The opportunities for female leadership in health and technology

In the HIMSS20 Digital webinar “Women in Healthcare and Tech: Closing the Gap to Strategic,” Amy McDonough, SVP of Fitbit Health Solutions, and Dr. Ashwini Zenooz, CMO at Salesforce, discussed the importance of having diverse voices at the table.
By Laura Lovett
02:40 pm
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When it comes to the healthcare industry, women are still underrepresented in leadership positions. Although 65% of healthcare workers are female and 80% of healthcare decisions are made by women, they make up only about 30% of healthcare leadership, according to an Oliver Wyman report

However, during the HIMSS20 Digital webinar "Women in Healthcare and Tech: Closing the Gap to Strategic" Amy McDonough, SVP and general manager of Fitbit Health Solutions, and Dr. Ashwini Zenooz, chief medical officer at Salesforce, said times are changing and there are increasing opportunities for women. 

“While the numbers that you shared aren’t great stats, I think there are some interesting published resources about the effectiveness of organizations who do have strategic leadership that is diverse,” McDonough said. “There have been studies to look at Fortune 500 companies and how they do when they have diverse leadership and boards or diverse leadership in strategic areas. I think that is an opportunity for women to show all they can do.”

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Having women involved in decision-making about the future of healthcare will impact the industry in more than just a business sense. 

“As I’ve grown in the system over the last couple of decades I realize more and more women have a lot at stake over the future of healthcare, and we have to have a voice at the table,” Zenooz said. “Not just about the traditional things you would think about when you talk about women in healthcare. But how do you make sure there is enough funding for research in women’s health, what are the technologies you should be looking at and how is that different from looking at gender disparity?”

One of the key points brought up in the discussion was the importance of bringing together diverse teams – not just across genders, but also backgrounds. 

“With everything you have to have diversity of thought,” Zenooz said. “So, I think having a diverse board room, diverse workforce, diverse industry where you have people, not just more women, but people from different backgrounds bring[ing] different perspectives and different ideas, and [that] is a source for innovation. I think if we just focus on one gender or one age group I think we are going to be missing out on the ideas that are going to come when you put everyone together.”

There are several ways organizations can help train emerging leaders. McDonough said that when Fitbit started to develop its female health-tracker, the efforts were led by a team of women – not all from the leadership level. 

“While it might not be a leadership position, those leadership qualities and ideas can come from within the organization, if your organization has the right structure to empower those examples and bring that idea to the forefront. That is a cultural thing that can help advance the next wave of women leaders,” McDonough said. 

Creating a diverse team also means tapping different members for different skills, and knowing where you could use some help.  

“We’ve talked about diversity being important from a thought perspective. On a personal note, I always look at hiring candidates that bring skill sets that compliment not just my own, but others on a team,” Zenooz said. “I think that the most important quality for a leader is to be self-aware, understand your strengths and weaknesses, and be able to look at that critically and say what else can I add to my team, to my cabinet, to elevate the team as a skillset? I am most successful when we have a successful team.”

McDonough noted that leadership doesn’t have to look one way.

“I believe you can lead with empathy and kindness in a collaborative way and still drive performance and an inspirational culture,” McDonough said. “I don’t think they have to be at odds.”

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