Welcome to the Woman of the Week podcast, a weekly discussion that illuminates the unique stories of women leaders who are catalyzing change throughout the life sciences industry. You can check out all our podcast episodes here.
As the recently named chief strategy officer of Form Bio, Claire Aldridge says she’s been training 20 years for this role: solving problems with “really cool science.”
Form Bio’s model matches Aldridge’s brand, and she has been consistent in her message: “I don’t want to do bench science. Somebody else can do the science. My role is to figure out how to get science into the marketplace where it can change people’s lives.”
Her affinity for molecular genetics took shape during her university years, particularly during a class with an influential professor.
“This was very new and sexy science at the time,” she said. “I loved that class and I learned so much, and it just fed my soul. After the course was over, I talked to him and I got to do my senior research project in his lab.”
The research project centered on the effects of overfishing and the potential extinction of a species in the Gulf of Mexico.
“The question he was trying to answer was: Is there enough genetic diversity left … so that we don’t end up with a genetically non-diverse population? And I thought, ‘What an amazing practical application of this brand-new molecular biology,’” Aldridge said.
Fast-forward to the spinout of Form Bio from Colossal Bioscience late last year, which Aldridge was instrumental in facilitating. Colossal is the de-extinction company behind the theoretical genetic revival of the “woolly mammoth.” Form Bio provides a software platform for scientists to automate certain aspects of the discovery and breakthrough process.
“We’re not replacing scientists by any stretch of the imagination,” Aldridge said. “What we’re trying to do is to help them be more efficient — instead of having to do 800 compound designs, [they can] do five because we’ve done the (in) silico analysis.”
At the heart of what Form Bio and Aldridge are doing is nothing short of sparking a genomic revolution and rethinking the very complicated multistep processes of manufacturing gene therapies and reducing the inefficiency and cost.
“We have a ton of Ph.D.s in bioinformatics and machine learning, and then we have these exceptional user interface engineers, true software engineers — and we’ve all said we can do something so much more meaningful together,” she said. “I imagine everybody taking their backpacks out and shaking everything out, and then we mix it all up, and something new and pretty cool comes out of that. I love thinking about problems that haven’t been solved yet. I think the next five years are going to be really fun and we’re going to see some additional leaps that we can’t even imagine right now.”
In this episode of the Woman of the Week podcast, Aldridge talks about the “super cool” approach Form Bio is taking to change the trajectory of genomic science, her leadership philosophy to encourage innovation by creating freedom within a framework and why it’s important to build a community as part of a nonlinear, but successful career.
Welcome to WoW, the Woman of the Week podcast by PharmaVoice powered by Industry Dive.
In this episode, Taren Grom, editor and chief emeritus at PharmaVoice, meets with Claire Aldridge, chief strategy officer at Form Bio.
Taren: Claire, welcome to the WoW podcast program.
Claire: Oh my gosh, thank you so much for having me. I’m so thrilled to be here.
Taren: Well, I’m excited to dig in with you. I’m very intrigued by Form Bio and its strategic mission; and as its chief strategy officer, tell me about the company and its spinout.
Claire: So Form Bio is the first spinout from Colossal Biosciences, and Colossal Biosciences is well-known as the woolly mammoth of de-extinction company. But on the way to de-extincting a woolly mammoth, the entrepreneurs who were part of the founding team of Colossal are software developers. They’ve had multiple software companies and multiple exits in that space, and they really brought that sophisticated software development to molecular biology. And I think that’s something we’ve been missing in our space is people who think about the user interface and think about things from that software development perspective, that adding that and combining that with the bioinformatics and molecular biology really is something special.
So after they built this platform to facilitate the collaboration between the company and Harvard and to really accelerate the ability to do this genomic analysis and design the CRISPR edits to make a cold-adapted woolly mammoth, there was a recognition that this could be broadly applicable to the entire field of molecular biology and synthetic biology. So a strategic decision was made to stand that company up on its own and let it continue to support the work at Colossal, but also go after some other interesting problems in the whole world of molecular biology.
Taren: That’s fascinating. So let’s talk about what those future endeavors might look like as the chief strategy officer as I noted. You must have an agenda that is miles deep. So what’s on the near term and then tell me about your longer term goals.
