Sitting in a room several weeks ago, I found myself looking at an unusual sight.  In front of me was a panel of 6 women, all very accomplished experienced professionals in the biotech arena – CEOs, board members and investors.  Why was this unusual? Because for the most part, my experience has been that many panels of speakers are all men or at best 1 woman in a panel of 4-5 men.

The women in front of me were also generally my age or just a tad older.  The women attendees for the event were generally younger by 10-20 years. And I got to thinking . . . as my younger self, when I was just starting along my career in science and biotech, I wish I’d had role models like the women on the panel.

Now don’t get me wrong.  Men can be great role models.  But at some point, you need some folks who look like you or come from similar circumstances that help you reach that visualization of “that could be me” up there.

When I was in my 20’s and 30’s just starting out, I didn’t see too many women in my day to day interactions that fit this role.  I went to undergrad at MIT when the ratio of men to women ran about 4:1.  From my recollection, most of my professors were men.  Sure, there were female scientists and notable ones in the field.  I looked at Marie Curie and Barbara McClintock as amazing scientists and as great aspirations, but both were not living and active during the time I was making my way forward.  At the time, when I was an undergrad and then a grad student, I didn’t think much of it.  I just went forward.  But looking back, it sure would have been nice.

The panel of women I sat looking at in 2019 are still role models – just coming late along my career path.  I’m not complaining (or not too much).  Times have changed and more women are visible in the field, more front and center in roles of founders, CEOs, board members and investors in biotech startups.  Brava to each and all!

Who were the panelists on this all-women line up? I include links so you can see for yourself these inspiring and accomplished role models.

Julia Gregory, Chairman and CEO at Isometry Advisors, Inc.

Mary Haak-Frendscho, CEO of Blueline Bioscience and Venture Partner at Versant Ventures

Karen Hong, Senior Partner at Takeda Ventures

Gail Maderis, President and CEO, Antiva Biosciences

Laura Shawver, President and Chief Executive Officer at Synthorx Inc.

Lori Hu, Managing Director at Vertex Ventures HC

And now, I come back to the premise that it is good to have role models of the type that help you envision yourself in the future.  I can’t change what existed in the past, but we can all help to change what exists now and going forward.

A few thoughts here:

  • When putting together a panel of speakers, think about the composition of the audience and compare it to the makeup of your intended panelists. Is it representative? Will it be inspiring from a role-model perspective to the listeners?
  • Role-models are not always a top down, senior to junior set-up. I often find inspiration in up and coming entrepreneurs, as much as I am invigorated by the contributions of those more established  in the field.
  • The path for diversity and inclusion should not be one of a scarcity mentality – that there is only room for one. Unfortunately, I’ve seen this happen, for example, where one woman gets “admitted” to the club, only to exclude or discourage other women from joining.
  • For those of us later in our careers, it is important make time to pay it forward and provide support to those just starting or somewhere along the path of their career. At the same time, it is important to recognize that times are changing and not everything looks and acts like it did “back in the olden days.”
  • And for those starting out in the career, put some thought to role models as inspiration. Looking back this is something I wish I had given more thought during those earlier years,  looking for role models and seeking out their guidance and mentorship.