Women Helping Women in Biotechnology

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How can we empower women to advance their own careers? How do we encourage entrepreneurship for more female scientists? What will get more girls excited about science? Those are questions that the Women In Bio (WIB) organization seeks to address as it creates programs and networking events across the country. WIB is an organization of biotechnology professionals whose mission is to promote careers, leadership, and entrepreneurship for women involved in life sciences. Started in 2002 as a small support network by a group of visionary women in Washington, DC, WIB now boasts 10 chapters across the United States, Canada, and India. Membership is soaring as female professionals sign on to this congenial organization of career women dedicated to helping them reach their own goals. WIB’s chapters in North America cover many key metropolitan areas: Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Montreal, Pittsburgh, San Francisco, Seattle, and the Washington, DC/Baltimore area. Although each chapter reflects its own locale’s character, the groups together as a unified body to provide a global resource for women in the industry.

Unlike many other networking associations, WIB targets a broad base of members who work in biotech, big pharma, academia, government, philanthropic organizations, law and accounting firms, and service providers such as contract research and manufacturing organizations (CROs, CMOs). Members range from C-level executives to graduate students. WIB prides itself on its ability to create connections between women from different backgrounds, locations, and disciplines. Most significant, perhaps, is the organization’s emphasis on entrepreneurship and large representation of women who have started their own businesses. They span the spectrum from biotech start-ups to marketing and public relations firms.

Events

WIB holds a number of programs that feature successful female role models — often pioneers in their fields — who can inspire members to be ambitious, challenge themselves, and know that others who “look like them, walk like them, and talk like them” really can reach the top. Events are small and welcoming by design (generally fewer than 100 attendees), which enables people to interact directly with speakers and with each other so that they emerge having made solid connections and learned something new. Top industry leaders have signed on to speak at WIB events and helped propel the organization to the forefront of women’s career organizations.

In 2010, Janet Woodcock — director of the Center for Drug Evaluation and Research (CDER) at the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) — launched WIB’s “Discussion with the Expert” series with a luncheon talk in Washington, DC, on CDER’s critical issues and initiatives related to new drug approvals. At the 2010 WIB-San Francisco launch event, Kim Popovits (Genomic Health’s chief executive officer) inspired Bay Area women with the story of her journey to the top. She challenged them to “dare to fail.” Later the same year, Congresswoman Jackie Speier (D-CA) talked to others of the “guts, gumption, and grit” it takes to succeed. She motivated her audience to help others with the “biggest G of all: giving back.”

That is one of the principal tenets of WIB, which operates on an entirely volunteer basis. The organization is driven by women who want to commit their spare time, energy, and brain power to a group that can positively affect the lives of others. Participants have been educated and inspired by what they have learned, and they have embraced the enterprise as one that can fuel a pipeline of successful women. “[The] key now is to get women engaged,” said Rebecca Harris of Chatham University at the WIB-Pittsburgh launch event in November 2012. “[WIB] is the platform to do it.”

Education

In addition to providing a place for networking and professional development, WIB also encourages girls to enter science. Young Women In Bio (YWIB) is a branch of every chapter that aims to help girls experience the excitement and fun of scientific research. YWIB partners with local biotech companies to put on laboratory-based events that include hands-on experiments. Originally targeted for middle-school girls, the program has received such a positive reaction that WIB is responding to requests to expand the program for high-school girls. Such events are planned for 2013.

Making Connections

WIB holds a signature national event annually where members from around the world can gather to meet in person, swap stories, and exchange ideas. This year, WIB is enabling many more to attend a reception at the BIO 2013 Convention in Chicago, IL, where Jill Milne (CEO of Catabasis) will be featured as keynote speaker. More information can be found at http://womeninbio.org/annual13.shtml or at WIB’s booth at the BIO 2013 convention.

Creating connections… encouraging entrepreneurship… emboldening women to believe that they can succeed… and empowering women to tread untrodden ground: Those are the answers WIB provides to the questions of how we can create a path for more women and girls to reach the highest positions of influence and responsibility within the life-sciences industry.

About the Author

Author Details
Phyllis Dillinger, MBA, CFO, KPL, is president of Women in Biotech, and Simone Fishburn, PhD, of Exponent, Inc. is president-elect. Email inquiries about membership or sponsorship to info@womeninbio.org; www.womeninbio.org. A 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, WIB is funded by membership fees and generous contributions from sponsoring organizations that support its mission. WIB events are open to women and men, members and nonmembers.

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