2019: The Year of the Female Executive

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.

Toft Group: Female Board Members’ Choice for Representation

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 on BISTalk Radio’s “Women of Impact” Series- available as podcast!

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.



Beyond Compensation: How to Keep Your Best Employees

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.

At Toft Group, we know –  from daily experience speaking with impressive executive level candidates –  that once you have gone to the effort to identify, hire and train the perfect candidate, you want to make certain they will stay with you while you reach your goals. We have identified a number of methods to guarantee happy, engaged employees in the article “Beyond Compensation: How to Keep Your Best Employees.”
If you are ready to start a search for a new position or expand your organization, please contact our award-winning team.

Robin Toft, President & CEO
Toft Group

Access the full Newsletter here

2018 New Workplace Trends

Most economic indicators show a positive view of the U.S. economy in 2018 – which means good things for both clients and candidates. Yet there are several areas that remain a challenge when it comes to finding the right talent for the right positions. To prepare ahead of time, here are some of the key trends we expect in the new year:

  1. Greater Candidate Confidence in the Job Market

Earlier this year the “official” unemployment rate reached the lowest it’s been in 16 years, and has consistently remained low. The healthcare industry is also predicted to be one of the fastest growing industries in 2018.

With more jobs being added to the market, candidate confidence in their ability to find a quality job is at an all-time high. As more leverage shifts to candidates, job seekers are becoming more selective and less willing to settle for a job that does not meet their requirements.

Even those who are currently employed are increasingly likely to be looking at other opportunities. High performers are being constantly approached with enticing offers, and companies need to be sure they are doing everything they can to keep their best people happy.

  1. Increased Competition for Specialized Talent

The industry shift from broad-based R&D to more innovative research for niche products and services requires candidates to have increasingly diverse and specialized skillsets.

For companies striving to innovate and deliver the next breakthrough in technology, there are a limited amount of highly specialized candidates in the talent pool. This, combined with high retirement rates of executive “baby boomers”, has companies scrambling to fill key roles with less experienced candidates, many of whom are less qualified but seeking career development.

  1. Improved Hiring Experience

Given the trends in employee confidence and talent competition, wise employers will adjust their strategy for attracting new candidates. We expect a greater focus on employer branding, the candidate experience, and corporate reputation.

We also anticipate many companies to significantly improve their hiring process. The biotech & pharma industries have one of the longest interview processes times. Data shows employers lose a significant number of good candidates due to a slow-moving hiring processes.

We expect companies to make a big push to streamline their application and interview processes, enabling them to move more quickly to offer when they find the right candidate for the position.

  1. Flexibility & Work Life Balance on the Rise

In the past two decades, the volume of employees who have worked at least partially by telecommuting has quadrupled, and now stands at 37%.

Flexibility and work/life balance is one of the most desirable benefits among both women and Millennials – two relatively more available candidate pools. With such a high demand, employers are increasingly providing options to attract and retain high performers from these candidate pools.

  1. More Performance- based Goals

With greater flexibility and more remote work, we expect a similar rise in performance-based, goal driven cultures. Management is transitioning from “micro-managing” employees onsite, to a more performance-driven approach. In the future, an even greater percentage of compensation will be tied to achieving goals and corporate objectives.

  1. Greater Focus on Diversity & Inclusion

No longer is diversity and inclusion just a buzz topic. Diversity enhances innovation, and companies with balanced executive teams outperform those with less diverse teams. 1, 2, 3 Given the talent crisis, the under-utilized and available talent pools of the future are the historically under-utilized pools of gender diverse, ethnically diverse, and millennials.

Data shows that companies who have diverse leadership teams have an advantage in performance, and in recruiting. As more companies continue to realize powerful results, we anticipate even greater commitment, support, resources, and mentoring programs to further enhance diversity in the workplace. That being said, it will still require effort from women and minorities already in leadership roles to help others get the advancement opportunities they deserve.

With these efforts, we believe there is no better time than now for women and minorities to land incredible executive-level roles.

  1. Succession Planning Focus

Nearly half of CEOs have indicated an increased focus on developing a pipeline of future leaders was one of the most important components to keep their company competitive.

Smart companies are leveraging their seasoned executives to pass on the skills needed to their future successors prior to retirement. We expect to see more succession planning focus, employee mentoring programs, and training to become a greater priority to effectively prepare the next generation of leadership.

