Life Science

Reflecting on Women Who Lead in Life Sciences 2021

Last year right before the world began to shut down, I had the opportunity to attend San Francisco Business Times’ Women Who Lead in Life Sciences event.  I left that event feeling inspired and in awe of all of the amazing women who shared their stories. Who knew how dramatically the world would change and how prominent science would become?

This year’s event was virtual and the theme of Inform, Inspire, Connect was prominent in the two panels of women residing in top roles at life science companies.  Like last year, diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) continued to be the focus and because this work is a significant part of Newfront’s ethos, we found this event particularly insightful.

The first panel was comprised of female Founders and Funders – academic/science founder, venture capitalist and CEO, all part of Lycia Therapeutics. They discussed forming a company from the science to the funding and then building – with a top-tier CEO and management team. During the build, the stars were aligned as connections were forged from networking with women.

Trailblazers featured panel of women from Five Prime Therapeutics, Allogene, Genentech and Caribou Biosciences. They all agreed that while there is still much work to do with respect to diversity and inclusion, the biotech landscape has improved tremendously in the past few years.

Here are some of the key takeaways:

  1. Pay it forward – open doors to help women succeed in leadership roles, especially in fields like engineering, manufacturing and medicine. It’s important for women to be role models for women and men so that men can then support women when those men move into other organizations.

  2. Women’s roles in life science continues to change. There continue to be advances in the C-suite, leadership in research and early development, and improvement in the demographics of clinical studies, with important work in advancing inclusive research.  “No one is surprised that I am a Chief Medical Officer and a woman”, said one panelist.

  3. It is time to be bold. Ask about people’s experiences so they can be included in the conversations about what is needed to further aims of diversity, equity, and inclusion at their organizations. What is preventing women from certain populations from getting a seat at the table? The inclusion of women, people of color, and people from diverse backgrounds isn’t just the right thing to do – it’s good for business.

  4. Having a sponsor is vital for women, especially for women of color. In closed-door meetings, it is critical to have a champion and for C-suite executives or founders to raise their hands or their voices on behalf of women for talent opportunities and career advancement. Women should have a personal “board of directors” to support them throughout their career for advice, professional guidance, networking, etc.

  5. Do not make false promises simply to check a box. Large companies have money and access to hire Chief Diversity Officers and teams. Smaller companies can utilize outside resources from organizations like BIO, company internships and STEM programs such as NexGeneGirls. Biotech companies can learn from each other and champion women to be part of the change.


Cristina Varner
The Author
Cristina Varner

National Life Science & Healthcare Practice Leader

Cristina Varner is the Life Science Practice Leader, leading a team of experienced account management professionals that service approximately 300 life science accounts. With 20+ years in the risk management field, Cristina is one of the industry’s foremost experts in complex Product Liability exposures and Clinical Trials insurance all over the world. She is the founder of the Life Science Practice at both her former employer and Newfront, deploying her vast experience with life science companies from start-up to grown up.

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