biotechnology Innovation Organization told their member companies this week it was time to put more women in top-level positions and ensure their businesses' actions, including the events they hold or support, meet the group's principles of equality and anti-sexism.

BIO President and CEO Jim Greenwood, BIO Chairman John Maraganore, who is the president and CEO of Alnylam Pharmaceuticals Inc., and BIO Workforce Development, Diversity and Inclusion Committee Chairwoman Helen Torley, who leads Halozyme Therapeutics Inc., want women to represent 50% of "functional leader" and C-suite positions — CEO, CFO, COO and chief information officer — in the biotech industry by 2025. This would be a gender diversity improvement of about 25%.

The industry should also have at least 30% female representation on company boards by 2025, up from the current 10%, Greenwood, Maraganore and Torley said in an Oct. 2 letter provided to S&P Global Market Intelligence. They did not explain why the board count for women should not also be equal to men.

They also called for improved racial diversity and increased LGBTQ representation, though the biotech leaders did not set a measure for companies to meet for those groups.

"We are determined to come together to embrace equality and inclusiveness, confront unconscious bias and address sexist biases in all aspects of the biotechnology ecosystem — in the workplace, in our business operations, in the products we produce and at all industry-affiliated activities and events," the three BIO leaders said. "We stand ready to condemn those actions, activities or events that are clearly inconsistent with the values BIO actively is promoting" through its Workforce Development, Diversity and Inclusion Committee and the group's general membership principles and policies.

They noted companies' memberships in BIO could come under review if they violate those policies and principles, advising them to keep that in mind when planning future business actions, including support for events "that could reflect poorly on the industry."

The BIO directive follows a much reported, and widely condemned, party featuring scantily clad dancers, which was attended by several people associated with the biotechnology industry in Boston last summer during BIO's annual international conference. The party, however, was not affiliated with the trade group or its conference. In fact, the party sponsors made it clear the social event was unaffiliated, dubbing it the "Party at BIO Not Associated with BIO."

The outcry over that event followed the condemnation of a similar party held in January 2016 at the JP Morgan Healthcare Conference in San Francisco.

That led to more than 100 life sciences industry leaders the next year drafting a set of guiding principles and best practices aimed at improving gender diversity within their realms.

The new letter from the BIO leaders also comes at the height of the #MeToo era, which has highlighted the prevalence of sexual assault and harassment, and the "Time's Up" movement, which spotlights sexual assault/harassment and inequality in the workplace.

Mylan CEO weighs in

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Mylan CEO Heather Bresch

At an Oct. 4 Washington forum hosted by The Atlantic, Mylan NV CEO Heather Bresch was asked whether she was "fighting an uphill battle against the guys" or was treated differently in her role as company chief.

"There's no question that I think that women are facing much different obstacles and I think those obstacles have evolved over time," Bresch said. "And I think, thank god, we're at a moment where there's transparency there and women are being heard not just listened to."

Even if all women helped each other out, "we're not going to be able to move the needle, because there's not enough of us," Bresch added.

"It's going to take our fathers, our brothers, our sons, our husbands to respect the role of women in the workplace to make this world work with all the potential that we have, because right now, we're only tapping a little more than half the potential and we've got big problems to solve and it's going to take all of us," she said.