I remember sitting in the corporate offices of a top-10 pharmaceutical company on the East Coast years ago as the Chief Human Resources Officer encouraged us to develop female finalist candidates for the senior-level role we were filling for them. We did. And the women we developed as finalist candidates on what was an extremely diverse slate were some of the most impressive candidates for a role like this that I’d ever seen.
In the end, the pharmaceutical company hired a white male. He was an outstanding candidate, and, in truth, he turned out to be the right hiring decision for them. But that didn’t change the fact that the company missed out on an opportunity to add much-needed diversity to their organization and the role.
30 years: diversity and the evolution of the life sciences workplace
I’ve been in the executive search industry for more than 30 years now — you could say I grew up in it — with most of my time in the life sciences. I’ve had the opportunity to see the workplace change and experience first-hand the value and impact diversity adds to the workplace. Like everyone in the industry, I’ve been overwhelmingly impressed by the actions of the leaders who’ve built businesses, driven innovation, and balanced it all against a life-improving mission. And it’s been encouraging to see the number of these leaders who have been or are female continue to grow.
When my own firm was at its largest, most of our consultants were women. It wasn’t intentional or because someone said I needed to hire more women, these were simply the best individuals for their roles. Our former head of operations, for example, was one of the best assessors of executive talent ever. She was the smartest human I’ve ever known, fearless with any big-ego executive, and could get to the heart of any candidate, even the passive ones. She brought unique skills to the role, relied frequently on what she deemed “intuition,” and had a knack for uncovering candidate nuances in a way no other person could. She wouldn’t stop until she had every detail she needed to ensure the client had only the right candidates in front of them without question. We continue to use her tactics to this day.
The writing on the wall: life sciences’ future with women in leadership roles
A few years ago while working in Europe, I attended a presentation by a Ph.D. considered to be a top futurist in Europe. Part of the data he shared pointed to the impact of women leadership at companies. His analysis was that we desperately need more women in leadership roles. My assessment: looking through my own 30 years of experience, this needs to go beyond directors and executives and needs to happen at the Board level at life sciences companies, too. I shared this info with my daughters when I returned home: the future will be driven by women in leadership roles. I’m hoping in part this helped convince my 17-year-old daughter to take the biotechnology class she’s currently enrolled in (if you can’t tell, I’m a very happy dad).
I’m still in close contact with most of the women we developed as finalist candidates for the pharmaceutical company. It’s been exciting to watch their careers grow and see the impact each has had. And when I read a recent article about under-40 women leaders who are shaping the future of healthcare, I immediately thought back to them.
I highly recommend you read the article, too, and see what and who is on the horizon. I also want to congratulate everyone who’s featured in the list and extend a sincere thank you to the people who quietly coached and served as mentors to the under-40 women leaders and to every woman in the office next door.
We don’t receive as many diversity directives in our searches these days, and maybe that’s because the slates of candidates we develop for life sciences leadership roles are known to be naturally diverse. Because it turns out when your goal is to find the very best people to lead an organization, it’s rare that they all look alike.
Read the article from Business Insider: