We spoke with Ramsey Johnson, the founder of OUTBio, the premier networking organization for LGBT drug development professionals, about how OUTBio began and how rapidly it has grown. Ramsey also serves as senior director of clinical operations for X4 Pharmaceuticals in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Ramsey can be contacted regarding OUTBio at firstname.lastname@example.org.
What led you to found OUTBio?
I was in the first stages of job hunting, and to move things along I thought, “Why don’t I host an LGBT meet-up group?” I sent an email to the four or five LGBT drug development professionals I knew, and suggested that they send the email to any others they thought would be interested. At that first event, we probably had 11 or 12 people show up. But it was great! Everybody had a great time, and I met a bunch of new people. And then, almost immediately, someone from the first event who I hadn’t known previously said, “We’d love to host the next one.” And it took off from there.
Tell us a bit about the organization as it stands – who’s part of it, and what happens?
We see a wide spectrum of people within the group, which is now around 400 strong – entirely through word of mouth! We make sure that everyone has a connection to biotech, though that also includes life sciences students looking to enter industry. We have physicians, scientists, corporate folk, sales and marketing – really quite a range. The activity focuses on regular large meetups for networking.
A variety of companies see hosting an OUTBio event as an opportunity to advance their diversity initiatives, or demonstrate outreach to the LGBT community. It’s good for their LGBT employees to see that outreach, and it raises visibility of the companies in the wider LGBT workforce. Typically companies will provide a space and catering, and we see a range of further engagement activities – usually a talk introducing in-house diversity and inclusion initiatives, or touching on LGBT workplace issues more generally.
What is industry doing vis-á-vis its LGBT workforce? Anything else you’d like to see?
I think a lot of companies now really are thinking about diversity and inclusion initiatives. There’s a lot of competition for talent in our industry, and inclusive companies are happier and more successful places to work. We even see start-ups thinking about diversity and inclusion… giving it dedicated sections in employee handbooks, or hosting events – this activity across the company size spectrum has been great to see. I would like to see more LGBT biotech professionals stand up and act as role models or spokespeople within their organizations. Diversity in leadership is, as we know from the commendable efforts in gender diversity, so important to raising up under-represented groups and making them feel valued.
What does the next 12-18 months hold for OUTBio?
We’re growing so fast, it’s time to put more structure around the organization. We’re beginning to think seriously about funding sources to enable more events at other kinds of venues, or invite guest speakers. We are also very interested in gathering more data, both in terms of a more robust membership database, but also about LGBT biotech professionals generally. The really wonderful thing about OUTBio is that it’s grown so organically and independently, and hasn’t really needed a lot of structure, but I think we’re at the point now where it’s so big that we have to thinking about what’s involved in taking the group to the next level.