Women Missing Out on Opportunities From Advisory Boards

Patricia McKnight

December 02, 2022

Being on an advisory board of a pharmaceutical company gives oncologists a chance to influence clinical trials and drug commercialization and to "inform decisions that affect the oncology community," say the authors of a new analysis, which found few women in such roles.

The authors emphasize that women oncologists are missing out. "These opportunities literally and figuratively give experts a seat at the table for key decisions and often yield other leadership opportunities, such as clinical trial steering.... In the context of clinical research, even one noteworthy trial (especially one with positive results) can swiftly propel a career in academic medicine."

No public reports describe the gender makeup of industry advisory boards. The authors obtained unpublished data from a single company as part of their research. Self-reported information on gender was not available, but the authors determined the gender of board members by interpreting first names and by reviews of web-based profiles.

The authors found that on 15 advisory boards that were composed between 2019 and 2022, 106 (71%) advisory board members were men and only 43 (29%) were women.

The findings were published online on November 3 in the Journal of Clinical Oncology,

The authors acknowledge the limitations of the study and note that the information, which was gleaned from a single company, may not be representative of the entire industry. However, they feel confident that the data offer insight into gender imbalance on boards throughout the industry.

The lead author of the article, Rachna Shroff, MD, interim chief, Division of Hematology/Oncology, the University of Arizona Cancer Center, says having diversified advisory boards would open up more leadership opportunities for women oncologists in the male-dominated industry.

"It's not just about being the only woman in a room at an advisory board, it's about what that does in terms of opportunities for women and other marginalized populations, whether that be underrepresented minorities, etc, regarding leadership opportunities for clinical trials," Shroff said.

The solution to diversifying advisory boards won't be an easy one, the authors acknowledge. They say having male allies willing to step in and acknowledge the disparity and ask why women aren't being included is vital.

Senior author Pamela Kunz, MD, director of the Center for Gastrointestinal Cancers at Smilow Cancer Hospital and Yale Cancer Center, says that holding companies accountable would be a big step in the right direction. She suggests that having the makeup of advisory boards made public would be a good step forward, as it would allow transparency of data.

Kunz also called for a standardized process or set of guidelines and benchmarks for each advisory board.

"One of the solutions would be creating some standard processes, creating some intentionality around collecting the data, benchmarking that data for various companies, and then trying to do better," Kunz said.

J Clin Oncol. Published online November 3, 2022. Full text

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