Company: Unum Therapeutics
Title: Chief Financial Officer and Head of Corporate Development
Christiana Stamoulis brings a different perspective to the question of how biotech is faring on the diversity front. Having started out in investment banking, Stamoulis has seen firsthand how a “male-morphed image” of what it takes to succeed—and the follow-on effect on work/life balance—can create a huge gender divide. Biotech today, for all its failings in the area, is a different world from that where Stamoulis began her career 20 years ago.
“In biotech, I believe we are doing a better job attracting, retaining and supporting women to move up the career ladder. The nature and diversity of roles, less male-driven stereotypes of what it takes to be successful in these roles and a better work/life balance help in that respect,” Stamoulis said.
Stamoulis has built up that impression over the past eight years working at Unum, and before that at Vertex. Prior to taking up an SVP post at Vertex in 2009, Stamoulis held roles at Boston Consulting Group, Goldman Sachs and Citigroup, starting out as a generalist consultant before transforming into a biopharma investment banking specialist.
“The purpose of biopharmaceutical companies, the impact that they can have on people’s lives, the innovation, the complexity of the challenges that they face, the intricacy of the decisions that they have to think through, including the diverse set of stakeholders involved, and the intellectual intensity of people in the industry instantaneously drew me in,” Stamoulis said.
Stamoulis executed deals worth more than $100 billion—including Biogen’s $6 billion merger with Idec—during her time in investment banking. But, having spent almost 15 years in advisory roles, she decided to switch sides and get involved with building biopharma businesses. That drive to build companies has come into its own at Unum, where Stamoulis has led the business side of the operation since its early days, raising capital and shaping the culture of the growing startup.
Unum’s $65 million series B thrust the cellular immunotherapy biotech into the headlines in 2015 and set it up to advance its pipeline. But Stamoulis talks as passionately about her role in shaping the culture of Unum, which she calls “one of the most exciting and fulfilling parts of building the company and extremely important in its long-term success.”
The culture Stamoulis is trying to shape is one “where people are respected and supported and can contribute, innovate, freely share their views, be challenged and grow, be passionate about what they do and at the same time have fun and laugh.” That description echoes the reasons Stamoulis found biotech to be leading banking in the diversity stakes.
However, Stamoulis’ positivity about diversity in biopharma is tempered by the persistent gender imbalance in the executive ranks. This, the CFO thinks, stems largely from mental images of men as leaders, the lack of women who rise high enough to challenge this mindset and the vicious cycle that creates.
“To break away from this somewhat vicious cycle, we need to focus on what really matters for being successful in a certain role, educate people on this, maintain an open mind and recognize that there is not only one way to achieve a desired outcome or one style that can be successful,” Stamoulis said. “We need to change our stereotypical views of a leader’s ‘image’ in order for true diversity to occur.”