Policy

What’s BIO and PhRMA doing to address sexual harassment? Senator Murray wants to know

Patty Murray

Remember the extravagant party at BIO’s international convention a few weeks ago that featured topless dancers? Well, Senator Patty Murray does, and she is using the event to call on both BIO and PhRMA — the two biggest industry trade groups — to step up in their actions against workplace harassment.

In two separate letters sent to the chiefs of each organization, Murray lambasted BIO’s lack of action and PhRMA’s silence in wake of their member companies’ sponsorship of PABNAB, the infamous informal event in a sense born out of — but emphatically not affiliated with — the annual networking conference of biopharma folks. Citing widespread sexual harassment in the medical research community in general, she also pressed for the trade groups’ understanding of and plans to address the problem.

“I hope and expect that in your position as the leader of the industry’s trade group, you are taking steps to address concerns about misconduct among member companies and to ensure that your members’ workplaces are free from harassment,” she wrote.

Jim Greenwood

Murray reserved her harsher comments for BIO president and CEO James Greenwood. Despite their increased attention to diversity and inclusion, she pointed out, their convention still “featured 25 panels without a single female speaker, and men accounted for roughly 70 percent of the speakers and panelists at the convention.”

And then there’s PABNAB — an event that “has a highly concerning history of objectifying women and using culturally inappropriate themes.”

“After the party, you and your Board Chairman, as well as other industry leaders, spoke out against the event,” Murray wrote, “however, I’m not aware of anything your organization and these industry leaders have done to ensure there are real consequences for sponsoring companies, nor used your leadership roles to address the broader workplace challenges in the biotechnology industry.”

Greenwood previously told BioCentury that he was speaking directly with organizers and sponsors of PABNAB to convey the message that “overly objectifying women in this way is not helpful,” and that the board would intervene if the same thing occurs at next year’s BIO meeting.

Steve Ubl

The letter to PhRMA president and CEO Stephen Ubl was more general in its concerns, broaching the prevalence of sexual harassment in the workplace. Murray did, however, name Bayer as a sponsor of PABNAB. A Bayer exec sits on PhRMA’s board, which said nothing about the company’s involvement.

And as with BIO, Murray requested a meeting as well as information regarding any research, actions and suggestions PhRMA might have to address the problems of sexual assault.


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