Think Tank - Women in Business and Technology - Report Conference #3

On the 15th of December 2020, Somi Arian hosted the third conference for the Women in Business and Technology Think Tank centred around closing the Data Gap in Female Biology.

The panellists in attendance for this third Think Tank were:

Part 1: Mitzi Krockover, Helene Guillaume, Rick Rowan, Raj Bhattacharya, Maryon Stewart, Min Chen, Courtney Williams

Part 2: Yonah Welker, Ibilola Amao, Holly Sydnor, Stayci Keetch, Cynthia LeRouge, Andrea Wolf, Jackie Rotman

Introduction

On the 10th September 2020, during the first conference of this Think Tank series, Somi Arian poses her hypothesis about the relationship between biology, the environment, and the self, and explained how information, or data, is the link that connects these elements.

She introduces this third Think Tank by arguing that throughout history, there has been a tangible gap when it comes to any aspect of socioeconomic progress in relation to women, there has been a significant gap in the flow of data towards, and about women even at the most fundamental level, which impacts our understanding of female biology.

  • Women face adverse reactions to drugs twice as often as men because drug dosages have historically been based on clinical trials conducted on men, (ScienceDaily, 2020)
  • Female subjects have historically been excluded from toxicology or biomedical research, according Tamarra James-Todd, an epidemiologist at Harvard Medical School.
  • 52% of women have experienced period pain that affects their ability to work, but only 27% had told their employers about it. (BBC, 2016).
  • Women are historically underrepresented in cardiovascular research because they often have different symptoms than men. Due to this, women are less likely to survive a heart attack, particularly when treated by a male doctor (Quartz, 2019).

  One in four women considers leaving work due to menopause (ITV, 2016).

During this third conference, the panellists will focus the subject of FemTech, which is a term used to refer to technologies that focus on female health. They will also look at the reasons why women are underrepresented in certain areas of medical practice. Arian explains the importance of this as being, where there is a lack of women, there is a lack of data about women. The panellists of this Think Tank will centre on the data gap with regards to our understanding of female biology and explore the technological and business implications of this, pivoting around the opportunities and the challenges ahead of us in order to address this issue.

GROUP 1

Somi Arian goes on to introduce the first speaker, Dr. Mitzi Krockover by stating that we cannot build successful businesses in the area of FemTech without considerable investment.

Dr. Mitzi Krockover

Principal & Senior Consultant at SSB Solutions, FemTech Angel Investor

Doctor Mitzi Krockover is Principal and Senior Consultant at SSB Solutions. With 20+ years of experience in medicine, health, and women’s issues. She is enthusiastic about opportunities that combine her skills and passion by supporting women-led entrepreneurship, women’s leadership, and femtech through funding, advising, mentoring and board service.

Somi Arian thanks her for opening up the discussion and asks her the following questions:

What is holding women back when raising investment and building businesses around FemTech? And why has FemTech never been given the respect it deserves in terms of being able to grow products, services, and businesses that will address women’s health issues?

Dr. Mitzi Krockover believes that there are three main reasons that hold women back:

  • Funding gap
    Women entrepreneurs are funded less often and at lower amounts.
    Most FemTech companies are founded by women, about 80% of FemTech companies are led by women.
  • Research gap
    Health research so far has been based on 70kg white male specimens. It wasn’t until the 90s that companies were mandated to include women and other types of underrepresented people into their studies in order to receive funding.
    Lack of knowledge on women only issues. This affects how we confront these issues.
  • Leadership gap
    Need for more women in decision making positions at venture capital firms
    More women in science and leadership roles in academia
    Studies find that women scientists are less likely to apply for patents and therefore protect their discoveries.
    Need for more training in leadership.

On the brightside, there are many women who have been able to pinpoint and find solutions for those issues that have been neglected by our health system and they are making headway. Throughout the last three years, FemTech has been gaining ground in terms of funding, and hopefully, 2020 will show an even greater growth. There is still a lot of work to do, but Dr. Krockover seems hopeful in the fact that things seem to be moving in the right direction.

She believes that the narrative will change as more success stories happen, the market will respond to that. She also stated women have to spread the word that data shows that female-founded companies deliver over twice as much per dollar invested than their male-owned counterparts. Funding women is a good business decision.

From her experience as an angel investor in FemTech, Dr. Krockover goes over the key variables that founders need to have for potential investors. The number one reason companies fail is if they have not found an actual paying point and a solution that caters to a relatively large market.

Entrepreneurs need to paint a clear picture for potential funders. Investors look for proof that someone is willing to pay for the product, reasons why it’s better than the competition, and a viable exit plan. At the end of the day, investors just want to make a return on their investment in the shortest time.

She expresses the need to develop more investment funds that focus on women’s health and also focus on funding female founders and leaders. Scientists, especially female scientists, need to understand how to translate their research to the market and how to protect their work through patents. To sum it up, Dr. Krockover believes that as more successes accumulate, so will the funding, but we really need to continue to be strategic, prepared, and focused.

