Robin Toft is the Author of WE CAN™, the Executive Woman’s Guide to Career Advancement and founder and CEO of Toft Group Executive Search, where she combines a deep inside knowledge of the life science industry with a passion for building game-changing management teams.
In this article, she discusses the new bill in California that aims to ensure equal numbers of men and women in the C-Suite, how gender diversity benefits business and why this is such an exciting time for women in life sciences.
Truthfully, this is an extraordinary time to be a woman in the biotech or pharma industries.
Toward the end of 2018, former California governor Jerry Brown signed into law a bill that requires all publicly held companies with California headquarters to have at least one woman on their board of directors by the end of 2019. The number increases to two by the end of 2021 for corporations with a five-person board. And those with six directors will need three women on their board by that time.
This is a GOOD thing!
I wasn’t too surprised when this legislation came under fire by women in the biotech and pharma industries. I get it; nobody wants to be the token woman. Nobody wants to fill a quota. However, Boards of directors in the healthcare industry are painfully underrepresented by women and other minorities. In fact, 1 in 4 public companies in California have zero women on their boards.
As much as I would prefer if this kind of common-sense progress didn’t have to be legislated, I do believe the law deserves celebration. It’s the extra push that many companies need to look beyond their comfort zones and personal networks for qualified additions to their board. I can’t wait for the aforementioned statistic to change and the continued nationwide conversation on diversity – very exciting!
A Welcome Change
Hiring women at the executive and board levels isn’t just about checking boxes for diversity; it’s about creating a stronger, more competitive workforce. According to research from McKinsey & Company, published in January 2018, gender diversity on executive teams is correlated with both profitability and value creation. Women are, quite literally, better for business.
Additionally, companies with female executives and board members will be thought of more highly among candidates; especially among younger workers more attuned to the matter. That’s critical with an accelerating talent crunch.
Executives need to focus on hiring outside of their networks to encompass a more diverse talent pool. To date, the majority (70 percent) of corporate directors have relied upon word of mouth and personal networking to identify the candidate pool for a new board member
Not your traditional Board of Directors search
Executives need to focus on hiring outside of their networks to encompass a more diverse talent pool. To date, the majority (70 percent) of corporate directors have relied upon word of mouth and personal networking to identify the candidate pool for a new board member, according to a National Association of Corporate Directors survey.
Unfortunately, this approach creates unintentional bias because the boards’ own networks are limited. It’s no surprise then that the resulting candidate pools are mostly comprised of men because: (1) most boards are already staffed by men and their networks tend to be their peers (also men) and (2) public companies typically seek public company experience, while the majority of these experienced executives tend to be — you’ve guessed it – men.
In the past, the minority (only 30 percent) of companies actually reached past their personal networks and conducted a thorough board search. With this legislation, I expect the vast majority of companies in California will leverage executive search firms for public company board search. At Toft Group, we are already seeing the effect, with more board search contracted in the first quarter of 2019 than in the entire year of 2018.
Truthfully, this is an extraordinary time to be a woman in the biotech or pharma industries. And I strongly believe that women are the key to bridging the diversity gap in the workplace.
Women; this is your opportunity! Identify your desired executive role or boardroom position. I suggest creating a list of the top ten companies of interest to you, for which you can add unique value. What are the technical skills required of that job? If you don’t have them, go acquire them. There are a number of board training programs – I personally like Women in BIO, Boardroom Ready, and other similar programs. This training will help you identify and address key gaps in your experience, and to customize your “Board Bio” for the role you want.
Never before has real change been so within reach. The power is in your hands….together WE CAN get these important products to market!