From Ladies to Lady Bosses

How Can We Elevate Women in HealthTech?

Covid-19 transformed HealthTech, accelerating the adoption of digital solutions and catapulting the industry forward ten years. As leaders in HealthTech, we couldn’t be more pleased that the healthcare industry has become “digitally woke” and finally recognized the power of technology. Progress has been made across multiple fronts - regulatory advancements, unprecedented consumer and provider adoption, and new highs in venture capital investment. However, one critical industry facet in HealthTech lags far behind: women leaders.

As we close out women’s history month, it only feels appropriate to celebrate the women bosses that have been essential in accelerating the growth of the industry from its early infancy. While they represent a small club of women powerhouses, we were fortunate enough to gain invaluable insights from a select few.

But first, we must understand what’s driving the gender gap in HealthTech?

Where are all the women leaders?

It doesn’t require extensive research to observe the racial and gender disparities in healthcare leadership. We turned to Google to understand who the US women CEOs of HealthTech unicorns are. We found less than ten. This trend is not unique to HealthTech: while women make up nearly 70% of the healthcare workforce, only 30% make it to become a C-Suite executive and only 13% are CEOs.

As the HealthTech industry begins to mature, so too should the careers of the women leaders that build and scale these successful companies. While we’re starting to see some growth in women CEOs at the early stages (think companies raising Series A and Series B rounds), we struggled to find equitable women executive representation at the Series C+ stages or later.

HealthTech’s Roadblock

So what’s blocking the flywheel momentum for women looking to start, build, or invest in HealthTech startups?

At the most basic level, we must have women leaders that are both encouraged to, and interested in, starting healthcare companies to fuel the pipeline of women CEOs. As consumers, we can all relate to the fact that healthcare is unnecessarily opaque. From a business perspective, this complexity and a fairly relationship-driven industry can discourage healthcare outsiders from both genders from entering the sector to tackle problems as investors and entrepreneurs.

For every CEO who is empowered to solve the hard problems of healthcare, there must also be an investor willing to finance the business. Yet while investments in HealthTech companies led by women CEOs have outpaced other industries, total funding still represents a mere 14% of deals. As women investors are more than three times as likely to invest in women-led startups, a strong prevalence of women VC Partners is critical to this equation. While fortunately, HealthTech is making progress, women Partners at HealthTech-focused venture firms are still fairly hard to come by. Without women holding the power of the purse strings in healthcare-focused venture funds, this trend is likely to persist.

Tips from the Top: Learning from HealthTech’s Women Leadership

While gender gaps in HealthTech leadership are impossible to ignore, we must also pause to celebrate the hard-earned work of the leaders who have made it to the top. Thankfully, these experts who have broken through the glass ceiling and joined the small but mighty club of women healthcare leaders were willing to share their guidance.

Fundraising and sourcing

In an increasingly competitive sector, venture capital investors must be thoughtful around their investment strategy across sourcing, fundraising, and developing a unique perspective about the future of health. Alyssa Jaffee, Partner at 7wireVentures notes that for investors, sourcing can be reactive or proactive. “Instead of waiting for deals to come to you, go find them. Develop a thematic way of thinking so when you find what you’re looking for, you can move quickly. Build early relationships with entrepreneurs that are genuine and trustworthy. Help guide without being overbearing. Be helpful to companies beyond just your own.” Alyssa notes, “I’m focused on fundamentally building a world in healthcare that empowers an Informed Connected Health Consumer. I only do a handful of deals each year so I need to help a lot of companies beyond just my own to make that happen.”

Owning your seat at the Table

Boardroom dynamics are particularly important for women entrepreneurs and investors. Mia Jung, Partner at Oxeon Partners, advises entrepreneurs that investors are not one size fits all. Entrepreneurs should diligence investors just as a VC would investigate a new deal. Mia recommends that “entrepreneurs talk to portfolio companies and ideally, other women CEOs who have worked with the investors. It is imperative to conduct your diligence and ensure that you have the right folks around the table whose management style will complement your own and push you towards top performance.” Entrepreneurs should be mindful when accepting capital, and especially if that person will hold a board seat. If you are facing a homogenous board, ask to bring in an independent board member. Mia notes that she has placed women executives as independent board members at the request of CEOs who are looking for a woman's perspective and mentorship.

Building strategic relationships

Building strategic working relationships is a critical element to finding success. Lynne Chou O'Keefe, Founder and Managing Partner at Define Ventures, notes that she views relationship building as constructing your own “personal board.” On that board, there are three groups: those before you who paved the way and are mentors, those who are peers in your same stage and are dealing with the same opportunities or challenges, and those who you’re leading or mentoring. Lynne shared that, “In the business of venture capital, your reputation and brand are your relationships. I love seeing women and other diverse investors, and I think we need to lock arms at all levels.”

Starting with the people you respect and enjoy being around is the best way to build strategic relationships at every stage in one’s career, shares Jia Jia Ye, CEO at Springtide. Rather than focusing on who might be helpful to you right now, find the people whom you respect. Be supportive and help them become successful. Jia Jia emphasizes that if you are a valued team member, people will notice, and in turn, others will pay it forward. Most importantly, follow good people with integrity as those people will attract the best talent, will be honest in their thinking and will be fun to work with.

Building a career roadmap

Finally, for women in all phases of their careers, it is important to be purposeful about each career decision you make and how it fits into your broader career roadmap. Meena Ramachandran, Chief Product Officer at Brightline Health notes that as a product leader and entrepreneur, she applies the same level of intentionality to the planning of her career roadmap as she would to a product roadmap. Meena shares, “It's helpful to actually articulate your long-term career vision, identify milestones towards the bigger goal, and gather feedback to validate assumptions along the way.” Instead of typical user research, Meena recommends conducting a deep dive into companies by networking with current and past employees, interviewing leaders whose journeys you admire, and trialing skills through select projects. Rather than defining success in terms of achieving a singular promotion, home in on the stepping stones that will accelerate your path. Celebrate those incremental wins along the way, just as you would any enhancement or update to your product.  

Conclusion

While we at The HealthTech Grind continue to be inspired by the achievements of these women HealthTech bosses, aspiring women leaders can’t solely rely on the select few to carry the full weight of bringing women in HealthTech to the top. While mentors and allies will play an increasingly larger role, it is up to women of all levels to continue to grow, inspire, and elevate other successful women around us to collectively close the gender gap. As leaders of the HealthTech Grind, we are inspired every day by the opportunities, connections, and guidance facilitated across women in our community. Let’s apply the same fuel accelerating the growth of HealthTech companies to that of the careers of the impressive women that build them.

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Shout out to Margaret MaloneFlare Capital and Rachel Stillman7wire Ventures for co-authoring this piece.

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