Helene Guillaume

Founder & CEO of WILD.AI

Helene Guillaume is the founder and CEO of WILD.AI. She studied mathematics and financial risks, was a quant in a hedge fund, and management consultant to Fortune500 companies in AI. She was a rugby player; she’s an ultra-marathon runner, triathlete, and ice-swimmer.

Guillaume tells us about her experience as founder of WILD.AI, what were the challenges she faced in terms of bringing up investment, getting it up and running, and what the company does.

As an athlete, Helene Guillaume has been collecting and tracking data sets for a long time and by doing so, realized how little is known about the female body, whereas, there is plenty of information readily available on just about any other subject. Through extensive research on the female body, her team developed WILD.AI, an app designed to help women train, fuel, and recover based on their menstrual cycle or symptoms if they are in perimenopause or menopause. Their aim is to be able to one day serve all products, services, and devices that are ‘men technology’. She explains that there is a big gender data gap because all the readings from data collected today are based on men for men.

Through a personal anecdote, she points out why companies should have both men and women. In a company where there are mostly men or only men, it will be very hard to create businesses that are actually properly serving women. There are massive gaps in technology, sports, medicine, etc. that need to be tackled now and that is what WILD.AI is aiming for by reaching a billion women by 2030.

When talking about the challenges faced, Guillaume points out that most of it was based on credibility and the fact that most many, and in fact many women, still perceive female technology as a niche market, and that for many people there is little to no interest in understanding these technologies. These are precisely the barriers Helene and her team wants to break.

Rick Rowan

Founder & CEO of NuroKor Bioelectronics

Based in the UK, NuroKor Bioelectronics is a medical company that specializes in non-implantable electroceuticals, bioelectrical medicine, and developing technologies to make a positive impact on the quality of life on a global scale. As former CEO and co-founder, his consumer lifestyle medical devices were featured in Forbes list “The best healthcare gadgets and gizmos of 2018”.

Rick begins by telling us more about NuroKor Bioelectronics, a life sciences company that develops programmable electroceutical software protocols that go into therapeutic applications that go into wearables. One of their subsidiary spin-outs is a FemTech start-up focusing on female-specific health solutions. They have the potential through smart use of technology to positively impact female health challenges that are not being adequately in regards to the effects on quality of life as well as the workplace.

One of these challenges, he explains, is period pain. Despite the high prevalence of dysmenorrhea, it is often poorly treated and even disregarded by health professionals, pain researchers, and women themselves who may unwittingly accept it as a normal part of their cycle. In Western societies, period pain affects around 80% of women.

To give a more specific example, in the U.S., about 85% of women, 25% of adults, about 90% of adolescents suffer painful menstrual symptoms. That is a lot of people unable to function for two days of each month, which also translates into incredible losses in productivity for companies. Most companies do not have period pain policies.

Bioelectronics technology or bioelectrical technology offers women around the world an affordable, on-demand, non-pharmacological method of managing period pain with what they call ultra-wearables. This technology aims to empower women, stimulate social change, and improve quality of life, which includes the workplace.

This is a significant opportunity for the latest advances in MedTech innovation and non-drug pain management as a solution. Electroceuticals can also help with a variety of other health issues such as pelvic floor incontinence commonly exhibited post-childbirth, and more specific conditions like endometriosis. Their R+D team in this area is led by two women, and it is their hope that they will also see female-led investments support the technology and the market opportunities for positive change.

Dr. Raj Bhattacharya

President of Orthopaedics at the Royal Society of Medicine and Clinical Director of Orthopaedics at Imperial College Hospitals

Dr. Raj Bhattacharya is the Clinical Director of Orthopaedics at Imperial College Hospitals, as well as the President of Orthopaedics at the Royal Society of Medicine. He is also an active entrepreneur with a keen interest in digital technologies and how they can improve our approach to human health.

Somi Arian asks him about the lack of female surgeons in orthopedics, and other disciplines of medicine, and why he thinks this is. She also asks him how this lack of equality may be affecting some women adversely, and if there is any way he thinks the technology could help close the gap when it comes to training and supporting more female surgeons.

Dr. Raj Bhattacharya explains that there is a significant gender imbalance in surgical fields tilted favourably towards men. This is true both in orthopaedics and other fields, in the UK and abroad. He mentions a recent article published in General Philosophy Syndrome that explores this disparity by a group of female orthopaedic surgeons who developed the International Orthopedic Diversity Alliance.

Although females represent more than 50% of medical graduates in most nations, including the UK, females still often constitute less than 10% of orthopaedic surgeons and hospitals, which remains the least gender diverse of all surgical specialties.

The proportion of female authority surgeons ranges from 26% in places like Estonia & Sweden, to 0% in places like Cambodia, with the UK varying quite poorly at a 4.8%. Although uncertain of the validity of this statement, Dr. Bhattacharya shares a quote he read on Twitter: “At our current rate, it would take us 138 years to reach a stage where 50% of researchers in the UK are women.” Even in other fields of medicine, where female numbers are more proportionate to men, for example in plastic surgery, it is still estimated, that at the current rate, it would take about 7 years for women to achieve a 50-50 ratio in that specialty.