Claire: It’s so fun because I feel like, one, I get paid to think and, two, part of the value that I bring is the 20 years from the space of thinking about moving science forward. So it’s just a really fun problem to get to think about in the near term. We just launched in September. We are getting customers onboarded. We are working with a number of universities, a number of biotech companies to help solve their bioinformatics problems, give them this very user-flexible interface that you don’t have to be a programmer to use. But one of the areas that we’ve recognized as a place where our platform and the ML and AI that’s layered on top of it can really provide benefit is in gene therapy.
And thinking about those gene therapy drugs from a manufacturing perspective, how do we take these very complicated multistep processes and actually think about how do we design this for manufacturing. We know that these manufacturing processes are very inefficient and that there’s a difference of efficiency just depending on what that vector, that payload going into that gene therapy is. So our ML team has identified ways to kind of optimize that and reduce the propensity to truncation so that you get fully-filled capsids with your manufacturing runs. So those are our short-term goals – get as many people on our platform using our platform as we can, and then work with gene therapy companies to say “Let us help you understand. Is your construct something that is really highly manufacturable? And if not, how can we help you maybe tweak that sequence a little bit and improve the manufacturability of it?”
And so we’ve been working with a number of gene therapy companies already. We’re hoping to work with a lot more in the New Year. But then, using that as the platform, we think that this ML/AI program that we’ve developed and the insights that we’ve gotten out of it is applicable across the world of molecular medicines, for lack of a better word. So it could also be applicable to gene therapies or nucleic acid-based drugs like mRNA vaccines like our friend, the COVID vaccine, or some of the other mRNA therapies that are starting to go into development, or even some of the CRISPR drugs that we’re starting to see some effectiveness in vivo. So how do we start to say “We now know this drug works, how do we make it more scalable and more efficiently manufactured.”
Taren: All of which is going to play into advancing gene therapy broadly because there’s been so many challenges with the manufacturing and then the cost because…
Claire: Absolutely. And we can’t fully capture the genomic revolution until we make this accessible.
Taren: I love that. Yes, genomic revolution, absolutely because the science is there, it’s been proven out, but it’s just still so cost-prohibitive that it’s a challenge and these medicines are not getting to the patients who need them.
Claire: No. And we’re not able to go after some indications because of cost, right? Because our healthcare system can’t take it.
Claire: It’s such a frustrating place to be, like we know how we could treat this disease and yet we can’t.
Taren: Exactly. But it sounds like maybe you have one of the keys to unlocking this challenge so we’ll keep watch on how this progresses. So let’s talk about some of those key metrics around how computational power can accelerate drug discovery. You talked a little bit about it, but do you have any like hard facts? Like can you point to some big wins or I’ll even say little wins.
Claire: Yeah, we do. We’re a very young company so what we’ve been able to do is using the data that we’ve gotten from a gene therapy partner. We’ve been able to identify the regions in the construct that show the propensity for truncation and kind of lead to both those abbreviated genomes in the capsid or allows for more of the contaminants, the helper plasmids and things like that. So we’ve been able to reduce the number of truncations by about 70% and that leads to a predicted increase of about 18%, that would be amazing, 18% more full reads of capsids. We’re validating that work right now in the wet lab and we’re continuing to train that algorithm. But what we’re seeing is that our ML model has been able to identify secondary and tertiary structures that have never really been known before to lead to truncations. There’s some things that we’ve been able to observe as basic scientists, but being able to look at it through that lens of computational analysis where you can look at so many more variables in parallel, we’ve been able to identify some things that are signatures of these truncations. And so it’s just going to be a matter of helping companies see where those are so that we can then help them tweak them to reduce that propensity toward truncation.
Taren: Fantastic. Really interesting. You talked about being in partnership with a gene therapy company, which I would think is key because you need to understand like, as you said, the vectors and understanding how to fill them. So how does this collaboration work for you all? Do they give you some data and do you give them some data?
Claire: Absolutely. They give us data; we also get data from the public domain. A fair number of this has been in publications before and just hasn’t been looked at the same way. We share information back and forth. And I think that’s part of where the value comes is that these companies are experts at what they’re experts at which is developing molecular medicines. And they’re not bioinformatics companies, right? They’re not data science companies. And what Form is really trying to do is to say you don’t have to be. We’re going to give you a platform that allows you to do that with an easy to use user interface. We’re going to have for some of these more sophisticated things like the ML and AI, we’re going to hold your hand through it. But you guys do what you’re good at and we’re going to do what we’re good at, and together we’re going to make something better.
