From Bench to Board: Gender Differences in University Scientists’ Participation in Commercial Science

by Waverly W. Ding, Fiona Murray & Toby E. Stuart

Overview — Does gender affect whether a university scientist will be invited to work with for-profit companies? Indeed it does. A new paper finds that male professors receive more opportunities than their female counterparts to join scientific advisory boards and start new companies. Research, focusing on the biotechnology field, was conducted by Haas School of Business professor Waverly W. Ding, MIT Sloan professor Fiona Murray, and HBS professor Toby E. Stuart. Key concepts include:

  • University-employed scientists helped to found at least half of the publicly traded biotech firms in existence today.
  • Women scientists receive far fewer invitations than men to join scientific advisory boards, and so male scientists are more than twice as likely as female scientists to become formal board advisors.
  • When female scientists do receive invitations to join boards, they generally come from small start-ups with limited financial backing, rather than from high-profile companies backed by high-status venture capitalists.
  • The corporate gender gap increases among scientists employed at elite universities or academic departments. However, the gender gap decreases at schools with formal technology transfer offices, indicating that institutional support can help women overcome obstacles to entry into commercial science.

Author Abstract

This paper examines gender differences in the participation of university life science faculty in commercial science. Based on theory and field interviews, we develop hypotheses regarding how scientists' productivity, co-authorship networks, and institutional affiliations have different effects on whether male and female faculty become "academic entrepreneurs". We then statistically examine this framework in a national sample of 6,000 life scientists whose careers span more than 20 years. We find sharp gender differences in participation in for-profit ventures, which we measure as the likelihood of joining the scientific advisory board (SAB) of a biotechnology firm. Compared to men, women life scientists are much less likely to advise for-profit biotechnology companies. We also identify factors that contour this gender difference, including scientists' co-authorship network structure and the level of support for commercial science at their universities. Surprisingly, we find that the (conditional) gender gap is largest among faculty members at the highest status institutions. 49 pages

Paper Information