BIO’s ultimatum to members: Get serious about gender diversity or face our fury

professional women
In a letter to members, BIO said it would review the membership of companies whose diversity and inclusion practices are not consistent with its value. (visionchina/iStock)

After an unofficial party at this year’s BIO convention stirred up controversy, the biotech industry’s largest trade association is tightening the screws on its members to step up gender diversity—and show a little respect at their parties—or else.

In a letter the organization just sent to its members and seen by FiercePharma, the organization set out some ambitious goals for recruiting and promoting women and warned that it would consider expelling companies whose activities are “clearly inconsistent” with its values.

The letter, co-signed by three top officials—Alnylam CEO John Maraganore, this year’s chair; Halozyme CEO Helen Torley, who chairs BIO’s workforce development, diversity and inclusion committee; and BIO chief James Greenwood—raises the 2025 target for female representation at the functional leader and C-suite level to 50% from the current 25%. At the board level, BIO wants to see women filling 30% of the industry's board seats by 2025, rather than the current level of 10%.

Those are the numbers. On the qualitative side, the letter vows in a resounding tone to condemn actions, activities or events that run counter to its values. For companies that step out of line, BIO said it has established processes for reviewing their membership.

“We are determined to come together to embrace equality and inclusiveness, confront unconscious bias, and address sexist biases in all aspects of the biotechnology ecosystem—in the workplace, in our business operations, in the products we produce, and at all industry-affiliated activities and events,” the three executives wrote in the letter.

RELATED: Unofficial party at BIO featured dancers plastered with company logos, outraging leadership

The last part probably refers to an unofficial, annual party called Party At BIO Not Associated with BIO (PABNAB). At this year’s PABNAB, topless women danced, their bodies painted with the logos of investment groups and biotech companies sponsoring the event. Bad enough on its face, but even worse, it came at a time when the #MeToo movement is focusing public attention on gender diversity and sexual harassment problems.

The industry, including sponsors of the party, soon moved to condemn the lack of awareness and sensitivity to sexist bias. But it was far from the first time industry financiers and companies had participated in a questionable celebration. Consider the infamous party at the 2016 J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference, when the biotech investor relations firm LifeSci Advisors hired models in short dresses to socialize with guests. The very public backlash prompted LifeSci Advisors to up its efforts in promoting gender diversity—and inspired a host of industry leaders to vow to do the same.

BIO established the diversity committee currently chaired by Torley back in June 2017, aiming at leading diversity efforts and inclusion into all aspects of the industry.

While the initial focus has been set on gender as a measure of progress, the executives said the organization is “equally focused on advancing racial diversity and LGBTQ representation.”