Taren: You used an interesting term “data science companies” and this is sort of like a new sector within the industry just emerging in the last five or six years would you say?
Claire: Yeah. And that actually coincides with kind of a time in my career where the venture fund I had been with, we made a strategic decision to wind down and I went back to UT Southwestern, the academic medical center in North Texas, and had the opportunity to head up their tech transfer office and kind of re-imagine it with what I’ve learned as an investor. And in about 10 years since I’d been with that university, the amount of intellectual property coming to the office that was in this space around data and bioinformatics and just this recognition of…we don’t even know how to protect it, how to commercialize it, what it’s good for. And so it’s just really been in the last few years that this new sector has just exploded.
Taren: Absolutely. And with it, the burgeoning career path for data science scientists, right? So people can understand the science but also relate it back to the data.
Claire: Absolutely. And that is just a niche that we need more people in.
Taren: Absolutely. We talked about your university days and so let’s go back a little bit. We’ll wind back the way-back machine a bit. And your interest in the life sciences, particularly molecular genetics, really came to the top during your time at Texas A&M. What sparked this interest for you? Why molecular genetics?
Claire: So if we’re going to be honest about how far in the way-back machine we are, that was very, very new and sexy science at the time. I’d always loved science; and when I was at Texas A&M in my junior year I got to take this amazing genetics class and it was really at the time, not to give too much about my age, but we were learning about restriction enzymes and just learning how to do like incredibly primitive sequencing. And Dr. John Gold, who has since retired, was my teacher and he was such a dynamic teacher. I loved that class and I learned so much, and it just fed my soul. And so after the course was over, I went and talked to him and I actually got to do my senior research project in his lab.
And what was interesting about that is he wasn’t in the genetics or biochemistry or any of the traditional departments, he was in I think wildlife biology. Texas A&M is A&M, agriculture and mechanical. He was working on fish and so he was looking at the molecular diversity, the genetic diversity of the game fish species in the Gulf of Mexico that had been overfished. And so he was looking at it, the populations had grown back because there’d been a ban on fishing them for a while. But the question he was trying to answer is because of that bottleneck effect, is there enough genetic diversity left that we can fish these again or do we just need to leave them alone so that we don’t end up kind of ending up with a genetically non-diverse population that then is more susceptible to illness and all those kind of things that happen. And I thought what an amazing practical application of this brand new molecular biology. As we talk about anything about my career, that’s a theme that goes through all of it, our practical applications, solving problems with really cool science.
Taren: That is cool science and how fascinating, you’re right. So what was the conclusion, I have to know, even though this is kind of off-ramp from our talk today. What did you determine?
Claire: I believe we determined that they could be fished again.
Taren: Okay. Well, thank goodness. Thank you for that.
Claire: Yes, because they were delicious.
Taren: They were delicious fried and/or sautéed. Thank you very much, I appreciate it. On a more serious note though, you also experienced a very personal life-changing event with the diagnosis of your father’s melanoma. Can you share how that shaped your career?
Claire: Absolutely. It’s such an interesting story and I’m so glad I get to tell the story today with the outcome that that happened. But just a few months before I defended my PhD, my father was actually given 1.7 years to live; that was the number, metastatic melanoma. And fortunately, he was able to enroll in a clinical trial. This is now standard of care. And also, fortunately, he was a responder, and I had already known that I didn’t want to be a bench scientist, but I was still very lost about what am I going to be? But that experience of going through him being involved in a clinical trial and that clinical trial being successful and giving him additional time with us was incredibly valuable and incredibly changing for me to say, “Well, that’s an area I could apply my education, my time, my talents” to give people additional time with their loved ones.
And so that really was incredibly instrumental in my deciding that the place where I could provide value and I could be useful is that translation – how do we take scientific discovery and turn it into something that is a product, that is practical, that is solving a problem in the marketplace. And then the happy ending to that story, at the time my father didn’t have any grandchildren, and now this year he has grandchildren graduating from high school. We celebrated my parents’ 60th wedding anniversary this summer. And so it was such a gift to be able to have this second chance with my father.