Although there are no significant stats that show the difference between female and male surgeons, actually the data available shows that patients of female surgeons have fewer complications and a lower mortality rate, and there is no gender preference by patients, there are still some barriers that exist when it comes to increasing the number of females in orthopaedics. Dr. Bhattacharya comes back to the famous quote by Pepsico ex-CEO: “For a woman, the biological clock and career clock are in total conflict with each other.” Surgery is an apprenticeship, and unfortunately apprenticeship and interruption do not tend to go together. The interruption of motherhood and raising a family is probably the biggest factor that puts women off considering surgery as a career choice.

There is also a lot of unconscious bias about the career, the self-perpetuating cycle of not enough women role-models and in leadership positions in the surgical and orthopaedic world, and a widely held belief in orthopaedics, that surgery requires a lot of muscle strength, which is not completely irrational, but in this case, it is more a question of technique than strength. He claims that traditionally, there used to be an environment of chauvinism with in the orthopaedic circle although this seems to be rapidly eroding with the new generation of men who do not feel the need to prove their superiority through boorish and bigoted behaviour. All these areas require behavioural and policy changes, and also the need to encourage women into the speciality.

He believes advances in technology for the training of future surgeons, such as cognitive task analysis, virtual simulations, haptics, optical devices like HoloLens, will help us close this gap by providing training that can be accessed from the home, thus taking care of one of the main barriers which is the anxiety of interruption of apprenticeship due to the biological clock. 

To conclude and pave the way forward, Dr. Bhattacharya believes that given that orthopaedics is still a male-dominated environment, it will require a change in the attitude of men and increasing the visibility of females in role-model positions which will likely provide the necessary push towards equality.

Maryon Stewart

CEO at Healthy Wise and Well

Maryon Stewart is CEO at Healthy Wise and Well, a company focused on helping women overcome hormone-related symptoms and to reclaim their wellbeing. She contributes regularly to Femail, in the Daily Mail, and established the Women’s Nutritional Advisory Service and Natural Health Advisory Service. Alongside a team of 13 professionals, they pioneered a workable program that has helped hundreds of thousands of women overcome their PMS, peri-menopause, and Menopause symptoms with a scientifically based non-drug approach.

Maryon begins by explaining a little bit further what they do at Healthy Wise and Well, and how her natural treatments, all based on available medical research, has helped many women tackle PMS and menopause. 

She feels it is unfair that women in their 40s and 50s are the fastest-growing sector in the workplace, and yet many are leaving the workplace after so much effort because they feel they are not productive anymore. She states that through a combination of published research and AI, these women can be helped to be the best versions of themselves by being given what Maryon and her team call a mid-life refuel so that they can get turbocharged.

Last year, Forbes said that this exodus of middle-aged women from the workplace is globally costing 810 billion dollars a year because of lost productivity and efficiency, so this situation seems to be really hitching the world economy. And another known fact is that by 2025, there will be one billion women experiencing menopause.

From her company’s surveys, they gather that not only are women leaving the workplace, but 96% of them said they were not ready for menopause, and two-thirds of them said it was robbing them of their life. In a survey published last year by the Mayo Clinic, only 7% of doctors and gynecologists admitted that they had adequate education on how to help women going through menopause. This sheds a lot of light on why women are suffering the way they are.

Throughout her 28 years of experience in this field, Maryon Stewart has been helping women overcome menopause through natural practices. She began by helping people one-on-one, but three years ago, she made four short films on her phone for Facebook and went viral over the course of a few weeks. 

She was overwhelmed by the amount of women reaching out about their needless suffering through menopause and that’s how she and her team put together a six-week program with bite-sized chunks of information that would teach women how to use it and improve their quality of life. Fast-forward to a few years, Maryon and her team now have a tech-enabled program that can be run from a phone or any other device, which tracks symptoms, has courses available, and users can even attend live sessions.

For the next phase of their tech, their idea is to develop a neural network where real-time research will be made available, and information about women and their medical history, symptoms, diet, lifestyle, etc. can be recorded.

They are developing algorithms and AI so that eventually, the technology will be able to scale to reach millions of women simultaneously with personalized programs. They aim to take the stigma out of menopause so that people come to realize all they need is a mid-life refuel, through what mother nature provides us. Her belief is that every single woman in the world has a right to this information. Their focus is now on the workplace to show how they are changing things and increasing productivity so that women feel better and are better both at home and in the workplace.

Dr. Min Chen

Professor at Florida International University College of Business

Dr. Min Chen is a professor at FIU’s College of Business. Her research examines information technology innovations, healthcare analytics, and issues relevant to the economics, organization, and regulation of the U.S. healthcare system. She received the best professor and best course awards from FIU’s Healthcare MBA program and was invited to address stakeholders about the challenges and opportunities facing the U.S. health care systems.

Dr. Chen shares her observations about her handling of data related to how maternal and birth outcomes impact women’s experience. Motivated by the rising U.S. maternal mortality rate and the global C-section epidemic, Dr. Chen’s research has shown that there’s been nearly a 30% increase in maternal death rate in the United States in the last 20 years. Women are increasingly dying or suffering due to unnecessary complications in childbirth.