The landscape for 2018 will continue to evolve as we head into the new year. Toft Group remains committed to enhancing our clients’ return on investment by quickly identifying the right candidate for each important role on the executive leadership team and Board of Directors. We believe the future is bright, and progressive companies will realize impressive growth opportunities. To start your next executive search in biotech and healthcare high tech, contact us.



  1. Archer, Seth. Companies with Women in Leadership Roles Crush the Competition. Business Insider. June 17, 2016.
  2. Rock, David, et al. Why Diverse Teams are Smarter. HBR.org. Nov. 4, 2016.
  3. What Makes a High-Performing Team? The Answer May Surprise You. MIT Sloan Executive Education. Mar 22, 2017



“Diverse Candidates Can Win If They Can Get the Interview.”

Robin Toft Joins an Executive Panel at the 2017 Biotech Investor Forum in San Francisco to Tackle Diversity & Inclusion


Companies with more diverse leadership have shown to have greater performance and long-term success. However, many organizations struggle to develop leadership teams where women and minorities hold executive level positions.


Robin Toft joined other industry leaders from Halozyme, Canaan Partners, Daré Bioscience, and Global Blood Therapeutics for the #BIF17 Business Panel: “Practical Approaches for Improving Leadership Diversity” to confront the issues preventing diversity in the C-suite. Read the recap to learn how to make change happen in any organization.


View Recap


Learn to Lead with a Growth Mindset from Toft Group Executive Search

I hope 2017 to date has been action packed for you personally, and that your company is hitting its growth goals. At Toft Group we realize that having a Growth Mindset is of huge importance to continuously improving who we are and how we do business. Our Team is committed to showing up that way for our customers, and wanted to share an amazing resource we have discovered with you in this issue. We invite you to read our feature article “Learn to Lead with a Growth Mindset from Toft Group Executive Search.

Additionally, we’re proud to announce a new look for Toft Group! Our refreshed brand reflects the growing capabilities and strengthened partnerships we have with executive leaders to deliver on what matters most: shaping the future of healthcare at the intersection of Biotech and High Tech. Please check out our new website at www.thetoftgroup.com.

Every day, we challenge ourselves to solve fundamental industry issues in new ways. We’re thinking ahead to help our clients navigate the complex world where High Tech meets Biotech.

In today’s environment with the current talent crisis, we’re also taking the lead when it comes to accessing the workforces of the future (gender diverse, ethnically diverse, and millennials), which will absolutely require achieving diversity and inclusion in the workplace.

Finally, we’d love to hear about your growth goals – Please contact us to get started.


Robin Toft

President & Chief Engagement Officer, Toft Group Executive Search

Access the full Newsletter here

5 Ways Your Company Can Compete in a Candidate-Driven Market

It is hard to think it has almost been about a decade since the Great Recession, where roughly nine million jobs were lost and the unemployment rate hovered around 10%.

Have we fully recovered? According to the latest data, it certainly seems like it.

The monthly unemployment rate has been steadily decreasing, and just this month, hit the lowest it’s been in 16 years.

The comeback is great news for both employers and employees, but having the pendulum swing the other direction means a new set of challenges for employers. Job applicants now have more opportunities at their fingertips, creating a candidate-driven market where even employed professionals are continually keeping an eye out for better opportunities. The challenge to fill positions is even greater for the Life Sciences industry, which already faces a shortage of highly-skilled and experienced executives.

With candidates in the driver’s seat, how can companies stand out as attractive places to work? Our feature article It’s a Candidate’s Market: The 5 Ways to Keep your Company Competitive reveals the various factors contributing to the current job market, and how you as an employer can stay ahead of the game.

For over 10 years, Toft Group executive search consultants have remained a trusted partner in providing clients with exceptional candidates, despite an ever-changing talent landscape. If you’re ready to start your next search, we’re here to help.


Robin Toft

President & Chief Engagement Officer, Toft Group Executive Search

Access the full Newsletter here

Will You Make The Right Hire? 6 Ways to Determine Cultural Fit of an Executive Candidate

Determining cultural fit is one of the most important aspects of hiring, particularly at the executive level.

