AN FRANCISCO — There are more men named Michael (22) than female CEOs (20) giving company presentations at this week’s J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference.
All told, men represent 94 percent of the 540 people presenting these high-profile corporate updates at the industry confab. In addition, men represent 77 percent of the speakers for JPM’s special sessions — a slate of talks that includes nine panel events, four of which are all-male panels with no women moderators or panelists at all.
The speaker lineups are slightly more diverse at several of the ancillary conferences surrounding the main JPM event, but those, too, skew male. Sixty-seven percent of speakers at the Biotech Showcase are male. And 75 percent of speakers at the Startup Health Festival are male.
STAT tallied these numbers by reviewing agendas for each of the three conferences. The paucity of female speakers reflects the dynamics of the male-dominated industries — finance and biopharma — that converge at the gathering. Each January, thousands of industry investors, executives, and staffers assemble into an army of dark suits in San Francisco’s Union Square for a high-stakes week of dealmaking, networking, and after-hours socializing.
This year’s conference comes two years after an infamous party on the sidelines of the conferences in which investor relations firm LifeSci Advisors hired models in short dresses to socialize with guests at their reception, stirring widespread outrage. It also comes as the #MeToo movement has raised awareness not only about sexual harassment but gender issues in the workplace.
One of the 20 female CEOs giving a corporate presentation at JPM is Julia Owens of privately held Millendo Therapeutics. She told STAT she was “disappointed but not surprised to hear that it’s that low.”
In addition to the 20 female CEOs, there are 13 scheduled female presenters with different titles like chief financial officer or vice president. They are in most cases scheduled to present alongside one or more male colleagues. Many of them come from the 22 nonprofit companies, mostly health systems, presenting at JPM. In this category, 27 percent of scheduled presenters are women.
By comparison, there are 18 scheduled presenters named John, 14 named David, and 14 named Mark.
The organizers of JPM are not responsible for the dearth of women among the company presenters. That’s because companies invited to present at the conference can choose to send any of their executives to give the 30-minute talk. They usually, but not always, dispatch their CEO to take the stage alone.
JPM conference organizers do choose the slate of high-profile speakers who give opening remarks, talk on panels, participate in fireside chats, and deliver keynote speeches. This year’s schedule features 23andMe CEO Anne Wojcicki and the billionaire philanthropist Bill Gates, among others.
Gurpreet Kaur, a spokeswoman for J.P. Morgan, declined to comment for this story.
In addition to having higher proportions of female speakers than JPM, the Biotech Showcase and the Startup Health Festival avoided all-male panels. Both conferences had at least one woman on each of their scheduled panels. These and other ancillary conferences surrounding JPM are known in biopharma circles for drawing a more diverse crowd than the main event. That’s in part a reflection of the size of the companies that they draw.
“As companies get larger and larger, fewer and fewer of the CEOs are women,” said Lisa Suennen, managing director at GE Ventures. “I don’t expect it to change a lot in my lifetime.”
The J.P. Morgan conference tends to feature more of these mature biopharmaceutical companies, most of which are public — and “they just don’t have enough women in the C-suite,” said Nina Kjellson, a general partner at the venture capital firm Canaan. The startups have more visible females, she said, which is why “more Biotech Showcase companies need to grow up and make it to the J.P. Morgan roster.”
Adding in some gender balance was a top priority for the organizers of the Startup Health Festival, because “it’s essential to balance the perspectives that set the agenda for the future of healthcare,” a spokeswoman said in an email. As most of the industry — from investor teams to company leadership — is run by men, the hope is that buoying more women to launch their own startups might have a positive downstream effect on the industry long term.
Biotech Showcase, too, has “made a concerted effort to diversify our speaker lineup,” said Anna Chrisman, who serves as managing director for EBD Group, which organized the conference. It isn’t easy, however, given the demographics of the biopharmaceutical industry — and the Biotech Showcase numbers “reflect the diversity of the industry quite well,” she said.
“Our attendees don’t want a program that’s like an echo chamber,” she said. “When we include people with different backgrounds, it creates a more meaningful and engaging event.”