Brianna White

Staff member
Mar 25, 2020
Of every hundred entry-level men promoted to manager positions, only eighty-seven women receive promotions. Because of this, significantly more men than women are involved in leadership, and the inequality does not seem to be reducible, according to the latest Women in the Workplace report from McKinsey, in partnership with LeanIn.Org.
The glass ceiling is a well-known barrier limiting women’s workplace advancement. But what about the leadership glass ceiling? This is a term used to describe the lack of women leaders in specific industries, which initiatives such as Estée Lauder’s Emerging Leaders Fund help to rectify, by nurturing the next generation of female entrepreneurs.
Biotech is one such industry where women are still underrepresented in leadership roles. According to the third annual, ‘Measuring Diversity in the Biotech Industry’ report, only 34% of executive teams and 20% of CEOs are reported to be women.
Leen Kawas, the co-founder and managing general partner at Propel Bio Partners, said, “if we don’t like the statistics of women-led companies, it is upon us to make a change,” in an email. She proposed four key strategies that will help break the leadership glass ceiling in biotech.
1. Increase funding for women-led companies
There is a clear correlation between the amount of funding a company receives and its success. However, “Funding for female-founded companies has not improved in recent years and has, in fact, decreased,” said Kawas—who, according to Business Insider and GeekWire, was the first woman to take a company public in 20 years in Washington state, one of only 22 female founders and CEOs to lead their company to an IPO—in an interview. “Only 2.0% of venture capital went to these companies in 2021, down from its height of 2.8% in 2009,” she added. Kawas continued, “Only 12% of decision-makers in investment firms are women, and 65% don’t have any women in their senior leaders and decision-makers.” This lack of female representation among investors may be of the main reasons why women-led companies receive less funding.
2. Eliminate hidden bias
The first step in addressing bias is acknowledging that it exists. According to a study published by Harvard Business Review, hiring an equal number of women to men in an organization will not stop bias against women. In fact, even when more women are present, prejudice against women continues because it’s ingrained in the system. These biases can manifest themselves in several ways. For example, another study published by Harvard Business Review concluded that when VCs evaluate companies, they pose different questions to male and female entrepreneurs: men typically receive questions about the potential for gains, while women are asked about the risks. Giana Eckhardt, professor of marketing and vice dean at King’s Business School at King’s College London, believes that one way to eliminate hidden bias is by using explicit, inclusive criteria to assess individuals. “Women are judged to have less leadership potential than men, even though they consistently have higher performance ratings,” Eckhardt said in an interview. Her view aligns with new research conducted by McKinsey, which identifies that women are switching jobs at the highest rate in years, making it, according to Eckhardt, “imperative upon biotech companies to combat unconscious biases in the promotion process or lose their female talent.”
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