Taren: I love that. Thank you so much. I got little goosebumps there. 60 years together, first of all, is phenomenal. And then now he’s got the grandchildren. It’s just an amazing story. I’m so happy and I’m so glad that it had a happy ending. You just touched on something, you said you didn’t want to be a bench science and I know you’ve been widely quoted as saying that and you said somebody else can do the science science.
Claire: It’s part of my brand.
Taren: I don’t want to do the science, somebody else can do the science, but my role is to figure out how to get the science into the marketplace where it can change people’s lives. So thank you for making that pivot and getting science into people’s lives where it can make a difference. That is quite a personal mission, and I love that that is a brand for you. You are taking your brand to J.P. Morgan in January, so tell me what is your message to the biotech life sciences community when you’re going to be there in January.
Claire: I think the first message is this is a really tough time in biotech. We have all across the entire sector been really beaten up by the market and funding, but the science is still valid. The science is still solving real problems and making real advances. The other thing that we found over the last couple of years is we can actually do some of this stuff a lot faster than we thought. When you look at the COVID vaccine, for example, the sequence was published in January and we had emergency use authorization vaccines in December; that’s staggering. So I think that while it is a tough time in science, what we should remember and we should be enthused by is that it’s still solving problems and there’s opportunities to make it go faster. And I think if we make it go faster potentially, if we can get some of these regulatory things smoothed out, if we can do some other ways to accelerate the discovery and the development, then we can potentially make it a little bit cheaper as well.
So I’m still very excited about science, but that where we are today and why I think Form is super cool is that we now have this opportunity to bring together these different areas of expertise. You think about some of the things that have happened when virology has met biochemistry like crystal structures of proteins has met drug discovery, and kind of the amazing things that came out of that. Like now we’ve got this opportunity to bring this computing power, the AI. I mean I’m sure you’ve seen the things recently about…I asked this GPT chat to do whatever and the things coming out are remarkable to be able to use this kind of computing power and the bioinformatics to solve discrete problems in biology. I think that the next five years are going to be really fun and we’re going to see some additional leaps that we can’t even imagine right now.
Taren: Well I’m looking forward to…
Claire: And the last part of that is let’s free up the scientists to do science.
Taren: I love that – free the scientists to do the science, absolutely. And I think you’re right, the next five years is going to be very interesting to watch. Do you fear that there could be a backslide? Yes, we moved very quickly as an industry to address the global pandemic, but I’ve also started to hear some rumblings that maybe the breaks are being put on. And I recognize the fact that companies cannot work 24/7 365 and that was a lot of burnout for some of those organizations. But look at what got done. Is there a fear that we have a little bit of a backslide?
Claire: I think there is. People like to do what they’ve already been doing; and so I think that it’s much more comfortable to kind of go back to the way things were. I see it in telehealth, for example. There are places where telehealth is remaining very viable, but there’s other places where it’s now just let’s go back into the face-to-face clinic visit. Also with regulatory interactions, there was definitely a lot of resources put toward how do we get these tests or therapeutics or vaccines through that process. Well, now that that urgency is gone, let’s just go back to the way we were doing it. And I think we’ve got to continue to push on that. And we, as an industry, need to do that as well to say this is about patients and so we need to be trying to figure out how do we get these trials opened, how do we get these drugs to patients so we can find out if they work.
And then when I think about that from a telehealth perspective of somebody who’s in Texas, and I know what kind of healthcare people get in rural Texas. We need to have telehealth solutions to help get expert care into communities that don’t normally have access to kind of subspecialty care. So I’m seeing those same things and would want to encourage everybody to be the advocate to say we’ve shown we can do it, let’s keep doing it; it’s the right thing to do for patients.
Taren: Perfect. I had said a little while ago “The genie is out of the bottle, can you stuff it back in?” and everybody’s like, “No, no, no” but now I’m thinking, “Maybe, I’m not sure”. So I agree with you. I think that sense of urgency still needs to be front and center because…
Claire: When you think about it, there was that urgency around COVID; but when you have a patient with a progressive neurodegenerative disease, that patient has a pretty big sense of urgency too. So how do we capture that sense of urgency that everyone has around kind of their own circumstance.
Taren: Absolutely. Make it a personal urgency, absolutely. If you don’t mind, let’s get a little bit personal with you and let’s talk about your leadership style and how you motivate your team, how do you build a high-performing team? So let’s start with your leadership style; how would you describe yourself as a leader?
