There’s no shortage of ways to network in the San Francisco Bay Area’s biotech industry if your interest is in science, dealmaking, patents, finance, or some other specialty. But there was no group until recently geared toward one distinct group of people within the industry—women.
That’s changing now as Women in Bio, an international volunteer organization that seeks to help women advance their careers in biotech, has branched out to open a chapter in San Francisco. Given that SF is one of the nation’s top two biotech clusters, and therefore one of the most obvious places on Earth for such a group to exist, I had to ask new chapter chair Simone Fishburn why the Bay Area took so long to start up, following behind other places like Washington D.C., Chicago, and Seattle.
“It’s kind of surprising to a lot of people that we didn’t already have a chapter. I don’t have a good answer for that,” Fishburn says.
Whatever the reason, the San Francisco group is up and running now, doing its part to even the scales in this traditionally male-dominated industry. There has been a groundswell of enthusiasm among women in the biotech industry for this group, which I first saw and wrote about last September in Seattle. The San Francisco chapter started up shortly thereafter in December, and has since put together various committees for communications, events, fundraising and more, Fishburn says. The big thing on the calendar now is Women in Bio’s chapter kick-off networking event March 22 in San Francisco, which will feature Kim Popovits, the CEO of Redwood City, CA-based Genomic Health (NASDAQ: GHDX). More than 250 people have joined the group’s membership list, Fishburn says.
Fishburn, a scientific consultant with Exponent who formerly worked for Nektar Therapeutics, brimmed with enthusiasm over the phone last week in describing what’s driving this effort. She says women are rallying around the idea of building their professional networks, and seeking out mentors and role models.
Because the group brings together women of different ages, ethnicities, and professional backgrounds, members can start seeing possibilities for themselves they might not otherwise see, Fishburn says. People who “don’t look that different from me” suddenly look like role models who prove that it’s possible to make the leap from the lab bench to become, say, a patent attorney. That’s the kind of thing that can inspire women to start thinking bigger, Fishburn says, whether it’s about a new career path, or doing something even more ambitious, like starting a new company.
“It’s empowering for women. They like the idea they are taking their own futures and careers in their hands,” Fishburn says.
The enthusiasm among volunteers has been surprising at times, she says. She didn’t want to outline specific goals for the chapter in 2012 just yet, but it’s safe to expect more events, and a growing membership base, she says.
“We’ve said things like, ‘we need someone to step up and do this task,’ and within hours, somebody does,” Fishburn says. “It’s an amazing thing to see in an all-volunteer organization, where people do it because they want to do it. There’s no bonus at the end of the year, there’s no boss to impress. But people are stepping up.”
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