Published on 8 March 2021 – I liked this year’s International Women’s Day campaign theme:

A challenged world is an alert world. Individually we’re all responsible for our own thoughts and actions – all day, every day. 

Sebastien Stoitzner CEO at GenSearch 1 article

We can all choose to challenge and call out gender bias and inequality. We can all choose to seek out and celebrate women’s achievements. Collectively, we can all help create an inclusive world. 

From challenge comes change, so let’s all choose to challenge. 

This is about all day, this is about every day, this is about our individual responsibility. 

As executives’ recruiters and talent developers we have a specific place in the system from which we can both observe and act. 

There is a first observation which is encouraging: in 2021, on a Life Science/Healthcare market where the skills are specific and rare, the watchword is clear: competency first! 

However, the second observation is that the way the current executive’s talent pool has been structured in the past reflects the gender bias and inequality. 

A quick look at the percentage of the healthcare industry females’ country managers gives you an idea of this structuration: between 15 and 30 % depending on whether you look at Pharma, Biotech or MedTech and on the country. 

And for some higher scopes of responsibility, it will be even worse than that. Let me share our experience of a recent boar member/non-executive director search. 

Looking at C/VP level profiles with a global scope in the Life Science Research Tools market, less than 10% of those executives including an over-representation in the HR functions are women. It means that there is even less than 10% of women in all the other types of functions. 

I had come to a similar conclusion following an empirical observation methodology at Jefferies London Investors conference in 2019. I had literally counted, the men and women in different rooms and observed that women represented 10% on the crowd. 1 out of 10. I started to count because it jumped out at me. I remember  at  the time I posted on LinkedIn “This is a males’ males’ males’ world”. 

Let me tell you the second part of the story. Amongst the female leaders we talked to, 80% of them finally did not move forward even if they were interested because they shared, they could not commit in terms of time to spend on such a responsibility. 

The male proportion who withdrew for the same reason has been 20%. 

When I graduated from high school, it was in 1990, the proportion of F/M was quite balanced in this scientific section. However, 2 years later, in my engineer school specialized in Physics, there were 4 women out of 70 students, less than 6 %! 

Now 30 years later, a quick look at the current French figures shows that the proportion is more or less 50/50 in the last high school year and then 28% in Engineers school. 

Gender bias and inequality start early. In the representations the society has put in place and that influence the place we think we can have, or we can take, the ambition that we can allow ourselves. 

But fortunately, society has changed and the organisational and interactions’ models have evolved, especially in the industry. The skills which are required are not the same anymore: it gives space for other approaches and styles in addition to the work done by organisations to promote diversity. 

It makes me think about this funny comic, “In Thomas Pesquet spacesuit/Dans la combi de Thomas Pesquet” – not sure that it has been translated from French – in the pages on the assessments of the astronaut’s candidates which are a masterpiece for the ones who have already built assessment centres! 

They sum up the skills they dont not want anymore in this sentence “You cannot put 6 as big as Texas egos in such a small place!”. (the International Space Station).

 I guess that we need to educate again and again young generations to explain that everybody has the same rights and possibilities to foster everyone legitimate ambition without bias in order to be able to blow up the glass ceiling. 

Within organisations, competency first is key and has to be claimed but looking at this glass ceiling, I think that specific coaching support programs to develop self-awareness, self-confidence and right ambition can be also instrumental to unlock everyone potential that will empower the whole organization.