Claire: The words I like to use to describe myself as a leader is ‘freedom within a framework.’ How do I give people some guardrails and some guiding principles so that as they’re moving through, they’re not just doing kind of the same work over and over without any changes. And if there is any deviation, they then have to come to me or to someone to get the guidance on what is the right path forward. I think as somebody who was kind of thrust into leadership, there’s not a lot of opportunities to give people time to grow their strategic thinking, grow their judgment. So to me that’s incredibly important with where I am in my career is how do I create an environment that allow the people who are on my team and hopefully moving ahead in their career. How do I start to give them opportunities to learn to make judgment calls, to have strategic thoughts and have the guidelines to have that framework and then continue to get that confidence in their judgment; and so that’s a big part of it.
The other part that I really lean into is what I call the entrepreneurial mindset and that is, one, a bias to action. I see so many things that just because somebody is waiting to be told what to do because they don’t have this freedom within a framework or it’s something they’ve never done before, they just kind of don’t do anything, so I always try to encourage people to have a bias to action. And then the other part of the entrepreneurial framework is use your resources. So whether that is reaching out to peers at similar institutions or companies or doing research or doing whatever just to make sure that as part of your bias to action, you’re drawing in additional information to help and form your decisions.
Taren: Fantastic. I love that entrepreneurial framework and the bias to action. We talked earlier about some new areas, data science, et cetera, but even that chief strategy officer role is fairly new in the industry. How are you making that your own and how did that role come about for you?
Claire: I like to joke that I’ve been training for it for 20 years. So it really came from I was on the scientific advisory board of Colossal so I knew the team that was spinning Form out of Colossal and they were predominantly software. And so they kept coming to me and saying like “What would be a use case in science?”. And so there was this kind of recognition on both sides that I have spent a lot of time thinking about here’s a problem in the marketplace that doesn’t have a solution, and is this a problem that computational expertise might be able to not necessarily crack but guide. We’re not replacing scientists by any stretch of the imagination; what we’re trying to do is to help them be more efficient – instead of having to do 800 compounds or 800 designs, let’s do 5 because we’ve done in silico analysis, things like that.
So there was just this recognition that because I’d been thinking about the problems in the marketplace either as a VC or in my role at UT Southwestern, that I had insight into things that could be good use cases for what we were building. And so basically the fact that I know a lot of people in this space, I’ve been thinking about this space, there was an opportunity for me to help guide it from a strategic perspective. So that’s really kind of how it happened, and it’s really a ton of fun. One of the things that I love about it is we have so much expertise within the company. We’ve got a ton of PhDs in bioinformatics and machine learning, and then we’ve got these exceptional user interface engineers, true software engineers; and we’ve all said we can do something so much more meaningful together. And so, again, kind of the way I’d like to joke about it is we were all like dumping our talents in the middle of the table, and I imagine everybody taking their backpack out and shaking everything out and then we mix it all up and something new and pretty cool came out of that. And so that’s really where that rule came from, and I love thinking about problems that haven’t been solved yet.
Taren: It’s very cool, and I love how you approach that and that kind of crowdsourcing of talent is fantastic. What a great way to think about it. You are sitting in a seat of influence in the C-suite and that you are now a role model to many other women in the industry. What does that mental responsibility mean to you and how are you paying it forward?
Claire: I will say there were two women who were instrumental in my career at Duke, Dr. Fran Ward and Dr. Carolyn Doyle, both of whom really kept me in graduate school and kept me motivated at times when I thought I’m not cut out for this. And one of the things that came out of that is the only way I can honor them is to pass along what they did for me to young women in the space. And so, yes, I do take my job as a role model very seriously and kind of like I mentioned a little bit about my leadership style, what I think is important for me to do in addition to being a mentor and being accessible and visible to those people is to have those conversations and to give them those opportunities to learn to have confidence in themselves.
We all know about imposter syndrome and how it really kind of unfairly seems to attack women, but to try to have those situations where it’s not me telling them what to do, it’s me helping them learn how to assess things, come up with their own plan and learn to trust their judgment, and to know that their judgment is good and sound because it was based on rationale decision making and data and things like that. So that is, to me, the part that’s incredibly important. And then, of course, being the advocate, being in the C-suite, I can be there to advocate for that diversity in the C-suite on the board but also throughout the company. And I really love more than anything else, like I’m kind of tromping through the jungle trying to clear a path, but I like to reach my arm behind me and grab the hand of someone younger than me so that I can help them come along that path as well.
