International Women’s Day (8 March) provides the ideal opportunity for employers in the healthtech sector to reassess gender diversity, according to Siilo CEO, Joost Bruggeman and COO, Esther Van Der Meer. Here both share their perspectives…
Esther Van Der Meer:
Any business which wants to fully meet the needs of its customers or end users needs to do everything possible to understand them – who they are, how they work and what they need. To achieve this, you simply must have a diverse employee base. It is essential for us to live up to this principal at Siilo – our objective is to support safer and faster communications and knowledge-sharing among medical professionals, and it makes a huge difference to our product when we feel fully engaged with the way doctors and nurses work, regardless of gender, race, age or culture.
In the short time since I joined Siilo in 2021, I made it a priority to retain a high level of diversity across our organisation. Not only are we on target for setting the male-female ratio within Siilo to 52/48 or better yet, 50/50, I’m also strongly focused on ensuring this balance exists in leadership positions. We know from both research and exp
erience that diversity serves all of us and brings our organisation forward.
I am strongly in favour of a women’s quota as a temporary means to speed up this process and would urge other businesses to consider this if they are serious about ‘levelling up’ and ensuring equal opportunities for all. This push is important because established patterns and the ‘old boys network’ always end up slowing down an organisation’s innovation process. Importantly, I think it’s vital the industry as a whole actively promotes the fact that tech and health-tech are wonderful areas to study and work in.
I believe it is important to ‘champion’ women in the workplace – here at Siilo we’re very proactive in doing this, in both the healthcare and health-tech sectors. If you look at our communication channels, you’ll see that we interview and promote the work of both genders equally. Internally, we organise chat sessions with female role models. We still have some work to do, since it’s not always understood that when you organise something with women, men are also welcome to join in and engage. These patterns of thinking need to be addressed and improved.
While gender diversity is important in every industry, female representation within the healthtech sector still remains way below par. Studies have highlighted how the number of women employed within the tech industry in the UK has barely improved since 2009, hovering at an unimpressive 17%. Frustratingly, a mere 10% of women are employed in leadership roles within the industry today[i].
As CEO and co-founder of one of Europe’s largest medical messaging app, these statistics make for depressing reading. I firmly believe our company’s success has been a result of ensuring gender diversity is a priority. With a male-female ratio currently at about 56/44%, we are on target to improve this to 52/48, once all open positions are filled. The reasons for doing this are clear.
Research and experience has shown how diversity serves all of us and brings our organisation forward. From a general point-of-view, it should make complete sense that any workforce is representative of society as a whole, but for our business in particular, it’s crucial we reflect our users – healthcare professionals who are, of course, as much women as they are men, and when we talk about GPs and nurses, a vast majority are female.
Experience has taught me that women are generally more involved in creating a ‘safe’ working environment for all people working within a company. I vividly recall my mentor Dr. Hermien Schreurs – a female role model who was both influential and important during my training as a surgeon – who, among other things, impressed upon me the need to fight for the patient in a safe educational climate. This was still unheard of at that time in healthcare. Women like her are pioneers that build on trust. I recognised that early on, and also that I wanted the same, safe environment for my colleagues at Siilo.
From a personal perspective, I have found women tend to bring a varied outlook to the table, without the gender bias. For example, I have found that when you put ten men in a room, you’ll likely get some competition and probably the kind that is potentially harmful to either people or strategy. Put an additional ten women in the room and the whole atmosphere evens out. I believe it’s key for the sector to promote and cultivate that.
Worryingly, in the last five years, I’ve not especially noticed an increase of women in the health-tech sector and, sadly, old-fashioned attitudes still persist. Yes, women are getting involved in healthtech-related fields, such as communications and knowledge exchange surrounding eHealth, but there needs to a greater push for their involvement in ‘hard-tech’. The sector needs to encourage more women to opt for more university studies in this field. We need to be able to engage with them earlier and generally be on their radar as they make key decisions around their future career path.
To help mark this month’s International Women’s Day, both Joost and Esther are encouraging employers within the health-tech industry to recognise and help ensure gender diversity is high on its agenda, and to consider the following steps to help encourage real progress and change as we move forward in 2022:
- Hire more women in key positions and increase opportunities for promotion to help balance out the uneven employee status within the organisation. Incorporate a dedicated ‘women’s quota’ if needed as a temporary means to speed up this process.
- Be sure to look for complementary so called ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ skills in both women and men and cultivate the importance of diversity among them. So much work still needs to be done in breaking down unconscious patterns, biases and attitudes.
- Promote your organisation among female students and those newly graduated. Make sure they feel welcome to apply for an internship or a job.
- Have a 0-tolerance policy towards sexism and misogyny in your organisation. Talking big about gender equality doesn’t mean a thing if you’re not willing to deal with it in real life.
- Implement a mentoring programme or ‘buddy’ system of support from the outset and ensure it becomes an intrinsic part of company policy.