You don’t have to look far in the business of health to find rampant sexism.
If you were at JP Morgan, you couldn’t miss the story about LifeSci Advisors’ party, where they hired a cadre of beautiful female models to keep the predominantly male partygoers company, ostensibly because they couldn’t find enough professional women to invite to make the room feel equal. Such a ruckus ensued afterwards that the LifeSci Advisors team issued an apology to party attendees (see their somewhat desperate-sounding apology letter below), after first firmly insisting that the ruckus wasn’t merited. My friend Nancy had a hilarious comment on this, fantasizing about this situation from Emily Litella’s perspective (if you are too young to remember Gilda Radner’s Emily Litella character, curse you and click HERE for clarity).
Emily (Gilda): “I don’t understand what all the fuss is about. People said we needed a good model.”
Chevy Chase: “That’s ‘business MODELS,’ not MODELS. It’s a financial concept.”
Emily (Gilda): “Oh….(smiling at the camera)…never mind.”
In MedCity News, Neil Versel recently wrote a story about an ad recruiting for “booth girls” for a vendor planning for HIMSS. The ad’s sponsor noted that business casual clothing was fine, but a photo was a necessary step in being considered for the job. Neil’s question was exactly right, “has a booth babe ever helped a health IT vendor close a sale?” Given the typical 18-month sales cycle, I doubt it. Here’s another question: has any programmer job ever been advertised that required a photo submission? I doubt that too.
Women bear so much scrutiny in what is such a male world. Who out there is berating men for betraying their gender by considering a vote for Hilary? If you answered “no one,” you win. Yet even women are castigating other women for considering a vote for Bernie, while others are castigating the accusing women for daring to suggest that women should vote for women just because they are women. Jeez Louise, no wonder men find us confusing. At least the pundits are leveling the playing field by making fun of Trump’s hair, not just the female candidate’s.
But here’s the thing. Out here in the real world –where we aren’t at parties or in booths or facing off against Donald Trump – sisters are doing it for themselves. I have had a week among some pretty awesome power women and I wish the attention were on them rather than the circumstances that they strive so hard to avoid.
Last night I got to participate in and moderate a discussion, produced by MedTech Women, about what it takes to join a Board of Directors and what it’s like to participate in one. I shared the dais with three successful female CEOs who have a wealth of experience in their fields. The audience featured about 75 other women (and 3 brave men!) who were seeking to learn and grow and network. The conversation wasn’t about the travesty and truth of poor representation of women on Boards. Rather, and refreshingly, the focus was on the skills needed to serve, the pros and cons of Board membership and how to find these opportunities.
By the way, when I asked the three men who attended this meeting to stand up and be recognized, all of the women clapped. It made me laugh. Can you imagine a business meeting of 75 men clapping for the 3 women attendees just for showing up (assuming the women are not models)? Damn near every meeting has 75 men and 3 women. The guys would be worn out from clapping all day long.
And yet, as I look back on my calendar of the last few weeks, I note that I have met with numerous other female CEOs, venture capitalists, clinical leaders, scientific thought leaders and corporate executives without even trying. Maybe I am just connected to more women as a result of my network, but I don’t think that explains all of it. Rather, I am reaching out to people at organizations where I need to make connections and it turns out that I am finding a lot of women in the positions I want to speak with. It’s encouraging. It may not yet be perfect (only 20% of public company board members are women and that’s not good enough), but if one were holding a party at say, JP Morgan, I’m becoming increasingly confident one could fill out the guest list with a high enough number of accomplished women to obviate the need to hire models for gender parity purposes.
A more encouraging article from this week was one entitled “Huge Study Finds that Companies with More Women Leaders are More Profitable.” The article explains how “New data from the Peterson Institute for International Economics and EY bolsters that case. The groups analyzed results from 21,980 global, publicly traded companies, in 91 countries from various industries and sectors and showed that having at least 30% of women in leadership positions, or the “C-suite,” adds 6% to net profit margin.” Now we’re talking. For starters, there are companies where 30% or more of the leadership positions are held by women. Who knew?
Even Twitter, the brogrammer paradise, has recently stepped up its efforts to increase gender and cultural diversity in recognition that its workforce needs to match its user base if the company is going to thrive. Time will tell if the efforts are serious, but it’s good to see. This is a company that has struggled to achieve profits. I have to believe that the promise of a 6% bump is enough to make diversity look pretty appealing.
Actor Jack Palance once said, “The only two things you can truly depend upon are gravity and greed.” If women leaders are the antidote to gravity, at least when it comes to plunging profits, I suspect that good old-fashioned business greed will help move women forward in business, not a desire for fairness. As they say, follow the money. And when you follow it, notice the high heels.
From: Michael Rice (LifeSci Advisors)
Subject: Statement from the founders of LifeSci Advisors
February 4, 2016
On January 11, 2016, during the JP Morgan Healthcare Conference in San Francisco, LifeSci Advisors co-hosted an after party event with Runway Waiters that was attended by approximately 1,000 investors and clients. Our objective that evening was to strengthen the relationships between our clients and the institutional investor community in the biotech industry.
In an effort to boost attendance by investors, LifeSci through Runway Waiters invited 70 female promotional models from prestigious modeling agencies such as Wilhelmina, Ford, NEXT and Vision. We made a serious mistake in doing so.
We want to be crystal clear and extend an apology to you directly. In deciding to invite models to our party, we offended both our female and male colleagues. We also acknowledge that we could have created the potential to compromise our reputation and yours by inviting you to the event.
We want you to know how important you are as a client to our firm and how much we value the trust you have placed in us. This is something we take very seriously.
You should also know that shortly after our event, we received a call from Bloomberg Media asking us to comment on the party. We mishandled that interview and made matters worse by not taking full responsibility for the choices we made that evening. We did not fully appreciate or acknowledge the negative impact our actions have had both within and outside our industry.
In the past two weeks, we have reflected deeply on what we have learned. We have had some very tough discussions with female and male leaders in our industry. We have taken a hard look at ourselves as individuals and as a company and at the biotech industry’s track record on diversity and have found them all lacking.
One thing is now clear to us: LifeSci needs to be part of the solution moving forward to strengthen diversity in our industry. As a firm, we now have an opportunity to make a difference and help tackle the core issues women are facing in our field. Some of those issues include the lack of women in management and leadership positions, and the lack of mentors and professional development networks for women that are necessary to cultivate future female leaders in bioscience and biotech.
In the coming days, LifeSci Advisors will be launching a series of concrete initiatives and steps to address these systemic issues. We are committed to actions, not just words. We will invest time, energy, resources and money to resolving these problems and hopefully play a meaningful role in improving our industry’s track record on issues of diversity and the cultivation of future leaders.
Expect a call from us shortly to follow up on this letter. We want you to know we welcome your advice, feedback, criticisms, comments and suggestions.
Thank you again for your continued support.
Michael Rice, PhD Andrew McDonald, PhD