Digital health

Digital health

What does the future hold for women in health tech


In the UK, women account for 17% of tech and IT workers, compared with 47% of the workforce overall and just one in 10 A-level computer studies candidates is female. Jacqueline de Rojas, president of techUK, wants to raise the share of women in the tech workforce to 20% by 2020 and recently announced an employer-led initiative to encourage more women into a male-dominated sector blighted by recent claims of sexism

women in health tech

The recent budget should help the tech sector grow with extra funding announced for artificial intelligence, skills and technology to boost economic growth, which included more money for maths education, teaching in computer sciences and a partnership with industry and trade unions to design a national retraining scheme to give people more science, technology and maths skills.  

It is now up to all of us- including parents, teachers, university lecturers, and employers -to make sure that more girls take up maths and enter computer science careers. We urgently need more role models- and who better than the growing army of women health tech entrepreneurs who are solving unique and important problems with an optimistic, practical and can-do spirit.    

Marija Butkovic, Founder and CEO of Women of Wearables, says: ‘Never before have there been so many amazing technological advancements and so many amazing female founders in this industry. Femtech –technology aimed at the female market-  is a new force on the rise. With more or less half the population on this planet made up of women, there’s clearly an unmet need.’  

Angela Maragna, MD at One HealthTech, agrees, adding ‘there is more awareness around the inequalities that currently exist and more communities and networks to support and empower women so I’m hugely positive about the future’.  

Collider Health and Our Mobile Health are working with Women of Wearables and One HealthTech in the ‘Women Entrepreneurs in Health Tech’ Category for the 2018 AXA Health Tech & You Awards. 

Amanda Blanc, Group Chief Executive, AXA UK & Ireland, said at the launch of the Women Entrepreneur’s category on 23 November: ‘While half the world’s population is female, and most health decisions are carried out by women, only 9% of health tech businesses are founded by women and just 9% of investment into UK start-ups goes to female founders. Put simply, we are not making the most of all the talent out there, so we have created a new category to help change these statistics and support women who are changing the way people think about their health and how to care for others’. 

 The future for women in health technology 

Maxine Mackintosh, Co founder of One HealthTech and one of the panellists at the AXA event, said ‘77% of the NHS is women- and the NHS is the 5th largest global employer. There is this divide between health and health tech currently but the NHS has to see tech as a capacity builder’. 

Julie Bretland, CEO of Our Mobile Health added, ‘women use mobiles to manage the health of their children and elderly parents- and are designing services recognising the need here. There are no barriers to women any longer’.   

Marija Butkovic re-affirmed that ‘the arrival of femtech is encouraging more women too as men don’t understand women’s problems like menstruation fertility tracking and menopause’. 

Investment is still an ongoing struggle however; one of the women VC investors said there are cultural issues around diversity that need to be addressed and she still gets questions from investors like ‘why are you targeting a niche market?’ -when women represent 50% of the population! 

Overall, it was agreed that breaking into the consumer market is tough and the NHS even tougher, with many entrepreneurs looking to corporates to enter the market. 

Entrepreneurs are people first– men vs women is not helpful 

Are women entrepreneurs different than men? It is often said women under-promise but over-perform and the reverse holds true for men. Julie Bretland agreed that women can sometimes be their own worst enemy, but Mariija Butkovic added that women need more visibility- and this is what her organisation, Women of Wearables, tries to address. 

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Lu Li, Founder of Blooming Founders and Blooms, London’s first business club for female founders and entrepreneurs, said that 70% of women start on their own and there needs to be more appreciation of the special qualities women bring- but both men and women qualities are important. Marija Butkovic agreed, adding that women are very perfectionist and want things properly done before releasing a product, while men are often ‘better poker players’. 

Silja Litvin, Founder and CEO of PyscApps (and its product Equoogame) asked the question, ‘ if women are so good at collaborating why are there so many women who start on their own?’ in response to a recent study cited by Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) that showed that girls outperformed boys on collaborative working which is a skill that will have increasing importance in jobs of the future. 

Overall, it was agreed that the entrepreneurial journey can often be a lonely one, whether for a man or woman, but Mary Matthews, CEO of Memrica, added that ‘women are more adept at spotting a real problem- particularly concerning family and health- and they stick at it. Men will often drop things quickly if they don’t work immediately’. 

Gordon Henderson, Marketing and Innovation Director at AXA, concluded that it was ‘too macho’ in Silicon Valley and that persistence is key.  

Diversity adds to the bottom line 

Overall, the audience agreed that biological determinism is not helpful and current cognitive biases stem from being treated differently from an early age. 

To get the best health technology we need both men and women- bringing all cultures, all languages and all sexualities together.   

We need to stop talking about men and women being different, and instead focus on people and mixing skills to get the best out of teams. 

Big firms are cottoning on that diversity works, and that adding more women adds to the bottom line too. As Harvard Business Review recently found: diversity makes companies more successful and so does adding women to make teams smarter. The economic benefits of diversity are staggering – a recent McKinsey Global Institute report found that if women play an identical role in labour markets to that of men, as much$28 trillion or 26% could be added to global annual GDP by 2025.  

Women Entrepreneurs in Health Tech Category- AXA Health Tech & You Awards 

This category aims to discover exciting and innovative health technology that has been designed and pioneered by women, and is part of a wider commitment by AXA to widen access to investment and exposure for women-founded businesses. It encourages entries from women who have created a product or service for consumers to manage and/or improve their health and wellbeing.  It doesn’t matter what the health tech is, as long as it helps people live happier, healthier lives and is a product or service that is already developed and being marketed. Want to enter?  Click  here for more information. Deadline for entries is 1st February 2018. 


About the author

Tina Woods is founder of Collider Health, a health innovation catalyst that works with organisations to think and do differently and transform health with meaningful impact. She is also the founder of ColliderSCIENCE, a social enterprise to inspire young people in science and engineering and equip them with the skills to create their future.

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