Bias In Biotech Funding Has Blocked Companies Led By Women

In Economy On

Sangeeta Bhatia, a superstar of engineering and medicine, was working on a new biotechnology start-up company when she got a piece of friendly advice from an investor who had backed her previous company.

He said Bhatia, a tenured Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor, should bring along a male graduate student when she pitched the idea to venture capitalists. Sinking millions of dollars into a new idea that could transform medicine was a very personal decision, and he said it was important the investors feel comfortable, she recalled.

“As you talk to [female] colleagues in the world, they all kind of nod their head. ‘I’ve been told that,’” Bhatia said. “It’s sort of like: Note to self.”

Women have made significant gains in the sciences during the past few decades, but men continue to dominate leadership of the biotech industry — where science and business collide to turn ivory tower insights into medicines and biomedical technologies that can change the world. It’s a disparity hidden in plain sight, from the predominantly male chief executives of biotech companies to, as Bloomberg News reported, a party at the biggest dealmaking event of the year that featured models in tiny dresses as cocktail waitresses.

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