Over the last two decades, the global C-section rate has almost doubled and reached alarming epidemic levels, especially in developed countries. The recommended C-section rate is around 10-15%, although nowadays in the U.S., 1 out of 3 babies are born by C-section.

Although C-sections can be life-saving in certain high risk pregnancies, compared to vaginal birth, it is still major surgery and the procedures carry significantly higher risks of dangerous complications. Many of the C-sections performed on low-risk pregnancies are totally unnecessary, not to mention more costly, and end up doing more damage than good.

She asks the million-dollar question: How can we better match the procedures with the patients so that we can ensure high-risk mothers get the much-needed C-sections while at the same time, reducing the unnecessary C-sections for low-risk mothers?

To answer this question, Dr. Chen and her team assembled large scale data sets covering the millions of childbirths that occurred in the state of Florida over a six-year period. They compared the before and after changes across hospitals that use electronic health records to track and share the expectant mother’s information versus those hospitals that do not. What they found was that the appropriate use of those technologies is associated with a 25% drop in the likelihood of maternal complications, including third or fourth-degree lacerations, and unplanned operating room procedures.

They further found, that in order to fully reap the benefits of health information technologies, several important things are required:

  • Adoption of electronic health records to connect detailed information during the whole pregnancy journey such as test results, demographics, important social and behavioral factors, in order to use them to assess the mother’s risks.
  • Information sharing infrastructure such as health information exchange (HIE) to connect data from multiple disparate EHR systems. HIE helps break down data silos and enables the hospital team to assess prenatal information collected from OB-GYN offices so they can be prepared during childbirth.
  • Use of analytics to continuously monitor all outcomes. Increased accuracy of measurement and update the grouping of patients into different risk levels so that uncertainty is further reduced.
    Dr. Chen’s plans for the future of her research is to better understand how the use of specific EHR functionalities can affect cost and health outcomes. Their biggest challenge is accumulating high-quality data.

Courtney Williams

Co-Founder of Emagine Solutions Technology

Courtney Williams is co-founder of Emagine Solutions Technology which is a mobile ultrasound software company that has won many awards such as the Arizona Innovation Challenge Spring 2020 and the 500 Startups Venture Ready Programme. Courtney’s career history in business and finance has given her a range of skills which she has used to help build Emagine Solutions Technology.

Continuing on Dr. Chen’s line, Courtney Williams shared her insights on maternal mortality rates in the modern world.

The idea for Emagine Solutions Technology came from the fact that Courtney’s own sister went through a very difficult pregnancy experience, and what Courtney and her team are trying to battle is a statistic that many find hard to accept, the fact that the U.S. is currently the most dangerous and expensive place in the developed world to give birth in. These negative maternal health outcomes disproportionately affect African-American, Indigenous, and rural areas mothers which are dying at a rate of three times the rate of their white and Latina counterparts.

Some of the most common conditions that can arise during pregnancy and contribute to maternal mortality can be significantly decreased in severity with faster treatment and care, for example, preeclampsia, which affects 1 in 20 births in the USA. It can be a life-threatening condition that presents itself starting in the second trimester and can be experienced up to six weeks postpartum. 

This condition, and many others, cost lives and constitute an expensive burden to the healthcare system as well. Preeclampsia alone costs the United States healthcare 2.18 billion dollars per year. Treating a patient with this condition costs three times as much as treating someone without it, especially because it is usually detected when symptoms have already become life-threatening.

Courtney Williams explains how as things are now, it is sometimes difficult for women to communicate with their doctors outside of regular prenatal visits, and the current state of prenatal care in the U.S. lacks the same modern tools as other medical specialties. American women today have about 10-12 prenatal visits and two ultrasounds during the course of their pregnancy, and with this current workflow, it is normal that a lot of information can be missed and complications, when not found out in time, can become worse.

Emagine Solutions Technology has invented a platform to address all this in which patients start off by managing and recording their symptoms as they happen, taking control of their health from the moment of a positive pregnancy test through postpartum check-up

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 Emagine’s clinic software interface serves as the second set of eyes for the doctor, where doctors get real-time information about their patient’s symptoms and can see complications as they arise. Another important part of this solution is that the provider is also using their FDA cleared vista scan handheld ultrasound in prenatal appointments to get better diagnostic information. This ultrasound ties the solution together because Emagine’s imaging tool has been specifically developed to do basic life-saving ultrasound checks that a simple foetal doppler cannot do. Their approach is believing that helping the patient be more engaged and the provider be more confident in monitoring the patient’s health can really bring together this data intersection of imaging and patient data to achieve better outcomes.

In terms of challenges faced, William shares her experience on how introducing new data-driven solutions in a field that still relies on technology and methods that, in some cases, are decades old, but she and her team believe that on the scale, this emphasis on data during pregnancy, start to finish, can really help reduce health disparities, reduce negative outcomes, as well as reduce costs for the system. For further information on this program visit emaginesolutionstechnology.com

 Courtney Williams brings to an end the first group of panelists and Somi Arian opens up the floor for the Part 1 Q&A.

GROUP 2

After the Q&A, Somi Arian introduces the second group of speakers. Starting with Yonah Welker, who has been working at the intersection of tech and society for 15 years.

