Balancing the lack of gender equality at top leadership level 

Women in Life Science Denmark (WiLD), an inspiring and science-centric not-for-profit network for women in senior positions across industry and academia, launched in January 2023 to strengthen value creation in the Danish Life Sciences industry, while promoting talent, diversity and inclusiveness. DDW’s Megan Thomas caught up with WiLD to learn more about the future for this initiative. 

What initially inspired this initiative?  

WiLD was co-founded by Lene Gerlach, Partner at life sciences venture capital firm Eir Ventures, alongside 10 experienced women from the Life Science Industry including Kirsten Drejer, former CEO of Symphogen. The network was originally set up to address gender disparity at the top leadership level in Denmark, the Nordic country with fewest female top executives.  

“Despite numerous initiatives, there are still barriers to equality with regards to diversity in leadership positions in both corporate and academic institutions”, said Gerlach. “Denmark is in 32nd place on the World Economic Forum’s list of gender equality, while our neighboring countries Finland, Norway and Sweden list in the top five. Despite many women being educated and working within the life sciences, there is a lack of gender equality at the top leadership level. Only 26% out the largest companies are led by women, despite gender parity in terms of workers in the field overall. At the universities, only 23% of professors are women.” 

What impact will this initiative have on both the wider Danish life science industry, but also for drug discovery? 

The ambition of WiLD is to create a professional network of female leaders and entrepreneurs in the industry to inspire the next generation of women to strive for senior positions in corporate and academic institutions or becoming entrepreneurs both in Denmark and globally across the life sciences industry. Since its inception at the beginning of the year, WiLD now has over 120 members, including 60 C-level executives and other senior leading figures in the industry. Moreover, we hope that drug discovery to a larger extent will focus on improving healthcare for women. 

What does being a member of this professional network entail? Would this be suitable for a member of the drug discovery community?  

With this network, we will contribute to unlocking the full talent potential in Denmark by promoting female talent and bringing it into play in life sciences and in society. The first initiative is a mentor programme targeted towards female talent within the life sciences. The mentor programme enlists members of WiLD as mentors to offer both individual mentoring of up-and-coming female talents, as well as team sparring in more senior peer-to-peer groups. In addition, our mentors will engage in public speaking outside the network, for instance in educational institutions, industry associations and similar places. 

What are your short-term plans for the next year with this newly launched initiative?  

In addition to launching the network, two synergistic initiatives will be introduced during 2023. The first initiative is the mentor programme. The second initiative consists of an expert panel of industry experts from the WiLD network. The panel can be accessed to contribute expert knowledge to the media and participate in public discourse – and thereby increase the visibility of female experts and role models both within the life science industry and in the society at large. This is essential to rectify the gender bias towards female experts in the public realm. The expert panel is targeted towards media, researchers and collaborators and will be publicised on the network’s web page.  

Women in Life Science Denmark hosts four annual network events with focus on knowledge sharing, insight and discussion of industry relevant topics, in addition to talks covering diversity and inclusiveness. We also have an ambition of participating and contributing to public discourse regarding life sciences generally and diversity specifically. 

What are your long-term plans for the future of this initiative?  

With this network, women with influence within Danish Life Science will seek to increase diversity at the senior level for the benefit of society and companies. Specifically, Women in Life Science Denmark will seek to: 

  • Unfold the full talent potential in the life sciences by increasing diversity and inclusiveness
  • Increase visibility of female role models and their paths within life sciences and in the greater society 
  • Contribute to value creation through professional knowledge sharing and networking

The focus of WiLD is on gender diversity, but we will strive to promote diversity and inclusiveness in various ways, including age, nationality, background, education, experience etc. 

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