Taren: I love that reaching back and that’s more than mentorship, that’s also sponsorship. And those are two very distinct things because, one, you can be a mentor and help guide somebody’s career and sponsorship is really putting your skin in the game for them.
Claire: Absolutely. And I like the word “sponsorship”; I’ve often used as a champion. It’s very important for young people, young women especially, to have a champion and to have a sponsor. You need someone who’s in the room you’re not in.
Taren: Exactly. And you’re in a lot of rooms that they’re not in. And I would imagine sometimes you’re in a room and you’re probably sometimes the only woman in that room.
Claire: I mean are there other rooms because that has been the predominance of my career.
Taren: So how did you find your voice? Because you’re very confident, you’re very knowledgeable, how did you find your voice as a N of 1 and be recognized for your accomplishments and your thoughts and your insights and your strategies?
Claire: That was definitely a journey and a hard one journey. But I had a really great experience. When our venture fund started in 2011, two of the principles for that venture fund came from a local oil company that had made an enormous amount of money for the LP for our venture fund. And those were two men who were amazing management, finance, legal and they recognized that I had potential and they were my sponsors. They showed championing for me. And so they really kind of wouldn’t let me not have a voice. They would say like, “No, Claire, we want to know what you think”. It was a small enough team that again kind of like what I do to people now, it gave me the ability in a safe environment to start to trust my judgment and to not be afraid of being really a leader in the room.
Taren: Fantastic. And I love the fact that they wouldn’t let you say no. And sometimes that’s what it takes is to have that encouragement and that kind of push from behind to stand up. But you were also brave enough to take the push, so let’s not forget that.
Claire: Yes. They didn’t have to say it twice, I’ll say that.
Taren: Let me ask you, what are some of the best leadership advice you’ve ever received and then what is your piece of go-to leadership advice?
Claire: Best leadership advice I’ve ever received is be very intentional about building community, about being a team member recognizing that no one does it alone. And that those teams in that community that you build is not just within your business unit or your office or your venture fund, it’s across the entire industry. So one thing that I try to do as part of that advice that I received very early on from my PhD advisor, Fran Ward, is to make sure that I’m not just even kind of inward facing for my business unit or my team and certainly never just for myself, but to make sure that I’m building those bridges and those communities for the collaborators I have and those partners I have in the industry. Biotech is a small industry and your reputation, your brand, your ethics, and your character – those are those crucial things, and so to make sure you work on that. And so that really goes to the leadership, I try to give that same advice to young people that I talk to.
The other thing I like to talk with them about is that your path is not linear. Sometimes when you’re in the early stages of your career, you think you’re not where you want to be and it’s certainly hard when you’re looking at people who are ahead of you in their career whether it’s by time or different experiences and you think, “Gosh, I haven’t done that. I’m not where I should be” and that isn’t a game that you win right now. This is a game that you’re going to play for a very long time and that the fun part is being on the journey and adding to your skillset.
Taren: I think that’s so true. It is a journey, it’s a marathon, and sometimes you can get caught up in taking those quick sprints to jump to the next job, to the next level, without taking the time to…
Claire: And you can get seduced by the title or the prestige or the money, and that never ends well.
Taren: That’s very true. Oftentimes that is very, very true. I’ve asking a lot of leaders right now as we start to get out of the pandemic or becomes endemic, what’s top of mind in terms of your leadership? Are we going to be in a hybrid work situation? Are you requiring folks to come back to the office? Is there still freedom out there to do what’s right for yourself?
Claire: I think there has to be freedom. I have spent a lot of time thinking about this because even when I was still with UT Southwestern, I left there in early ‘21, and we were starting to have a little bit of a hybrid environment. I think we’ve got to have a hybrid environment if you’re going to get the best talent. And I think certainly for women, I think that the recognition – I mean goodness, did the pandemic show us how much of that unpaid labor falls on women and how much childcare can be absolutely something that if you don’t have access to it, it can just cripple you. So I feel like what I’m spending a lot of time thinking about is how do we have metrics around output. I think about when I did some work back in the early odds around quality of care and we used to talk about outcomes measures and process measures. We use high blood pressure as an example, and we were going to be judging physicians on whether or not they treated the guidelines and it was like, “Do your patients have their blood pressure under control?” – that was an outcome measure. “Did you talk to your patient about their blood pressure and prescribe the right drugs?” – that was a process measure.
