Despite a renewed push for gender equality in the life sciences, women remain starkly underrepresented in the C-suite and on corporate boards: Just under 6% of biotech CEOs were women last year, and 14% of board members were women.
That’s one of the main takeaways from a new report on boards and executive compensation in the biotech industry from Cambridge- and Toronto-based Bedford Group/TRANSEARCH.
The executive search firm analyzed 225 biotech and pharmaceutical companies that are listed on the Nasdaq, are headquartered in the U.S. and have market caps of under $2 billion. That means that some of the larger local biotechs that do have female CEOs, like Vertex Pharmaceuticals (Nasdaq: VRTX), were not included in the analysis.
The group’s report also looked beyond the corner office to other C-suite executives, including chief financial officers, chief operating officers, chief medical officers, chief scientific officers and chief legal officers or general counsel. Rather than breaking down each of those roles by gender representation, the report pools them together to look at all named executive officers, including CEOs, to examine where women are most strongly represented. Twenty-two percent are labeled “other C-level” — the highest percentage — and 19% are chief financial officer roles.
The report authors did not ask the companies they analyzed for racial or ethnic data to supplement the report. Instead, they examined publicly available photos to determine “visible minority group” members — and while this methodology is flawed, it is still telling that just 15% of all biotech executives fit into that class, and only 14% of all board members did.
It’s worth noting that the percentage of female CEOs in biotech is slightly lower than that of the business world overall. According to a separate report published in January by the Women Business Collaborative, C200 and Catalyst, nearly 8% of CEOs at S&P 500 companies were women at the close of 2020.
Likewise, the Bedford Group report authors note that female board representation in biotech is “significantly lower” than the estimated 20% female board member representation seen in U.S. public companies more broadly.