We're looking for 2021's Fiercest Women in Life Sciences

Diverse group of women sitting around table
In a survey of 100 biotech companies, the Biotechnology Innovation Organization found that women make up nearly half (47%) of biotech employees but comprise just 31% of executive teams and 23% of CEOs. (Christina @ wocintechchat.com)

Social justice movements such as Black Lives Matter and Me Too have spurred life sciences companies to ramp up their diversity and inclusion efforts. But intention and action haven’t always equaled results, as shown by a recent survey of biotech companies. 

In 2020, 7 in 10 biotechs listed diversity and inclusion in their value statements or as a priority, up from 46% in 2019, according to a report from the Biotechnology Innovation Organization (BIO). But female representation still lagged behind in company leadership: Women make up nearly half (47%) of biotech employees but comprise just 31% of executive teams and 23% of CEOs, according to the report, which includes data from 100 companies. 

And things don’t look much better in commercial pharma. In 2017, GlaxoSmithKline CEO Emma Walmsley became the first woman to helm a Big Pharma and remains the only female chief of a top 20 pharma company. But her future at GSK could be up in the air, as an activist investor plots a management change for the British pharma. 

RELATED: GlaxoSmithKline shoots for $46B in 2031 sales. But will 'change agent' Walmsley be around to lead the new company? 

And Walmsley isn’t the only woman whose job is at risk. The COVID-19 pandemic and the ways it has changed work and home life have led as many as 2 million women across industries to consider a leave of absence or leave the workforce altogether, according to the most recent “Women in the Workplace” report by McKinsey and Lean In, the nonprofit founded by Facebook Chief Operating Offocer Sheryl Sandberg. 

It is the first time the writers of the report have seen women leaving the workforce at higher rates than men. And it would only exacerbate the barriers that keep women, especially women of color, out of the upper reaches of corporate America. 

But it doesn’t have to be this way. As companies transition from virtual or hybrid models to more in-person work, they can use the crisis as an opportunity to shake up the way they operate. 

“If companies make significant investments in building a more flexible and empathetic workplace—and there are signs that this is starting to happen—they can retain the employees impacted by today’s crises and create more opportunities for women to succeed in the long term,” the “Women in the Workplace” report said. 

RELATED: Diversity initiatives pick up across biotech industry, but women, people of color still lack representation 

Each year at Fierce, we spotlight women who are leading the way in life sciences. From industry professionals and academics to venture capitalists and regulatory officials, women are making their mark all over biotech, pharma and medtech. 

We invite you to share your nominations using the form below. We’re looking for women in all three fields who stand out as leaders, innovators and mentors in organizations big and small. Be sure to submit your nominations by 11:59 p.m. EDT Monday, Aug. 2, for consideration in this year’s list, which will be published in November. To get an idea of what we’re looking for, find last year's list here, 2019’s here and 2018’s here.