  • Executive team members set the standard for what is acceptable in the workplace from the moment they are hired.
  • They are the ones who hire and fire, potentially bringing in former employees they have worked with in the past to fill new roles or replace staff.
  • How they interact with direct reports, their peers and their bosses becomes the example for how others should work together.
  • Their values (or lack thereof) become the company’s values. Even if they only stay with the company for a short period, their impact may last long after they are gone.

Considering that employee turnover can cost a company up to 60% of that person’s salary, the tangible cost of hiring the wrong executive could be significant.

That said, determining the cultural fit of an executive candidate can be difficult. Often, it is only after you have made the hire and the candidate has spent a few months at the company before you (or they) can determine if the cultural fit is aligned.  Roughly 89% of new hire failures are due to an individual’s traits (think lack of coachability, low emotional intelligence, motivation and temperament) versus only 11% of new hire failures that are due to a lack of technical skill.

To gain better insights on cultural fit, here are 6 types of questions to ask before you make the offer:

1. Personal Values & Preferences

No matter what the position level, everyone has a unique type of workplace that works best for their lifestyle and values.  These personal values should be in line with the values that drive the (hiring) company.

What type of environment do they thrive in? Do they perform best in competitive environments? Are they more focused on collaboration or rewarding individual achievements? Do they value flexibility or structure? Do they appreciate a culture that “feels like family” or do they prefer a place where everyone simply does their job and goes home?

Walk through the candidate’s previous roles and have them provide examples of cultural similarities and differences, positives and negatives. Do all of the past companies fall under a certain ‘type’ of environment and does the culture at your company seem to be vastly different?

There are no right or wrong answers. It is simply an honest and open conversation to determine which type of environment the candidate will thrive in for the long-term, and whether your company provides that.

2. Influence

How have they been able to influence or improve culture?

This is a useful follow-up question when asking about the pros and cons of previous work environments.  Great or not so great — what did the person do to make it better?

For employers, it may not always be about finding people that fit perfectly within the current culture, but more about how the new employee can make positive changes. Effective leaders are those who have the ability to add diversity and improve upon the current culture.

3. Leadership Style

Ask for examples of how the type of work environment impacts their management style. What do they expect from employees they manage? How do they motivate employees? Do they believe in offering monetary incentives or other types of rewards?

Determining what a candidate believes makes an effective leader or manager will likely indicate the type of management style they work well with and perhaps aspire to emulate.

4. Adaptability

Have the candidate describe personality traits of people they have worked really well with, and those that they did not get along with as well.

Take this a step further by having them break down working with similar and different personalities at various levels:

  • Those they have managed
  • Former peers and colleagues
  • Previous supervisors and bosses

Having a candidate compare and contrast their personality types with others can be very insightful about them as a person, but most importantly, it can reveal how they work with different types of individuals.

As the one interviewing, try to identify any patterns. Do they seem to only work well with the same type of people, or do they collaborate effectively with various personality types. These types of questions can convey their level of self-awareness and ability to adapt their personality to others.

5. Approach to Conflict

How should conflict be handled at work?

For many individuals, conflict is a particularly sensitive issue. It can be equated to discussing failures, and candidates may be nervous to bring up examples where they have had to deal with conflict because they are concerned about how they will be perceived.

However, conflict is inevitable in the work environment. When managed well, conflict can be a good thing that is vital for promoting diversity and innovation, allowing for different ideas, perspectives, and critical thinking.

Furthermore, avoiding conflict can have negative effects to company culture. So the question really isn’t about whether they have faced conflict, but how they have dealt with it. Senior level candidates should have experience with effectively managing conflict and hopefully using it to move the company forward.

6. Cultural Assessment

Allow the candidate to experience your company. Have them go to lunch with the team, sit in on an informal meeting, or at the very least, have them meet with different people during the interview process.

Ask them for their insights and observations of the company culture (both positive and negative) and how they would potentially play a cultural role.

Meeting team members and experiencing the culture first-hand will not only provide them with a better idea of what it’s like to work for your company, it will provide you with interesting feedback, regardless of whether you hire the candidate.

Employers who make cultural fit a major component of the hiring process can avoid significant costs that can come from making the wrong hire. Toft Group performs a thorough, multi-dimensional vetting process which evaluates the corporate cultural fit of each candidate, ensuring expectations of both client and candidate are met. To learn more about how we find the right candidate, contact us.