What I think about from a work perspective is we need to say what is the output that I need from this position and what availability do I need because this idea that our output measure in the past has been “Were you in the office?”. And even on Zoom, it was still “Were you accessible?”. And I think for a lot of people, the hybrid work environment, the ability to go pick your kid up from school, the ability to run up to school and have lunch with your kid, just having some of those things that really improve the quality of your life, not having that time spent in the commute. So that’s kind of the things I’m thinking about is how do we change measurement so that we’re not looking at kind of those process measures but we’re looking at outcomes measures. And we’re saying “This is the position you do. I don’t care when you do it, do it in the middle of the night. But this is what I need. Now, if I need you to be on these phone calls, then I need you available during these times”. But how do we make it so that we’re no longer measuring things based on hours and we’re measuring things based on accomplishments.
Taren: Right. And how do we reshape that old patriarchal organizational like expectations because the numbers are very disturbing. We’re looking at women who are leaving the workforce in droves because they’re being forced to go back to the office where again it’s the genie is out of the bottle, women figured out how to do their job and work from home and take care of children or take care of an elder parent.
Claire: Right. Or just throw a load of laundry in or get the chicken out to defrost, like that.
Taren: Exactly. Those chores that fall more predominantly on women because they are the chief nurturer also, the chief nurturer officer in their families; and yet how do we rejigger those metrics so that it is more fair and it’s not just FaceTime in the office. So you see all these men going back to the office and their significant others or their partners are home still managing all the other things.
Claire: All that stuff, I know. I have been known to say “Imagine what I could do if I had a life.”
Taren: Exactly, right? And so I do think that’s so important as we go forward how do we redefine what that workforce output as you called it looks like.
Claire: Yeah. So that’s what I’m thinking and it’s a lot, right? It’s a lot.
Taren: It is a lot.
Claire: And there has to be trust, there has to be open and honest communication, but that’s where I feel like that’s where having freedom within a framework and having people who you’ve empowered to have that entrepreneurial mindset, you can do it. People I think are okay with it. They just want to know what the rules are.
Taren: Absolutely. And these are hard questions to answer and it’s not going to be one answer for every company, but we need to start to think differently as a society about what that means for the future workforces of tomorrow. So really crucial stuff, big thinking going on there, so thank you for that. Claire, I’d love to continue to talk to you for another hour; however, our time is sadly coming to a close. So I’m going to ask you to identify if you would for me a WoW moment that either changed your trajectory of your career or has left a lasting impression on you.
Claire: I think a WoW moment that left a lasting impression, I kind of referenced it a little bit, was when I had the recognition, I was in my early 40s at the time, that while my career did not seem like it made any sense, when you looked at it there was this thread going through it of how do we move science through the process to see how it can make an impact. And so that WoW moment of things don’t have to be linear. We’re so taught that you go to college, you go to graduate school, certainly with a PhD you become a postdoc assistant, associate full professor; that a linear path is not necessarily what you need to do, but that you do need to make sure you are challenging yourself and continuing to learn things. And so that recognition, that “holy moly” these things that don’t look like they’ve made any sense actually came together in this beautiful package that made me a really good member of a venture team because I had a lot of diverse experience to bring to that diligence. And so that was kind of my WoW moment and that’s what I would want everyone to think is it doesn’t have to be linear.
Taren: And that just goes back to one of your core leadership principles of creating that framework for freedom and you created it for yourself, so congratulations. I look forward to seeing what Form Bio does going forward. I want to wish you great success in the coming year, and thank you so much for bringing so many terrific insights to our audience, not just about you.
Claire: Taren, thank you so much for having me. I just had a ball.
Taren: Just the power of computing and the power that that brings, but big thinking around what tomorrow is for that workforce of the future, so thank you so much.
Claire: Thank you.
Thanks for listening to this episode of WoW, the Woman of the Week podcast. For more WoW episodes, visit pharmavoice.com.