Dr. Leen Kawas Shares Insights on Overcoming Gender Bias in Biotechnology Leadership

Dr. Leen Kawas, a respected figure in the biotechnology industry, has made significant strides in her career. She served as the CEO of Athira Pharma for seven years and currently holds the position of Managing General Partner at Propel Bio Partners. During her tenure at Athira Pharma, Dr. Kawas successfully managed several drug development projects, executed the firm’s IPO in September 2020, and secured over $400 million in capital investments.

Drawing from her extensive experience, Dr. Kawas shares valuable insights on women’s challenges in leadership positions within male-dominated industries, particularly in the biotechnology sector. Despite women comprising nearly half of the biotech workforce, there is a significant underrepresentation of women in executive roles. A survey conducted by the BIO trade group in January 2020 revealed that among 100 biotechnology firms, women held only 30 percent of executive positions and a mere 18 percent of Board of Directors seats. Moreover, approximately 80 percent of the companies’ CEOs were men, with nearly 90 percent being white men.

To address these disparities and help women navigate the obstacles they face in their career advancement, Dr. Kawas offers three essential strategies. First, she encourages women to actively push back against gender bias by speaking out about visible discrepancies and advocating for increased representation of women in leadership roles. Second, she emphasizes the importance of continuous skills development and self-advocacy, urging women to stay informed about industry trends, pursue relevant educational opportunities, and showcase their achievements to build a solid personal brand.

Finally, Dr. Kawas stresses the significance of networking and mentorship in overcoming barriers and seizing opportunities. By attending industry conferences and networking events, women can forge valuable connections and build relationships that can lead to collaborative partnerships and career growth. Additionally, seeking mentors who can provide guidance, support, and accountability can be instrumental in helping women navigate the challenges they face and position themselves for success.

Dr. Kawas also highlights women’s positive attributes to leadership roles, such as excellent communication skills, high emotional intelligence, flexibility, and resilience. She notes that companies with women in leadership positions often experience higher returns, more inclusive cultures, and innovative approaches to problem-solving.

As we celebrate International Women’s Day and the achievements of women in various industries, it is crucial to recognize the importance of creating a level playing field where every woman has an equal opportunity to realize her professional aspirations. By following the strategies outlined by Dr. Leen Kawas and advocating for greater gender equality in leadership positions, we can work towards a future where women are fully represented and empowered to make a lasting impact in the biotechnology industry and beyond.