Mar 25, 2019

About the author

Ali Ardakani

Ali Ardakani is the Managing Director of Novateur Ventures and Director at the LifeSciences BC Board of Directors. His passions are his family, using technology to advance life science, travel, and helping entrepreneurs be successful.

Topic tags

Health Science, Leadership, Science, Technology, Women in Science

Importance of Women's Leadership in Life Sciences

It wasn’t very long ago when, at the JP Morgan Healthcare Conference, presenters named Michael outnumbered female CEOs giving company presentations1. Of the presenters, there were 22 men named Michael, overshadowing the total number of 20 female CEOs. With 4 out of 9 panels including no women at all, as either moderators or panelist. This was only a year ago. JPM this January saw a slight shift in its presenter line-up, but 90% were still men, reported STAT2. It is interesting to note though, J.P. Morgan’s Executive Leadership Team itself is a good example of gender diversity, with 43.8% women3. As JPM is one of the largest annual gatherings in the world for biopharmaceutical executives, it serves as a window to the biotech and biopharma landscape as a whole.

For many of us, the lack of women in leadership positions in the life sciences unfortunately doesn’t come as a surprise, even though there have been some positive trends in recent years. In 2004, a study in the Canadian Medical Association Journal stated that “the gender gap in medical schools no longer exits,” 4 with a mean of 58% of women attending Canadian medical school classes, compared with a mean of 42% of men. Life sciences in general follow the same trend as medical student attendance. From 1991 to 2011, the amount of women in life science occupations almost doubled from 23% to 43%, accounting to Statistics Canada5. Despite these encouraging statistics, the increase in number of women in healthcare has not proportionally translated to leadership positions.

I recently joined a board of a biotechnology company, with a focus on developing novel therapeutics for women. The CEO and I wanted to have experienced life science female board members join us. One of the most difficult tasks was to identify qualified candidates and ability to reach out to them. After much networking, we found two phenomenal board members, including our now Chairwoman who has successfully transformed our company.

There is a clear disconnect between the growth of women in the sector, and the positions made available. In addition, the lack of training, development opportunities and support for women in middle management to take on leadership positions has delayed the realization of further growth in roles to be occupied. In 2018 California passed a law that publicly traded companies headquartered in CA must have at least one woman on their board by the end of 20196 – this systematic shift is what we need for a sustainable movement to take hold.


"I believe the only way to fill the gender gap is to provide more opportunities to our female counterparts to fill in senior executive roles, and as a male in a leadership role, it is a conscious priority and responsibility to fulfill that promise."

Ali Ardakani
Managing Director of Novateur Ventures


At least half of health care products our sector develops treats the female population. Should they not have equal participation in development of these promising and in many cases life saving products?



  1. Robbins, Rebecca and Meghana Keshavan. “Men named Michael outnumber female CEOs presenting at #JPM18.” STAT News. 2018.
  2. Robbins, Rebecca. “A year after ‘the Michaels,’ more women will take the JPM stage — but 90 percent of presenters are still male.” STAT News. 2019.
  3. Rob Wright. “Gender Diversity In Leadership – How Does Biopharma Compare?” Life Science Leader. 2018.
  4. Burton, Kirsteen R and Ian K Wong. “A force to contend with: The gender gap closes in Canadian medical schools” CMAJ: Canadian Medical Association journal = journal de l’Association medicale canadienne vol. 170,9 (2004): 1385-6.
  5. Dionne-Simard, Dominique, Diane Galarneau and Sébastien Larochelle-Côté “Women in scientific occupations in Canada.” Statistics Canada. Issue Number: 2016001. 2016.
  6. Carpenter, Julia and Jackie Wattles. “California has a new law: No more all-male boards” CNN Business. 2018.


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