Yonah Welker

Tech Explorer, Tech Startup Founder & Creator

Yonah has been working on the intersection of tech and society since 2005 – when they became a tech explorer and launched a hardware think tank. Over their journey, Yonah founded and co-created tech startups and labs, helped to facilitate tech ecosystems through North America to APAC, MENA, Africa, Europe, screened over 2000 teams, contributed projects in ethics (data, AI, tech), deeptech, impact and sustainability (European Commission). They guided and screened the world’s youngest tech and AI inventors, as well as talent from Google, womenpreneurs, and leaders from Oprah Academy and African Leadership Academy to name a few.

Yonah Welker sheds some light on the ways in which refer to people that are non-binary, and about how we can use robotics, AI, and neurotechnology to address personalized solutions for women’s health and people from all backgrounds.

As a person who identifies as non-binary, Yonah is interested in the kind of ecosystem we, as a society, are creating. Unfortunately, gender focus products that actually work and actually serve a specific demographic of diverse people or minorities are still very underrepresented.

It is Yonah’s belief that this situation can change only through the joint efforts of research technology, venture capital, and the corporate worlds. Typically, this venture involves six levels of engagement, and that is what Welker and their colleagues try to do. During this conference conversation, Yonah Welker mentions three of these six levels.

1. A representation in data science and AI teams.

There is no way to create personalized AI solutions for women if we only have 10% of women in AI and data science teams.

Welker’s team works on different initiatives around the world to bring focus to the fact that in order to create technologies focused on particular groups, they need their representation in technology.

Nobody knows what you need better than yourself. All groups should create UX and UI and user research in order to create highly niche solutions for particular problems.

2. Gender of focused neurodiverse solutions. Part of 500 Startups, Welker’s team has done significant work in order to shift from a holistic approach to venture capitalist investments where they primarily focused on different stuff just to get the ball rolling and make money to a much more focused approach when for example, they launch a fund focused on a particular problem like autism focused venture fund which exclusively invests in autism focused startups.

Welker explains, that even while doing this, most of the solutions are primarily focused on males. When talking about solutions for autistic people, or companies speak of neurodiverse hiring for technical positions, in general, they are speaking about males with autism, even while there is evidence that points out the differences of autism, of neurodiversity, or different types of genders or social groups.

3. Collaborative AI in data. When talking about neurodiversity and well-being based gender solutions, in most cases a significant amount of data sets are needed in order to teach machine learning to make correct analysis and conclusions.

For example, just recently, it was believed that the key reason behind most types of depression was serotonin, but nowadays, it is known that other elements also play their part, like NMDA and dopamine neurotransmitters.

So in order to create specific gender solutions, there is a need for more cases of study, for more data, and we need an open-source platform focused on narrow economic, visualization, open diversity statistics, neurology data, and mental health and psychology data. Currently, these platforms are primarily driven by academia, universities, independent researchers, but there is a need for the corporate and business world to join this journey.

Somi Arian thanks Yonah Welker and introduces the second speaker from Group 2, Ibilola Amao. None of what Yonah mentioned can happen, without having more women in STEM and that is where Ibilola comes in.

Ibilola Amao

Executive Consultant at Lonadek Global Services

Ibilola Amao is an Executive Consultant at Lonadek Global Services, a multi-award winning, woman-owned company. She is a STEM Focused Value Creator with a global network and focuses on deploying Information Technology, Engineering expertise, and a skilled local workforce to increase business profitability in STEM-focused sectors such as Energy, Power, Infrastructure, Manufacturing, Oil, and Gas.

Ibilola begins by sharing some stats from the US-based Society of Women Engineers, only 13% of engineers in the workforce are women, over 32% of women opt out of STEM degree programs in college, and only 30% of women who earn bachelor’s degrees in engineering are still working in the industry 20 years later. 0.4% of the executives in STEM fields are female, and while statistics do not exist in Africa, Ibilola shares that it is known that there is an estimate of 8-10% women in engineering in African countries.

What she has been trying to achieve over the years is to identify, develop and engage girls in STEM, and convert them, not only into executives and leaders in their fields but also into women in entrepreneurship, because there are less than 5% of women CEOs running enterprises in the energy-power infrastructure, oil and gas industries.

What she and her team are trying to do now is democratizing technology in order to connect people, technology, and innovations, and get more girls into STEM leveraging the sustainable development goals and the technologies available.

In the area of Medical Tech, TeleHealth, Mobile Health, and Smart Healthcare, they are working on developing, along with IBM, Microsoft, and Github, data analysts, IT administrators, cloud engineering, robotics experts, graphic designers, and digital marketers.

On the free Microsoft LinkedIn and Github solutions, they are developing women and girls in STEM that empowerment of women would accelerate the eradication of poverty, protect the planet, improve health and socio-economic climate actions, and ensure that more people enjoy peace and prosperity. These are all part of Lonadek Global Services’ sustainable development goals.

At the moment, they are working with 50 SDG focused STEM and tech female ambassadors in Nigeria, Ghana, Tanzania, Uganda, and Malawi, and they are connecting women in technology and innovation to accelerate these sustainable development goals by building a digital ecosystem to improve connectivity from grassroots to the global supply chain, and digitally upskilling and empowering young girls and women in STEM and entrepreneurship. 

