Making the ‘invisible visible’: the key to success for women in health tech


In the third and final part of our series on women in medtech, based on research by AXA HealthTech & You, Tina Woods talks to female pioneers about the importance of visibility for mentors and high achievers in medtech


In almost every society, gender stereotyping is evident from an early age and is shaped by ideas passed on from parents, family members and society. From the classroom to the boardroom, there’s an urgency to help empower girls from the start of their career through strong role models and positive reinforcement.

In recognition of International Women’s Day, Sarah Atkinson, Board Member and Vice Chair Diversity & Skills Council, techUK, says ‘the UK’s ability to innovate and advance is threatened by the chronic STEM skills gap. Bold moves are needed to shift young people’s negative perceptions of STEM subjects and prepare them with 21st century skills and competencies to thrive in a digital world.’

Jacqueline De Rojas, CBE and President of techUK, wants to raise the share of women in the tech workforce from 17 per cent to 20 per cent by 2020 through the Tech Talent Charter and other initiatives she leads to encourage more women to enter tech careers, especially as Britain prepares itself as a global technological powerhouse post-Brexit. De Rojas believes that the UK can become the ‘Silicon Valley’ of Europe and create a digital nation of significance, but this can only happen if the industry creates a talent pool large enough to support the number of jobs required to stay at the forefront of innovation.

So how do we create this pool? Many believe a lack of accessible role models is a key reason girls do not choose to pursue STEM careers – they aren’t aware of the roles available to them, the types of people who take these roles or the path they would need to take to get there. Sherry Coutu CBE, 2017 winner of the Most Influential Women in UK IT, is a serial entrepreneur who believes in the power of using visible role models to encourage children into higher education and careers in STEM. She says, ‘one of the things that rings in my ears is, if you can’t see it, you can’t be it’. Apple Co-founder, Steve Wozniak, agrees too, saying ‘women need to see visually how successful they can be…’ in his interview with Robyn Foyster, owner and publisher of Women Love Tech.

This sentiment is echoed in a recent survey of women health entrepreneurs in which the top three things most often cited to encourage more women to start a business in the digital health industry are:

  1. Encourage more girls/women to study STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) subjects at GCSE, A-level and degree level
  2. Wider awareness and access to female tech role models (eg Martha Lane Fox of, Sheryl Sandberg of Facebook)
  3. More mentorships/sponsorships available for women

Let’s explore these in turn.

A brief history of women role models in tech

Ada Lovelace is often considered the first role model to raise the profile of women in STEM subjects. Born in London in 1815, she is regarded as the world’s first ever computer programmer because she wrote an algorithm intended to be carried out by a machine. Fast-forward to now, and there’s an performance organisation called Ada.Ada.Ada that exists in her name to help people, especially girls and women, engage with technology and STEM as a career, through events and an annual online career fair.


Ada Lovelace

Other more current role models include the well-known women like Martha Lane Fox and Sheryl Sandberg to those who may be less familiar but are equally impressive like June Angelides who founded Mums in Technology after struggling herself to return to the world of work after having her first child.

Dr Clare Novorol, Co-Founder of Ada Health, says, ‘I think we also need to have more role models for women to give them the ambition to be a leader. This could start at school and university.’

While schools and universities are key, role models start earlier at home. Mothers are obviously crucial. Anne Bruinvels, Founder & CEO of Px HealthCare, says,My mum was a chemistry teacher and continues to be an outspoken feminist who works tirelessly on causes that are important to her, such as Technica10, a club for girls aged 10+ that introduces them to the sciences and chemical experiments…’

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Fathers, too, are often cited as role models and sources of inspiration by successful women tech entrepreneurs. Susan Wojcicki, who joined Google the year after it was founded and has been behind many of the search engine’s most defining features, including Google Doodle, grew up surrounded by STEM with a father who was a physics professor at Stanford University.  Lise Pape, Founder of Walk with Path, and 2016 AXA HealthTech & You award winner, said her business idea came from having seen her father struggle with Parkinson’s disease for many years. 

The importance of visible mentors, whether male or female

The AXA Health Tech & You women entrepreneur’s survey highlighted how important the role of mentorship and other forms of career support are too.

Angela Maragna, MD of One Health Tech, says role models and mentors have been important throughout her own journey: ‘There have been various people along my career who have been vital career role models, giving me amazing examples of truly inspiring leadership by driving through immensely challenging projects while still ensuring the team was a fun and engaging place to work (Andy M, you know who are!), plus I’ve been lucky enough to have a fab mentor who has challenged and cuddled me through tough career times in equal measures.’

Avril Copeland, Co-Founder of Innerstrength Health, 2017 AXA HealthTech & You award finalist, said her greatest mentor while setting up her business was a man, Dr Johnny Walker, a clinical entrepreneur who was a super mentor and helped guide me in the first few years’.

Women need to see more women in their sphere of influence. In the women founders’ survey, all either agreed (21 per cent) or strongly agreed (79 per cent) that employing more women in the tech sector will attract more female job applicants. Communities such as One HealthTech are a helpful way for entrepreneurs to enhance their profile and make game-changing connections. Angela Maragna, MD, says, ‘At One HealthTech we have run workshops on PR for start-ups, we make introductions to potential buyers, we profile individuals and their stories, and we also share funding opportunities. There are lots of other ways female entrepreneurs can connect and find support, too.’

Women also need to be encouraged to shout about their success too. Dr Nihara Krause, Founder and Trustee of stem4, Founder of Calm Harm, says, ’I think there may be a general tendency for women to find it harder to “own the success”. I tend to use “we” rather than “I” – I think there is more modesty in women which then makes it more difficult to self-promote as well.’ Dr Krause’s point relates to what is often called Imposter Syndrome, a term used to describe accomplished individuals who are unable to accept their own abilities. In the tech world, this prevents women from speaking out about their achievements and encouraging others to pursue tech jobs.

Marija Butkovic, Founder of Women of Wearables (WoW), tries to help women overcome this imposter syndrome by offering a network and a voice to her growing community WoW. She says, ‘a big problem is that women don’t get the visibility – and this is what WoW tries to tackle, by giving women visibility and creating a domino effect…’

See part one and two of the series.

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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