If your company boasts a co-founder who has already shared the Breakthrough Prize, the American competitor to the Nobel, and has been cited as a likely candidate to win the Nobel, wouldn't you maybe make her at least as prominent as the other co-founders on your website?

Not if you're Editas Medicine, it turns out. The website of the Cambridge, Mass.-based biotech firm, which this week became the first U.S. company to go public in 2016, features photos of its male technical co-founders. But you'd be hard-pressed to find the one of Jennifer Doudna, a geneticist who exactly fits the description above.

Editas, which specializes in genome editing, has a lot to be proud of. It raised $97.8 million in its initial public offering February 2, successfully going public in the midst of a big IPO drought. It's backed by Bill Gates and Google Ventures, among others.

And if you care about women in science, Editas is a winner twice over. Not only is Doudna a co-founder, having co-developed CRISPR, one of the technologies on which the company is based, but its CEO is also a woman, Katrine Bosley.

So you can imagine my initial confusion when I was looking at its website this week. Here are the pictures that rotated through the home page when I went to Editasmedicine.com.

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Since I didn't see either Doudna or Bosley, I thought these might possibly be stock photos. But some of the people featured were also shown on other parts of the site. I emailed the company's PR person, who said the photos were of the company's technical co-founders.

Why, then, I asked him, was Jennifer Doudna excluded?

"She is on the first pic, just to the left of Feng."

That's right. Jennifer Doudna is providing the hair next to Feng Zhang, one of her co-founders.

There are at least three things wrong with this, and probably many more. One, Doudna doesn't even get her own slide; two, we can't see her face; three, there is nothing to indicate that she is important to the company at all.

There may be some reason that Doudna didn't want to be on the web site, but no obvious ones. Doudna has been a TED speaker and she's represented by a speakers' bureau--not exactly the hallmarks of a recluse.

I have not heard back yet from the company's spokesman on this, and will update the story if I do. He said the site is in the process of being updated.

UPDATE: Editas Medicine co-founder Jennifer Doudna left the company in 2014, after just seven months, and has had no additional involvement with the company, according to the company's S-1 filing. What's more, Doudna is in a patent dispute involving the technology that Editas plans to use, according to Nature. Doudna is a founder of Caribou Bioscience, and has been identified as an advisor to Intellia Therapeutics, both competitors to Editas, according to the Editas S-1.

Don't get me wrong. When it comes to the many grievous ways in which the accomplishments of women in tech are overlooked, this is pretty darn minor. This isn't up there with the fact that, until recently, most coders probably did not know that the very first computer programmer was in fact a woman, Ada Lovelace; or that Rosalind Franklin's work on the structure of DNA has been largely overlooked. I totally understand that we're talking about one photo on one web site, and anyone who digs a bit can figure out how important Doudna and Bosley are.

But that still doesn't make it okay, even if it's okay with everyone--male and female--at Editas. Women in science need role models. Smart, ambitious women need role models. Female entrepreneurs need role models. If all we see are Doudna's hair and nose, how can it possibly count?

It's just not okay to post pictures of all the male technical founders and not the woman. Yes, this is minor, but it's also extremely important in aggregate--it is the dozens and hundreds of tiny, "not-a-big-deal" slights that push women out of tech, that discourage women from starting high-growth companies, that feed unconscious bias about women and science.

With the highly-accomplished women on its leadership team, Editas has the opportunity here to do exactly the opposite, to take the high road and be part of the antidote to ill-informed opinions about women. And yes, it can be as simple as getting a decent picture of Doudna on its home page.

 

Published on: Feb 10, 2016