It feels as though we say this every year, but it bears repeating. From CEOs and COOs to division chiefs and venture capital partners, women are taking the lead and making an impact all over the life sciences industry.
In fact, women have shown such influence in our industry that this year, we had to expand our list from 12 or 15 honorees to include 20 worthy individuals. But while this progress can be seen as a triumph in a space that has been historically dominated by men, there is still work to be done.
Since she started her career, “there are more women in senior positions, without doubt,” said Jane Griffiths, the acting head of Johnson & Johnson’s Actelion division. But “are there enough in most senior positions? The answer to that is obviously ‘no.’”
Many of the women we profiled are trailblazers, having come of age during a time when diversity wasn’t a priority and few women occupied high-level positions. Now, they run companies and oversee a range of functions, from research to business development and regulatory efforts.
A common thread through our interviews was the idea of paying it forward: not only did these individuals show it was possible for a woman to ascend through the ranks, but they also consciously continue to pave the way for those who come after them.
Many of our honorees mentioned the role that mentors and coaches had in their success and now participate in formal and/or informal mentoring of younger colleagues. They have identified and are targeting obstacles specific to women, such as supporting them in the earlier stages of their careers and driving a cultural shift among men to help them stop seeing women working alongside them as an exception but as something that’s natural.
And the outpouring of women coming forward about sexual harassment and gender disparity in all quarters—from Silicon Valley to politics—has only served to amplify their mission.
“We have gone from one woman on the leadership team to three or five: getting closer to equal numbers,” said Samantha Budd Haeberlein, head of clinical discovery and development for Alzheimer’s disease at Biogen. “The conversation is today louder, more open and acceptable; not just the last bullet on a HR agenda topic.”