In a world where female entrepreneurship is on the rise, the number of women entrepreneurs and CEOs in biotech is still low. Naturally, this leads to the all-important question: where are the female biotech leaders?
They’re Busy Overcoming Barriers to Success
Stereotypes and accessibility have long discouraged and even prevented women from pursuing meaningful careers in STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics). Add to that the history of limited leadership and growth potential for professional women, and you’ll see why some women are still unsure about going into such industries.
Poor treatment of female employees and leaders is a prevalent issue in any industry, but the scientific field continues to struggle with this. Particularly, women in the biotech industry have only recently been able to combat sexism and lack of diversity amongst their peers. Biotech conferences in 2016 and 2018 came under fire for unsanctioned parties featuring models and topless dancers. Female biotech professionals lambasted these events for overt sexism and called for improvements to the behavior of their male peers.
While those events are recent enough to leave a lingering feeling of disgust in female entrepreneurs, hope is not lost.
They’ve Emerged Over Time
It is important to remember some of the first female scientists who broke the housewife mold and laid the groundwork for current women in science.
Nettie Stevens Ph.D. (1861–1912): discovered the X & Y chromosomes.
Rosalind Franklin Ph.D. (1920–1958): credited with the discovery of DNA/RNA.
Patricia Bath MD (1942–2019): the first African American doctor to be awarded a medical patent.
Of course, this list is not exhaustive and that speaks volumes for what is to come.
They’re On Their Way
The world of female entrepreneurship, even in science, boasts a bright future. Dell Technologies spent the past few years researching global entrepreneurship opportunities for women and found great international success from 2017 to 2019. While the relative positions of cities moved within the rankings, each city experienced an overall increase in benefits offered for female entrepreneurs. The study used five categories to rank cities:
At least one of these categories grew over the course of two years. The best cities based on these rankings were predominantly American—the Bay Area took first place, with New York, Boston, and Los Angeles in positions two, four, and five, respectively.
In an interview with BIV about Vancouver’s number 11 position, Pam Pelletier, Dell Technologies’ national director in Canada, cited business and cultural development as a key influence over the five ranking categories.
“The highlights for the Vancouver results were, in fact, on culture,” Pelletier said. “The results show that Vancouver is transitioning into an inclusive and diverse cultural spot, and favorable policies geared towards women in entrepreneurship make it that much richer.”
For the biotech industry, the appointing of female leaders has been sluggish. A critical reason for this is the relative youth of the industry overall. The earliest biotech companies were founded in and around the 1970s, when women didn’t always have equal access to the opportunities of their male peers. While almost a half-century has passed, the industry’s internal model has remained relatively stagnant.
At the same time, the number of men in the biotech pipeline is shrinking. This means opportunities for women in biotech are slowly but steadily increasing. As the “old-school” biotech establishment transitions to retirement, women finally have the chance to step in and transform the face of an industry.