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talking about things like child care issues, elder care issues, when there aren’t any men around. One of the perennial themes is balancing family and work, which will always be an issue as long as women shoulder more of the burden for family matters.
Jacque Boyd, a communications consultant in Seattle who attended the event, said the event felt more to her like a social gathering in which she was able to catch up with old friends. It wasn’t so much about breaking through any glass ceilings, or advancing a political idea. Then again, she adds, she knows that she could easily pick up the phone and talk business with any of these women next week or next month. “There is still a glass ceiling, but women just like to connect. It was about camaraderie,” Boyd said. Cheryl Lubbert, the president of HPG, a 45-person health communications firm in Seattle, agreed that for her it was all about the camaraderie, the connections, and not really gender issues. “When you connect people like this, men and women alike, you get generation of new ideas,” Lubbert says.
I couldn’t agree more that networking is essential to stimulating the innovation community. It’s one of the founding ideas at Xconomy.
But if you really want to get the most out of any region’s talent pool, you’d think that tapping into the collective smarts and drive of 50 percent of the population would be kind of important. Yet it’s still rare for women to get to the top, and be judged solely on their own merits.
Just a couple days after I attended the Seattle networking event, I flew to San Francisco, where I interviewed Susan Desmond-Hellmann. She’s the chancellor of UC San Francisco, one of the nation’s top biomedical research centers. She’s a biotech industry legend from her experience as president of product development at Genentech, during its impressive run in the 2000s, when it became the world’s biggest cancer drug maker.
I prepared a lot of questions for my exclusive interview with Desmond-Hellmann, not thinking of gender at all. But she brought it up, and not in a way that I expected.
“People make a big deal about me being the first woman chancellor at UCSF,” Desmond-Hellmann says. “But I think it’s a much bigger deal that I’m the first chancellor with business experience.”
So Desmond-Hellmann, one of the most accomplished biotech executives ever, is still viewed in some parts as being an accomplished woman, more so than an accomplished business executive. It’s a distinction that matters. I have no doubt that if her Genentech colleague Art Levinson had taken the UCSF job, people would have looked at him primarily as the first chancellor with business experience.
Despite all the progress, it’s going to take a long, long time and a lot of conscious effort before biotech gets closer to gender balance in the most influential and visible leadership roles. If all-female networking groups are needed to help balance things out, then I say these groups deserve broad support from across the industry. Women and men alike, I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comment section below. What do you think should be done to close the gender gap?
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