At the moment, they’re about to partner with people like all the other panelists to scale up and ensure that in each of the five countries, they have 100 STEM ambassadors. This will involve replicating through a train the trainer program the empowerment of women and girls on the Microsoft, LinkedIn, and Github solution to address skills gaps and foster collaboration between STEM talent in Africa and the West.

Somi Arian thanks Ibilola Amao for her words and the inspiring work she is doing and points out that everything starts at a very young age, and if we want to have more female entrepreneurs and in STEM fields, we need to begin in early education in order to change the biased mindsets that we, as a society, have been dragging so far.

Holly Sydnor

Chief Brand and Marketing Officer at AWL Strategies-All Women Leadership

As a branding and marketing expert, Holly gained extensive experience developing strategic campaigns that connect brands with the people they want to reach. Holly has a passion for helping brands develop and evolve their identity in the marketplace, and tell stories that create connections and delights their customers.

In order to change the mindset and have more women in STEM, we need to be able to tell a story that encourages more women to join the field. Holly Sydnor will tell us more about how we can use storytelling to encourage more women to get into technology and business.

When Holly co-founded All Women Leadership, their goal was to develop strategic communication strategies that would help their clients connect with their own change to accelerate technology adoption. From the previous panelists, it is clear that although women make up about half of the world’s population, they are still heavily underrepresented in STEM fields and underpaid and underfunded in business.

She points out that to close that gap and create a more equitable future, we need to give people a reason to change, which in short translates to. FemTech has a marketing problem at the core of marketing which is the creation of the demand for products and services.

How do we create demand for FemTech? Like all marketing problems, this will be solved through storytelling. Stories are what create connections and build credibility when delivered to the right people, in the right place, and at the right time. Luckily, we all have that power to create demand for FemTech through our storytelling.

1. First, we need to be clear about who our audience and stakeholders are. It is impossible to craft stories that resonate if you are unsure who they should resonate with.

2. Second, we need to understand those people on a deeper level. It is not just about looking at demographics and ticking diversity boxes. We need to dig a little bit deeper and segment our audiences by psychographics and really ask the question of why to understand them. This way, we can create a story that connects ‘their why’ with our technology.

3. The objective is to take them from point A to point B and build trust. A recent salesforce study found that 82% of consumers think that trustworthiness matters more today than it did a year ago, and building that trust will help us win hearts and change minds in our initiative.

4. Consistency. People need to hear a message an average of seven times before it sinks in. Although seven may seem like a repetitive amount, according to McKinsey research, people who tell a consistent story are four times more likely to have their technology rollout succeed.

5. Don’t forget to celebrate success. Success stories will help our initiative to take root and grow and will encourage others to get involved and build on what we’ve accomplished.

She concludes by sharing a real-life example from Rent The Runway, a fashion company that turned the fashion industry on its head. Its founders were told repeatedly by fashion industry leaders that women would not buy into that model, that renting was something men did.

Instead of giving up, the founders opened up a pop-up store on their campus to test their idea. What they did was to gather stories from the women that would stop in and rent clothes and they achieved that emotional connection through stories and took them back to the industry.

They refined their storytelling and their pitches through many rejections until they found the right people who would take a chance on change, and ultimately, they created a million dollar business and flipped the industry on its head with a brand new business model.

Holly believes the opportunity to do the same in FemTech is here. She exhorts the audience and fellow panelists to hone their stories and test their messages with someone new and use that feedback to reinvigorate their efforts to drive change and innovation.

Somi Arian thanks Holly Snyder and quickly introduces Stayci Keetch, communication strategist disrupting the mainstream agency mentality.

Stayci Keetch

Director of Communications at CHEO Research Institute

Stayci Keetch is Director of Communications at CHEO Research Institute whereas a communication strategist she disrupts the mainstream agency mentality, focusing on holistic advertising mechanisms that make her clients become (or remain) leaders in their industries. As a video specialist, she creates long-lasting impressions using virtual mediums to build strong personal and corporate brands. Stayci’s list of achievements include: Finalist at the Woman Entrepreneur of the Year (Orleans Chamber of Commerce, 2018) and Finalist for Businesswoman of the Year, Emerging Entrepreneur (WBN, 2019), among others.

Like all things when it comes to careers, you cannot be what you do not see, and if the task of communicating research and technology careers to young women and girls of tomorrow, that means doing it where their attention lives, using mediums they want to consume, and Stayci believes now is the best time to do it because right now the entire human race is watching researchers working on a vaccine that will impact our immediate future, research has never been so sexy.

To do this, she explains we first need to understand that disseminating research to young women and girls cannot be done the same way we share research findings within the scientific and medical community. Having research published in a high impact journal is great, but a young person, even one with a keen interest in the field, should not be expected to review publications to find the takeaways.

Traditional broadcast media would break down these publications into layman’s stories, but they only choose newsworthy stories and, more importantly, broadcast media is not where young people’s attention is right now.

How do we get their attention? How do we translate the information into relatable takeaways? And what mediums should we use to do it?

