International Women’s Day 2020: Are we seeing progress in the health tech world?

As a new study shows that no country has achieved gender equality, eight women in health tech tell us whether they are seeing any changes in the industry.
By Leontina Postelnicu
04:08 am
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Nearly 90% of the world’s population holds some bias against women.

Yes, that’s both men and women - according to a new study from the UN.

And that's not all: around half believe that men make better political leaders, and, most shocking of all, nearly 30% believe it is “justifiable” for a man to beat his partner.

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These are the type of findings that one would think would not get in 2020 (or ever), and yet that is the reality. We are still far away from achieving gender equality, and the situation is no different in health tech.  

But there are some that are fighting to pave the way for those coming behind them, working to simply help shape a better world.

Below, eight women at the forefront of the industry tell us what they’re seeing.


Marie Ennis O’Connor, director of Health Care Social Media Monitor

Women are still underrepresented in the technology sector, which remains largely male-dominated. Gender diversity appears marginally better in health IT, but there is still progress to make. Lack of gender diversity has real-world consequences for the future of healthcare. How can we build devices and solutions for everyone, if not everyone is involved in their production? 

To help break the cycle of a male-dominated industry, we need to champion more female role models and strengthen networking and mentoring opportunities for women in health IT. To borrow a quote from Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, ‘No industry or country can reach its full potential until women reach their full potential.’”


Dr Ijeoma Azodo, founder of Mission 3 and honorary clinical tutor at the University of Edinburgh

The increased visibility of women in technology leadership roles is a positive first step in transforming the ways we think about, build and apply emerging technologies to improve health and wellbeing.

A recently published list of 50+ women leading health tech startups presented products and services focused on the gaps and unmet needs that affect a full spectrum of people, including those that have differential gender effects in diagnostics, cancer, fertility and sexuality.

In the UK, more women are in prominent technology transformation roles in the NHS and industry, with a real opportunity to build health technology that captures the breadth of experiences and needs of its users.

I would like to see the gendered issue of technology approached as an issue of incomplete and missing data. In building artificial intelligence, machine learning and internet of things tools to guide decision-making and work in healthcare, it is good form to use quality and complete data. Disaggregating data into its relevant constituents, gender, age, ethnicity etc., acknowledges its limitations and is an important disclaimer on how generalisable the data is.

It will be a challenge to do this well. However, not doing so may worsen variations in outcomes and opportunity for good health.


Elena Sini, group chief information officer at GVM Care & Research

In Italy, the number of initiatives and events aimed at building a gender-equal working environment have multiplied in the last year and this also includes the healthcare industry.

These initiatives have mainly been sponsored by professional associations and are typically led by women who have reached leadership positions themselves; the initiatives demonstrate a genuine community spirit and gender solidarity.

On the other hand, consulting and training services, specifically targeted at women for the development of soft skills, digital capabilities and professional self-confidence are now starting to be made available on the market.

Our goal should be to support young women, enhance and promote their unique skills and provide a roadmap for their career path. Mentoring and networking are an essential part of this process.


Dr Claire Novorol, co-founder and chief medical officer, Ada Health

The conversation around women in health tech is shifting in a positive direction. At the very least, people across the industry and media are really speaking up about the need for more women in leadership. 

As a result, we’re seeing a gradual increase in the number of female-led companies within the space, reflecting a similar trend in the wider tech industry. Femtech is also flourishing, which is exciting, since a large number of these companies are led by women. 

There’s still a way to go to achieving gender parity, however. To get there, I’d like to see investors making a greater commitment to backing female-led companies, as well as increased support and mentoring from within the community.

As female founders, we have a responsibility to do everything we can to support and empower the next generation of women in health tech.


Sofia Cerdeira, academic clinical lecturer at Oxford University, member of HIMSS Future50 international community

As a Future50 women leader, I hope to inspire the next generation to become clinical academic leaders, however gender inequality is a real issue - be it on access to work, education, healthcare, promotion or pay - particularly in less well-resourced countries. The HIMSS community is raising awareness, creating policies, promoting inspiring women’s stories and recognising their outstanding work.

The health technology world can narrow the gap on several fronts: firstly, by promoting equal gender recruitment to clinical trials/research studies and promoting research in women’s health.

Secondly, by increasing gender diversity at all employment levels within health IT institutions and by promoting and increasing visibility of women at international meetings, within institutions and in the media.

Finally, by promoting retention of staff by supporting equitable parental leave. Only concrete changes such as these will encourage more women to pursue careers that were previously unattainable. 


Gabrielle Speijer, radiation oncologist at Haga Hospital, The Netherlands, founder of CatalyzIT / Data Driven Doctor and member of the HIMSS Future50 international community 

The world is strongly connected, both digitally and face-to face, through all the layers of the population. An approach and cooperation which reflects our interconnectedness undeniably leads to better care.

It is also vital that we improve how we use our traits and skills in a complimentary way – because we are simply different. Let's make more use of each other’s personal, gender-specific strengths! Care will only benefit from that.


Marianna Imenokhoeva, founder of LinktoMedicine, member of the HIMSS innovation committee and Future50 international community

This year brings new challenges to all healthcare systems around the world. As never before, we need more people being involved and united to rethink, change mindsets and to move forward. It’s a big responsibility for the women in health IT community to act in order to achieve more balanced and wise decisions.

Having 20+ years in IT, the most recent ones devoted to healthcare, I found incredible support from my colleagues from different countries. I’m very optimistic about the way gender equality is evolving. For me, online training and webinars, together with mentoring support, is the most efficient way to achieve a higher level of expertise in health IT and to be more confident in the use of rapidly-changing technologies. This way of learning and communicating is very promising and helpful in keeping a work-life balance.

Despite difficulties, I hope this year will reveal our best qualities as humans and will bring new stages of cross-border collaboration and unity.


Angela Velkova, director of strategic relations and communities, EMEA, at HIMSS

In 2018, the HIMSS Women in Health IT Survey found that 94% of women said they felt that their work went unnoticed. That same year, the Global Health 50/50 Report showed that while women make up roughly 70% of the global health workforce, just 25% of the world’s top global health organisations have achieved gender parity at senior management level. I would like to see those 70% better represented in their countries, organisations and companies. For example, nurses and midwives are the frontline of healthcare, yet the professionals in those roles - mostly women - are often not invited to the leadership table. They should be empowered as decision makers and a valued part of the C-suite.

In 2019, our HIMSS Women in Health IT survey found that the discrimination felt by women executives in health IT decreased by 11% compared to the year prior, but we have so much further to go. Women can and should be leading their professions everywhere. Here in Germany, where I live, I see a considerable lack of women executives in the industry.

In 2020, I hope to see continual improvements in how women are perceived, promoted and valued as essential leaders in our industry.

MobiHealthNews is a HIMSS Media publication.

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