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Where Are the Female Leaders in the Life Sciences?

I am committed to creating stronger life-sciences businesses – my own, of course, as well as my clients’. One of the key ways I can achieve this is by helping my clients build strong and diverse leadership teams. Teams that reap strength from their diversity tend to include members of the slightly more than 50% of the population that is female. Unfortunately, many teams do not. And existing female leaders can prove difficult to find (as I learned personally).

I find myself asking again and again: why aren’t more executive-level women more visible – especially online?

Searching High & Low

As a leader myself, I wanted to help other qualified women take on more prominent positions in the life sciences – which is why one of the organizations I volunteer for and support is the Healthcare Businesswomen’s Association (HBA). The HBA is a global nonprofit organization comprised of individuals and organizations from across the healthcare industry who are committed to achieving gender parity in leadership positions. They facilitate career and business connections and coach organizations in the most effective practices to realize the full power and potential of their female talent.

I am also proud to be the Program Director for the next HBA Leadership Summit in Leiden, the Netherlands, on October 26 and 27, which is hosted and sponsored by Astellas. In addition to featuring inspiring talks by dynamic leaders (both male and female) in the healthcare industry and beyond (this year the keynote speaker will be astronaut and physician Dr. André Kuipers), the HBA Europe Leadership Summit provides attendees opportunities for both networking and professional advancement.

I particularly love the networking aspect of the event. Having worked in the industry for some time now, I do have a big existing network of strong and talented life-sciences leaders, but I always look forward to connecting with more strong female leaders with interesting backgrounds and compelling stories.

For the team responsible for finding top-notch speakers for the conference, it was important that up-and-coming leaders also be given the stage to share their experiences and discuss thought-provoking topics in the healthcare industry. For example, Inez de Greef, CEO of Treeway will speak about “ALS: how the ice-bucket challenge impacted awareness of rare diseases.”

To help find such speakers, I tuned into my most useful research skills for the task and it was a much bigger challenge than expected! I was shocked by the lack of female leadership I was finding, and apparently I was not the only one (keep reading!).

Where are all the female leaders in the life sciences, and why is it so hard to find them?

CEO Barbie? 

Seuss Account Manager Jessica Kundapur was putting together a presentation for which she wanted some CEO-themed images. She also turned, as we all do, to Google. Unsurprisingly, famous CEOs such as Steve Jobs, Bill Gates and other men wearing suits and ties topped the search results. Jessica wasn’t shocked by all of the images of men, but what did surprise her, as she scrolled down, was that the first image of a female CEO she saw was CEO Barbie. Yes, Google ranked an image of CEO Barbie above images of actual female CEOs.

Google certainly has complex algorithms on how data is ranked and shown, but Jessica and I both know and admire a number of female CEOs, in- and outside our industry. How can it be that they’re not appearing in our search results?

Of course, part of the problem is societal – traditional ideas of what a CEO is. However, we believe that female leaders can also help boost their own digital visibility with practices such as maintaining a fantastic LinkedIn profile and a strong personal brand. We need more leaders to share their unique stories online as well as their opinions, insights and successes through blog posts, social media activity and more. Not only will their stories inspire others, but it will draw more opportunities to them, through which they can continue the cycle of inspiration.

When more women and other underrepresented leaders start doing the same, when the industry looks around and sees effective, successful and profitable leaders of all varieties, society (and Google!) will start to have a broader view of what a CEO looks like.

By Sabine Hutchison, co-founder and Managing Director of Seuss Recruitment. Learn more about Seuss Executive and our respectful, thoughtful, professional approach to life-science leadership recruitment.