The Barbie Movie phenomenon entered the biotech world as attendees at Advanced Therapies Europe gathered in Lisbon, Portugal to discuss why women often ask for less in a business setting.
While the topic of Barbie does not often arise in a conference setting, Becky Kent, head of Women in Advanced Therapies (WIAT) at Phacilitate, kicked off the pre-day session with the following quote from the recent blockbuster movie:
“It is literally impossible to be a woman. You are so beautiful, and so smart, and it kills me that you don’t think you’re good enough. Like, we have to always be extraordinary, but somehow, we’re always doing it wrong.
“You have to be thin, but not too thin. And you can never say you want to be thin. You have to say you want to be healthy, but also you have to be thin. You have to have money, but you can’t ask for money because that’s crass. You have to be a boss, but you can’t be mean. You have to lead, but you can’t squash other people’s ideas. You’re supposed to love being a mother, but don’t talk about your kids all the damn time. You have to be a career woman but also always be looking out for other people. You have to answer for men’s bad behaviour, which is insane, but if you point that out, you’re accused of complaining. You’re supposed to stay pretty for men, but not so pretty that you tempt them too much or that you threaten other women because you’re supposed to be a part of the sisterhood.
“But always stand out and always be grateful. But never forget that the system is rigged. So, find a way to acknowledge that but also always be grateful. You have to never get old, never be rude, never show off, never be selfish, never fall down, never fail, never show fear, never get out of line. It’s too hard!”
The quote outlines the contradictory standards women are expected to follow and i sparked conversation concerning the challenges of female-led fundraising in the Life Sciences space.
Daniella Kranjac, founding partner of venture capital firm Dynamk Capital, told the audience “Women tend to ask for less [funding], as well as checking all the boxes before they go after something.”
This sentiment was echoed by Katrien Reynders, board member of HollandBIO, who said “I have been through this when trying to get seed funding. I was told by an investor that women just raise less money.”
To tackle these challenges, Kranjac said she uses her knowledge of the investor landscape to think about what she can change through her position.
“I can change what I can do from being an investor. I can ensure we are investing in women and in diversity and therefore we are setting specific criteria at these companies.”
Angela Vollstedt, global director cell and gene therapies (CGT) portfolio at Novartis, ended the panel by discussing the importance of being “your own CEO” and making sure women “connect, mentor, provide ideas of confidence” so we do not ask for less.