At MassBio meeting, life sciences industry asks: Are we a fraternity?


Boston Business Journal | March 22, 2018

The Boston Business Journal article, “At MassBio meeting, life sciences industry asks: Are we a fraternity?" quoted Russell Reynolds Associates Consultant Cissy Young about diversity in the life sciences industry. The article is excerpted below.

When a virtual biotech startup called Morphic Therapeutics moved into physical office space in Waltham in 2016, its CEO, Praveen Tipirneni, glanced around the room and realized that it “looked like a fraternity,” he recalled. So he vowed to make a concerted effort to hire more female employees.

“The first few months to a year of a company really determines its culture down the road,” Tipirneni said on Wednesday during a panel discussion about gender diversity at the annual meeting of MassBio, the state’s biotech trade group. “I was very paranoid about the diversity effort because I wanted a company that was very balanced, for lots of different reasons.”

That concern seemed to loom over the first day of the proceedings at the Royal Sonesta hotel in Cambridge, where some 400 people gathered to discuss the state of the industry. The meeting had a familiar pep rally atmosphere, with a parade of speakers touting the local biotech cluster (and often, their own companies) for developing life-saving drugs and helping to power the state’s economy. But organizers also placed renewed emphasis on addressing the industry’s chronic gender disparities.

That kind of introspection was on display during the panel on gender diversity, which was lacking in previous annual meetings. The timing isn't a coincidence. MassBio issued a landmark report in September that diagnosed the industry’s shortcomings, using hard data culled from on a survey of 850 life sciences professionals and 70 companies in Massachusetts. The report also included a list of 50 recommendations for biotech firms and employees.

“Nobody is going to say, ‘I don’t support diversity.’ That’s like saying, ‘I don’t like puppies,’” said panelist Cissy Young, a managing director of executive search firm Russell Reynolds Associates. “If everyone believes in it, how do we turn these soundbytes into actions?”

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At MassBio meeting, life sciences industry asks: Are we a fraternity?