1. To get their attention, communication professionals need to find areas of interest within the research that spark curiosity for young people. That could be by methods of research that are seen as cool, for example, at CHEO, when they do tours of their wet labs, they often have people participate in extracting DNA from a strawberry. The experience is so powerful that both young and older people want to try it. Kids that understand the possibilities that research holds for them in their everyday lives create a connection that will inspire curiosity.

2. To translate this information into relatable findings, communicators need to focus on the hope that research brings and the outcomes that will follow. They need to make it personal, with real life examples and speak to youth to personalize discoveries in a way to create a strong sense of empathy towards the research.

3. To present the research, it is the scientific and medical communication professional’s responsibility to create strategies for digital dissemination focused on finding what the discoveries mean for people. Stayci’s team at CHEO Research created a series called Discovery Minutes, which asks viewers what was the question they were asking, and what did they learn.

Other organizations make use of animation and explainer videos and even podcasts. Professionals need to remember that it is up to them to clearly lay out the connection that research can bring to young people’s lives. It is not the audience’s responsibility to seek out the information, break it down, and apply it to their lives.

Next, Somi Arian introduces the following guest, Dr. Cynthia LeRouge.

Dr. Cynthia LeRouge

Professor at FIU College of Business & Co-Editor in Chief of Health Systems Journal

Dr Cynthia LeRouge is a professor at Florida International University- College of Business. She specialises in the study of health and information systems/ health informatics for the last 17 years, particularly in the areas of telemedicine, consumer health informatics, and public health informatics. Cynthia also serves as co-editor in chief of the Health Systems Journal.

She shares with the panel her experience and observations around perinatal anxiety and its impact on the quality of life for mothers, and how FemTech can help address this issue. She begins by stating that although many people are familiar with postpartum depression, there are very few who have heard about perinatal anxiety.

Half of the pregnant women who experience anxiety at any given moment of their pregnancy are rarely diagnosed and many may not even understand that what they experience is a treatable condition and not something normal, a lot of them will probably not even seek help due to societal stigmas around mental health issues or pharmaceutical misconceptions. OB-GYNs and midwives are hindered by limited training regarding these issues, and resources are limited to treat these women. Perinatal anxiety may be especially pronounced during these times of COVID19 and for minority populations.

So where does technology fit to address this issue?

Dr. Cynthia LeRouge has been working with multiple consumer health informatics, academic industry efforts that leverage multi-disciplinary teams to consider the research issues and concerns around issues like perinatal anxiety and discern ways that technology can be used to 1. empower patients, and 2. support health systems receive evidence-based patient generated health data.

This data can facilitate patient provided communication, track patient progress, and build databases of feedback from a cadre of women on the outcomes of various types of interventions to find the most suitable ones for each individual woman.

For example, in the case of perinatal anxiety, she explains that increasing the use of electronic patient-reported outcomes, also known as ePROs, can help by collecting responses to research-validated questionnaires from women at the start and during the course of their pregnancy.

It can also help identify individual trends for each woman and also identify trends and compare groups of women to learn more about this condition and what can help. Dr. LeRouge and her team developed an online freely available ePRO toolkit that contains guidelines and resources to assist health systems in implementing ePROs for many health conditions across the entire health network. In the case of perinatal anxiety, these ePROs can also help with the multiple care decisions to be made, in increasing the development evaluation and use of electronic patient decision aids that can educate patients on options for different kinds of conditions.

They can also record women’s preferences in the EHR and can help support treatment plans. Particularly in her work with perinatal anxiety, some women mention the possibilities of innovative forms of telemedicine that meet them where they are, like evidence-based chatbots. Dr. LeRouge mentions that the design of all these consumer-facing tools have to reflect inclusion so that they are able to cater to a whole spectrum of women. She believes that FemTech can help in aiding women with perinatal anxiety, and many other health conditions.

Somi Arian thanks Dr. LeRouge and continues on to Andrea Wolf, our next speaker, who will talk about a topic that has probably crossed the minds of every woman in the world, and that is breast cancer.

Andrea Wolf

CEO at Brem Foundation

Andrea Wolf is CEO at Brem Foundation to Defeat Breast Cancer. Her experience with public policy, marketing, communications, and partnerships has led to a great change in the breast cancer early-detection landscape. As the CEO of the Brem Foundation, Andrea has significantly expanded a rapidly-growing organization through branding, media placement, thought-leadership, and data collection.

Breast cancer is something we hear about almost every day, and this may delude us into thinking we know plenty about it, when in fact we do not know enough about it, and women and men are not getting the information that they really need to maximize their chances of finding that early curable breast cancer.

This is important because breast cancer is over 95% curable when caught in its earliest stages, but only about 22% at its latest stages.

Knowing this can mean the difference between life and death.

It is paramount for all women to evaluate their personal risk factors and correlate them with their screening options. Oftentimes, because of all the publicity, people think that a mammogram is enough, but we live in an era where everything is personalized, but when it comes to breast cancer, people seem to be okay with using the same screening method for everybody.

