By Scott Jackson, Vice President
by Dani Gavson
Think equal, build smart, innovate for change—this year’s theme for International Women’s Day conveys a strong message that aligns perfectly with our team’s vision of empowering women in the life science industry as they look to advance their careers to the C-suite and beyond. Empowerment is a process. Through this process, a woman becomes an agent of change. More simply, it’s the “can do” factor, going from “I can’t” to “I can,” which is the main theme in our founder and CEO’s newly launched book, WE CAN: The Executive Woman’s Guide to Career Advancement™. As a champion of diverse executive teams, Robin Toft strives to continuously increase our company’s reputation for placing women and minorities in executive and board positions within our industry.
Beyond this, the Toft team feels passionately that the empowerment of women in our everyday communities is just as important as the empowerment of women in the workplace. In our local communities of San Diego and San Francisco, we are proud and active advocates for women of all backgrounds. By contributing our talents and time to philanthropic organizations that hold personal meaning to our team members, we are able to help make the world a better place to live. We are passionate about making our communities better for everyone and believe in supporting causes that bring you personal joy.
A few of the organizations our team members are dedicated to include:
- Center for Community Solutions, a non-profit organization providing services for survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence—our President and COO, Ron Giannotti, sits on the board of directors and will be the chairman of the fundraising committee for the organization’s 50th anniversary in 2019;
- MANA de San Diego, a national Latina organization whose mission is to empower Latinas through education, leadership development, advocacy and community service—our Vice President of Customer Experience, Linda Sierra, recently joined the board of directors;
- The Clearity Foundation, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to supporting women and families facing ovarian cancer by providing science-based information, tumor testing and extensive free services—Toft Group, Robin Toft and Linda Sierra helped the foundation celebrate 10 years of hope with Clearity’s “Teal Woman” fundraising event by donating a number of auction items to help raise money to support the organization’s mission;
- And the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation, a non-profit working towards saving lives by meeting the most critical needs in the breast cancer community and investing in breakthrough research to prevent and cure the disease—Toft Group has participated in the organization’s 3-day walk for the past eight years and has helped raise more than $50,000 to support the foundation’s mission.
Being an agent for change in your local community can provide new inspiration and enhance your ability to make the progress you want to see in the world. So not only today, on International Women’s Day, but every day… Think equal, build smart, innovate for change. Be the agent of change. Help empower women. Together, WE CAN!
By Robin Toft, founder and CEO of Toft Group Executive Search
I believe that 2019 will be the year of the female executive! Women are the key to bridging the diversity gap in the workplace. There have been questions about the wisdom of predominantly focusing on hiring and promoting women, and not focusing on other diverse groups; but when you really think about it, women are already a vastly diverse population. By hiring more women, we will be able to expand diversity beyond gender and encompass age, sexual orientation and ethnicity as well.
In a time when workplace diversity initiatives are struggling, Toft Group is committed to building a more diverse, representative workforce. We truly believe that hiring more women is the bridge to diversity. More than 40 percent of candidates we placed in 2018 are women and our goal is to raise that number in 2019.
While I applaud the recent passing of the board seat bill in California to increase the number of women in the boardroom, I wish this kind of common-sense progress didn’t have to be legislated. Executives need to focus on hiring outside of their networks to encompass a more diverse talent pool. The vast majority of corporate directors rely upon word of mouth and personal networking to identify the candidate pool for a new board member, according to a National Association of Corporate Directors survey. It’s no surprise then that these candidate pools are mostly comprised of men because (1) most boards are already staffed by men and their networks tend to be their peers (also men) and (2) public companies typically seek public company experience – where the majority of these experienced executives tend to be – you get it – men.
But hiring women at the executive and board levels isn’t just about checking boxes for diversity; it’s about creating a stronger, more competitive workforce. According to research from McKinsey & Company, published in January 2018, gender diversity on executive teams is correlated with both profitability and value creation.
Female leaders are not only seen as more compassionate and empathetic than their male counterparts, they also scored higher than men in a study conducted at the BI Norwegian Business School that measured personality traits of managers: work motivation and organizational commitment. The study concluded that women are better suited for leadership than their male colleagues when it comes to clarity, innovation, and support.
