It was an energized and exciting evening at the November 14th WEST event, Pathways to Leadership Success: Working Toward Gender Balance Senior Panel Discussion. Biogen, Xconomy, and WEST hosted the event, which provided an exceptional opportunity for networking with around 150 members of the STEM community attending. The panel discussion featured the following leaders in academia and industry: Sangeeta Bhatia, Professor, MIT; Bruce Booth, Partner, Atlas Venture; and Sophie Vandebroek, CTO, Xerox. Jo Viney of Biogen/WEST and Bob Buderi of Xconomy moderated the event. The panel provided their perspectives and insights on actions that can be taken in the workplace to improve gender balance and increase awareness of gender bias.
Panelists were asked to comment on what can be done to cultivate women leaders. Sangeeta Bhatia remarked on the importance of being sure everyone is aware of “good practices” that can be put in place to advance women in academia and industry and the need to be aware of programs that are available to support and develop awareness of these topics. Bruce Booth commented about the need to have “active conversations” related to how bias affects choices and decisions. Part of the process involves helping people notice when bias is occurring around them. Sophie Vandebroek described situations where she will take a step back when a top choice for a hire is a man and the second choice is a woman and ask “why is the woman coming in second?” It’s important to understand if the candidate is really not qualified for the job or if she undersold her qualifications and is actually well qualified for the job.
While there are several highly competent and experience women working in the fields of science and technology, board positions are disproportionately populated by men. Bruce described the upcoming opportunity to onboard talented and qualified women to boards in the next few years given the projected number of new board seats that will become available as new companies are being formed. This could be a time to take advantage of these open positions and fill them with talented and experienced women. There was a lot of animated discussion about what can be done to make sure that 50% of the candidates interviewed for high-level positions are women as opposed to the usual 15%. Sophie pointed out that in order to increase the pool of qualified women there needs to be an “active process” put in place that is committed to advancing women in the workplace. For instance, we should ask ourselves “where do I see myself in 3-5 years?” “what are my strengths and weaknesses?” “what can I do to advance my career path?”. It was agreed by all that women need to see other women in leadership positions, this is part of the process that will make it common practice to see women in leadership roles and drive women to see themselves in a leadership role.
The night ended with an opportunity to mingle further and continue the discussion in small groups. It was a great night for networking and a chance to engage in a topic that is of importance to all of us.