Andrea believes that every woman, and every man who might love a woman, should learn about what those risk factors are, whether it’s just the fact of being a woman, dense breast tissue, family history, genetics, lifestyle, etc. all of these factors correlate to a particular screening regimen that needs to be optimized for each woman’s risk factors. Women need to seek out reliable resources, like the Brem Foundation, that can help them figure out what it is they need.

Another thing Andrea brings attention to is that women cannot rely on general knowledge of what they are hearing out there and use that as the only formulation for their health care because there is a lot of confusing information that give all kinds of different guidelines and advice that do not tell the whole story. For example, regarding mammograms, any recommendation other than starting at age 40 every year increases the mortality rate by at least 19%. People need to make sure to not only get accurate information from accurate sources but also to be a self-advocate, to know what they are entitled to and know that there are screenings available that go beyond mammograms, such as ultrasounds, MRIs, molecular breast imaging.

The technologies are much more vast and much more essential than people realize.

Finally, Andrea Wolf exhorts us to think outside the box and support innovative advancements. She thinks this is important in two ways:

1. To think about women in underserved communities who might lack the resources that others do in order to be properly screened. There are entities out there, the Brem Foundation included, that are innovating ways to increase access. In their case, they teamed up with Lyft to create the United States’ first and only cost-free ride-sharing program that’s exclusively dedicated to breast care. This program is helping women of color and immigrants primarily so that transportation is not a barrier to care.

2. There are innovations in screening technologies where women entrepreneurs should invest because the more we can understand how telemedicine and changes because of COVID19 will impact breast care, the more lives we can save.

Somi Arian thanks Andrea Wolf and introduces our final panellist for this third conference of the Women in Business and Technology Think Tank. Throughout many of the panellists’ expositions, we have listened to different women’s health issues such as diseases or specific conditions that are unique to women and how to tackle them, but one area that is often neglected is women’s sexual health and sexual pleasure, with this, she introduces Jackie Rotman, Founder and CEO of the Centre for Intimacy Justice. 

Jackie Rotman

Founder & CEO of the Centre for Intimacy Justice

Jackie Rotman is the founder and CEO of the Centre for Intimacy Justice, a non-profit organization aimed at establishing equal rights in business towards women’s sexual health wellness in companies. At the age of 14, she founded an organization that uses the history of hip hop dance to close the opportunity gaps for youths in the U.S. Jackie also led Spark, a philanthropic network which is dedicated to women and girls’ empowerment.

To end the Think Tank on a high note, she talks about female pleasure and female sexuality, particularly how the advertising world and corporate policies are blocking women’s health innovation and what we can do to change this.

Technology plays a powerful role in determining who is entitled to what experience. According to Jackie Rotman, today, Facebook is making the choice to stunt entire markets for women, fem, and non-binary people, by the ads they block or allow on their platforms. Being the most important advertising engine for businesses to reach customers, grow and raise venture capital financing, their decision to promote, or not, certain products and companies are negatively impacting women’s health and sexuality. Women’s sexual health ads, about menopause, endometriosis, vaginismus, and sexual pleasure, are being targeted by Facebook as “adult products” and therefore inappropriate or obscene, and yet they allow mass ads about erectile dysfunction.

This choice by Facebook has allowed two erectile dysfunction startups founded in 2017 to be valued at over a billion dollars each. Rotman wonders, if things had been different, how many companies for women’s health could have become successful had Facebook not banned and allowed their promotions, including companies led by female founders? These companies that Facebook is stunting make massive multi-billion-dollar markets with plenty of opportunity for economic growth and creation.

Billions of women would benefit from more tools and information about our intimate lives.

She shares some stats about women’s intimate health, like the fact that nearly three out of four women experience painful intercourse.

One in four women says that their last sexual encounter was physically painful.

Half of the women aged between 18 and 35 have trouble reaching orgasm with a partner, and about half of those women, who say they have brought up these sexual concerns with their doctors, say that their doctor expressed reluctance to treat them.

The creation of equal business rules towards women’s sexual health companies is important not only because of sexual health outcomes but also because it matters for our cultural development. For many women and individuals across the gender spectrum, sexuality is often experienced as a source of trauma and victimization. We need to change this narrative and create one of the women having agency over their own bodies. We need narratives that promote healthy sexuality. We live in a world where half our population is bombarded with ads about penises and erectile dysfunction since about age 20, and the other half’s sexual well-being is silenced.

We are in a world that needs healing and rebalancing. Changing internal corporate policies towards women’s sexual health and wellness companies is one expression and one impactful driver of that change, and this is what the Centre for Intimacy Justice is working to create.

Somi Arian thanks Jackie Rotman and on this note about companies advertising policies, opens up the floor for the second part’s Q&A.

Conclusion

Whether from tech, business, or marketing standpoint, there is still a lot to be done to close the information gap in women’s biology, but things do seem to be moving in the right direction with all kinds of new initiatives popping up to bring equality into the world of business, technology, and medicine. It is time for women to self-advocate, take control of their bodies, and have the information available to make their own decisions regarding their health. With the advances in technology in recent years, the time has never been more on our side to do this. 

This brings to an end the third conference of the Think Tank for Women in Business and Technology.