In 2019, I believe more life-science CEOs will recognize the industry’s and their own failings in making diversity a priority, and will not rest on limited approaches to recruiting talent. They’ll also recognize and embrace the competitive advantages of making diversity a priority in the workplace. I believe we’ll see companies implement new, creative strategies to hiring and retaining women and other marginalized groups.
2019 will be the year of the female executive and I am very much looking forward to the rise of women in the workplace and all the business benefits that stem from it.
California Governor Jerry Brown recently signed into law a measure requiring publicly traded companies headquartered in California to place at least one woman on their board of directors by the end of 2019. The law also requires companies with five directors to add two women by the end of 2021, and companies with six or more directors to add at least three more women by the end of the same year.
As an executive recruiting firm focused solely on the life sciences and digital health industries, Toft Group is always among the first to acknowledge our industry’s gender gap, especially when it comes to boardroom seats. In 2016, women occupied a mere 10.9% of board positions nationwide at public companies. Statistics like this are beyond frustrating. There are qualified women to fill these rolls, depending upon how they are defined and scoped.
In fact, over 40% of Toft Group’s placements each year are women in leadership positions.
Solutions for Companies
This legislation is going to push companies to look deeper into how they can make diversity a key aspect of the hiring process. Companies are constantly telling us that diversity is a priority, but many don’t know how to put diversity into action.
We suggest you make a commitment to diversity a core value from the top down, and when given the choice of two equally qualified candidates, choose diversity.
Below are several ways that you can recruit qualified women for both your c-suite and board of directors:
- Recognize that unconscious bias exists and implement unconscious bias training for all company executives and hiring decision makers.
- Hire an Executive Search firm to take you beyond your typical network. According to a National Association of Corporate Directors survey, almost 70% of respondents acknowledged that their boards used personal networking or word of mouth to identify the candidate pool from which their newest director was chosen. (No wonder there is such limited diversity in the board room!)
- Start earlier! If you’re just getting your privately-held start-up off the ground, make diversity hiring a priority from day one. Work with search firms who specialize in diversity to make sure you have a strong, diverse pool of candidates. Consider a scalable anti-bias and pro-diversity training program for hiring managers and executives. Also make sure that diversity is in your core values as you create them.
Solutions for Individuals
Some people may not be in full agreement with how the bill was written. However, women should grab this opportunity and take full advantage. This is one step towards working to the gender parity in our industry that is long overdue.
- Understand that change does not happen overnight. This legislation is not perfect, but the correct conversations are finally taking place. As women, it’s important for us to take an active role in this conversation and educate our peers on how to make gender equality a reality in the C-suite, boardroom and beyond.
- Expand your network and say an enthusiastic “Yes!” to new opportunities. Female executives and board members are in the highest demand yet- embrace this! You bring an invaluable perspective to the table, and that is finally being recognized.
- Utilize programs such as Toft Group’s WE CAN™ (Women Executives Career Advancement Network) and Women in Bio’s “Boardroom Ready” programs to prepare you for a seat at the table. These programs prepare you for future roles and connect you with peers that share the same vision for equality.
Evidence shows that companies with diverse executive leadership, including Boards of Directors, see a much higher return on investment overall. Authentically embracing diversity is not only a breath of fresh air for our industry but a savvy business decision as well.
Robin Toft was recently interviewed on ESPN 1700 radio. The podcast version of this interview is available now on BISTalk Radio’s “Women of Impact” series. Hear about Robin’s inspiring business path, why only doing “what you do best” might not be the ultimate route to success, and what you can do to attract the next wave of talent to your company.
Toft Group has had an exciting start to the new year, as two impressive people have joined our talented team: Michele Mantynen as Director of Marketing Communications and Sarah Cueto as Executive Search Consultant. These stellar additions to Toft Group will move us forward in placing highly specialized leadership and technical roles in companies at the intersection of biotech and high tech.
Robin Toft, President & CEO