JP Morgan: Where the Boys Are…And Not the Girls

1/16/12Follow @venturevalkyrie

I set off for five straight days at the annual JP Morgan Healthcare Conference last Monday, but on the way drove the carpool to my daughter’s high school that morning in a last ditch attempt to act like a responsible and caring parent. My poor daughter gets completely abandoned during JP Morgan week every year and, as she so aptly put it, it is a mixed blessing. When I arrived home finally Friday afternoon she said to me that she likes that I am not there to tell her what to do, but not that I am not there to act as her personal assistant and laugh at her jokes. I must admit, she is pretty funny. Especially that part about the personal assistant.

Anyway, during my last parental act of last week, my daughter’s friend, who also happens to be a JP Morgan orphan (her dad is also a healthcare venture capitalist), asked me from the back seat, “So, are there many women at this conference?”

It was interesting to get that question from a 15 year old, as it certainly wasn’t the kind of thing I worried about at her age, probably to my detriment. In response I told her that I estimated that about 10 percent of the people who attend the JP Morgan conference and the associated three-ring circus of meetings and parties are women, about the same percentage of women that are represented in the venture capital profession generally. She was not impressed, nor should she be. In a field where women hold many senior positions in actual US healthcare corporations, they are drowned out at this conference by the advancing horde of finance guys in red ties and the CEOs that love them.

The JP Morgan conference and the fanfare that surrounds it bring thousands of people to San Francisco each year. They fill every hotel lobby, taxi cab, bathroom stall and barstool within a 10 block radius of Union Square. Many people don’t even go into the JP Morgan conference venue itself, using the occasion of the event to set up one-on-one meetings with everyone they ever met or wanted to meet in the healthcare industry. I attended so many 30-60 minute meetings in so many different hotels that I suspect people are wondering about my true profession. If you were recruiting for “The Bachelor” TV show, you could simply stand among the hundreds of men sitting in the sun with their ties loosened in Union Square Plaza and it would take you 10 seconds to find your candidate.

Given the ample supply of men and the fact that the conference is conveniently situated at the exact center of the 10 best shoe departments in the city, you would think more women would be in attendance, particularly given the after-Christmas sales. However, like so many professional situations in which I find myself, not so much. Nevertheless, there were a few standout moments that gave one hope, particularly if one were of the lipstick-wearing persuasion.

I was invited to attend a Pfizer breakfast and what stood out from it was the number of women who held virtually all of the senior Pfizer positions. Almost all of the 100+ attendees were men, but the speakers and leaders, representing Pfizer’s venture capital, innovation and other key corporate functions, were mostly women. You gotta love a room filled with men in rapt attention as the ladies told them how it was going to be.

I also attended a great women’s VC dinner along with about 28 or so others. What was particularly notable about the dinner was that I knew so few of the people there. I thought I knew most of the women in my profession, but apparently not. It was great to meet so many new and accomplished people and I can tell you that the banter was notably different from the other dinners I attended. The funniest part was the creative self-deprecating humor that people used when we went around the room each introducing ourselves. That is not often the way that men make their first impression on a room, at least not intentionally. It is a marked difference between men and women, I believe, in that men are more comfortable publicly touting their accomplishments by and large, while women too often … Next Page »

Lisa Suennen is Managing Partner at Venture Valkyrie Consulting, a firm providing advisory services to companies, organizations, and private equity firms in the healthcare field, and the co-author of Tech Tonics: Can Passionate Entrepreneurs Heal Healthcare With Technology? Follow @venturevalkyrie

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  • Lisa Suennen

    Thanks for including me today, Wade. I am telling you the great untapped market opportunity at JP Morgan is selling blister treatments at the corner of Post and Stockton! http://venturevalkyrie.com

  • http://www.drbonnie360.com Bonnie Feldman (@DrBonnie360)

    Having been at JP Morgan for the last 10 years, I was struck by the decreasing number of women at this conference. Perhaps my view is skewed from my 5 ft vantage point, but the view looked to me like a sea of dark suits. In contrast, the CES Digital Summit had plenty of women.

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  • http://www.zoomedia.com Barbara Lavery

    Thanks for the “girls” take on JPM Lisa! It’s always fun but also a little odd to be one of the few “running in heels” from meeting to meeting in a sea of black suits every year :) I did manage to participate on a panel at the New Paradigms meeting were 4 out of 5 of us panelists were ladies – nice for a change!

  • http://www.asiaticlinical.com Mithra Bindhu

    Very well written Lisa ! Your article brought a smile to my lips and hope for women. :-)

  • http://venturevalkyrie.com Lisa Suennen

    Thanks Bonnie, Barbara and Mithra for throwing in with me! Lisa

  • Nicole Martin

    The male blue suit overload effect was in full throttle in every single hotel lobby around the conference. At first I found it funny, and then I just started to think of myself in a foreign country. It’s strange when there are so few women around.

  • http://www.xconomy.com/author/ltimmerman/ Luke Timmerman

    Lisa—thanks much for this post. It reminded me how strange it felt to be one of about five guys in a room of 200 women at Women in Bio’s Seattle chapter kickoff party last fall. Many of the women I saw there have never been on the usual industry event circuit, to attend things like JP Morgan. But I wouldn’t be surprised to see many more women turning out in the years to come.

    http://www.xconomy.com/seattle/2011/09/16/women-in-bios-seattle-chapter-kick-off-the-photo-gallery/

  • http://venturevalkyrie.com Lisa Suennen

    Luke, let’s hope you’re right. Would be nice to be in the majority for a change. Lisa

  • http://www.hirealternaitve.com Cindy Cremona

    Lisa – so pleased to see your take on the JPM conference. It was my first, and I too was struck by the ‘uniform’ of blue male filled suits in the majority! I’m proud to be part of the growing minority and to hear how the few have had so much impact on the many.

    Next year, I’ll be armed or shall I say legged with more comfortable shoes, blister pads and a little more confidence that I am not the only ‘girl’ in the room.

  • Mary Kay Fenton

    Wonderful piece, Lisa. Sadly, as JPM veteran, I’ve become blinded to the vast imbalance of women at most healthcare business events. It’s only when I read a something like your post or relay the experience to a friend that I realize just how far we have to go!

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