An interview with Bonnie A. Brescia, Founding Principal, BBK Worldwide
BBK Worldwide is a life sciences consulting firm, founded in 1983 by Bonnie Brescia and Joan F. Bachenheimer.
Why did BBK Worldwide decide to sign the 100% Talent Compact? What impact has signing the Compact had on BBK?
We founded BBK Worldwide more than thirty years ago on many of the ideals and principles at the heart of the 100% Talent Compact and it was an honor to sign it. We’ve made much progress over the last three decades, but we still have much to do. We have always believed that the Metro-Boston area is the place for women in business and that a woman’s fair access to pay equity, investment and talent is a big part of what makes this state a leader. So to see our own state at the forefront of these issues, solidified by the Compact’s efforts, is exciting but not surprising.
What practices or policies has BBK Worldwide put into place to help ensure pay equity?
Three years ago we made the decision to expand our senior management team; a move that eliminated our long-held status as a women-owned business. And while the change was an important one for many reasons, we knew we also had to ensure our longstanding commitment to all issues relating to gender equality. And it was critically important that the expanded management team be just as steadfast and committed – and of course they were. Our Head of Human Resources reviews our practices and policies regularly to ensure that we are supporting all employees fairly and openly. In recent years, we expanded our view of benefits coverage for families and single staff members to ensure there’s not an inherent bias or penalty for either.
There is a lot of discussion that women entrepreneurs have a harder time starting businesses and getting capital from investors to start their businesses than male entrepreneurs. I am sure that you faced similar obstacles when you started your business over 30 years ago. What were they and how did you overcome them?
When we started BBK we could not ourselves secure a bank loan, and started the company thanks to a small loan from family that we paid back with interest within one year. It’s hard to explain to today’s entrepreneurial women how different it was in the 1980s. Not that long ago! No loans, no outside investment capital, and in many cases no men who would even work for a woman-owned business.
BBK has been recognized as a top-performing women-owned company. What do you think has contributed to the success of your company?
We have an expression at BBK, “Nothing is more important than the ship.” When we all are working together to protect and advance the company as a whole, then all of its passengers can be well cared for – customers, employees, partners. We have committed ourselves to give the company a seat at the table when important decisions are being made. Someone always takes on the role of speaking for the whole – in addition to their area of accountability.
The corollary to this is having people who work hard and are willing to continue to learn.
What advice would you give to an aspiring female entrepreneur?
If you really want to become an entrepreneur, be prepared to work harder than you can imagine. It always takes twice as long as you think it will for your company to hit its early milestones – product development, sales, profits, etc. Define your version of success whether that be a start-up you hope to sell or a company you hope your kids will take over, or a not-for-profit you hope will make a difference in the lives of women across the world – or anything in between.
I don’t think I have said anything different to the aspiring male entrepreneurs I’ve coached as well.
One piece of advice that I’ve found so helpful – yet so obvious: If you don’t take care of yourself, you won’t be able to take care of the business, your family or the other important aspects of your life.
You have a great mix of men and women on your leadership team; how has this diversity contributed to decision making and team dynamics?
Perhaps ironically, we had a difficult time attracting experienced male executives to join the company in its early years. At that time, these candidates were comfortable stating outright that they weren’t comfortable working for women-led companies. We’ve come a long way since then here at BBK and as you note, we have a terrific mix of men and women on our leadership team – and throughout each department in the organization. In experience and belief, diversity of all types adds a richness to strategic planning and operational decision making. Our balanced leadership team mirrors the composition of our organization – it’s important to us that our emerging leaders can see themselves in these positions in the future.
The “motherhood penalty” is often brought up when speaking about the wage gap. Have you personally experienced this or witnessed it as an entrepreneur and senior executive? Does your company implement strategies, such as flexible work hours, to employees who do have families?
Joan was pregnant soon after we founded BBK and the work-life balance reality was something we were always juggling – during those early days and even now as we have become caregivers to our aging parents. We were leaning in before it was an established moniker.
Like many other successful organizations in today’s economy we offer all employees flexible work hours. While our core office hours at our Needham headquarters are 9:30-4:30, we encourage our employees to take time off during the day and as needed for a child’s play or soccer game or doctor’s appointment. And the leadership team sets the tone by doing the same. You can’t expect your employees with families to take time off for family events if you don’t do it yourself. There is no penalty for managing life outside work. People before product and profits always, but of course taking good care of your employees always has a business benefit too.
Do you see a lot of inequity within the healthcare and pharmaceutical industries? In your opinion, what can be done within the healthcare and pharmaceutical industries to make a better work environment for women?
They remain two very different segments as far as work environments. In health care, there are still significant differences between “women’s work” and “men’s work”. The hierarchy in hospitals and managed care organizations remain the primary driver of compensation. The gender pay gap for doctors is concerning; according to a recent salary study published in JAMA Internal Medicine female doctors make an average $20,000 less than their male counterparts. What’s more, a recent Harvard study found that older patients do better under the care of female doctors. Other studies have revealed that female doctors often spend more time with patients, are better communicators and tend to follow clinical guidelines more often than male doctors.
Most pharma companies are global and as a result need to deliver equitable treatment across national boundaries, not to mention between men and women. The 10 best countries for gender equality include Iceland, Norway, Finland, Sweden, Ireland and Rwanda. When an employee in Germany, for example, gets 24 months of paid parental leave, it’s difficult to ignore the needs of employee parents in all your other offices.