Yesterday in San Francisco, venture fund Rock Health hosted its seventh retreat focused on promoting gender diversity and supporting women leaders in digital health. Formerly known as the XX in Health Retreat, the event is designed to spark innovation in digital health by connecting emerging and experienced women and men leaders through a series of conversations and skills-oriented activities. Some 150+ attendees from innovators such as Castlight Health, Omada Health, and 23andme, engaged in frank talk on topics ranging from mentorship to the wage gap, negotiating, and building a gender-neutral culture. Key messages:
Firms with female representation in top leadership positions are valued higher.
In the opening panel, Ali Diab, CEO at Collective Health, shared that his startup healthcare experience firm maintains a 1:1 male to female ratio on its executive team and across the company as a whole. He said this balance was important for both personal and professional reasons: His mother was a surgeon and strong professional force in his household, and he has seen the positive impact of a gender diverse team when he has taken his product to market. Rock Health presented findings from its most recent research indicating that companies with women in leadership positions make more money and startups with women on the executive team raise more money:
Language can be used as a tool to drive inclusion.
Terra Terwilliger, director of strategic marketing and relationships at The Clayman Institute for Gender Research at Stanford University, led a discussion on strategies to identify the role of bias in organizational structures and how to prevent it from impairing how different people's performance is evaluated. She advised women to identify strong advocates for their advancement and to document their accomplishments to help overcome being pigeonholed with certain characteristics. She attributed much of the disconnect that can lead to gendered thinking to communal versus agentic language, noting that "communal" terms are more often used to describe women and typically are not as associated with corporate leadership as more "agentic", male-referenced terms:
Team diversity can help companies serve their customers/patients better.
In addressing how to hire and retain the best talent, Jenn Maer, Omada Health's creative director, said it often "comes down to empathy and discussion and meeting people where they are regarding what they want out of their careers." She added that it is best to lead by example, showing that you can achieve business success by "designing for diversity." One Medical’s chief executive Tom Lee and Kimber Lockhart, the company's chief technology officer, explored how they work together as senior leaders of the rapidly growing primary care model. Lockhart noted that the pair "don't like to tiptoe around things. We can point out an issue and know we will collaboratively address it. We trust that we are approaching it from a place of wanting to do the right thing." Lee described One Medical's culture as "inherently inclusive and egalitarian." He added that a variety of experiences helps foster creativity and leads to a better offering for all.
Venture capital continues to be a male-dominated space; most of the partners who dole out funding and entrepreneurs who receive it are men.
Gene Teare, director of content at CrunchBase, moderated the "Women Investing in Women" panel featuring Canvas Partner Rebecca Lynn; Venrock's Camille Samuels; Healthy Ventures Co-founder Anya Scheiss; and GE Ventures' Ruchita Sinha. They called out several areas of investment interest: solutions that help patients manage their care outside the hospital walls, personalized medicine, microbiome projects, digital health evaluation tools, and synthetic clinical trials. Noted Samuels: "Companies that will win will win on engagement." Sinha observed that there is a growing focus on metrics and proven results beyond just demonstrating rapid topline growth.
Care personally, challenge directly.
Claire Ngo, head of CMN Consultancy and former managing director at Goldman Sachs, introduced the communication tool “Radical Candor.” She encouraged the audience of founders, executives, and managers to effectively communicate with direct reports and colleagues by challenging them directly with frank, constructive feedback while conveying they care personally about their careers and success. The technique, she said, boosts retention and ensures that no employee ever says: "No one told me."
Women are under-represented at all levels in the workforce, making up just 20 percent of executives.
Oliver Wyman's sister company Mercer shared in a roundtable discussion how health programs can advance gender diversity in the workplace. Learn more from their latest "When Women Thrive" research.
Going forward, several themes emerged as ripe for further exploration.
J.P. Leisure, Director of Product Operations at Stride Health, was one of about eight men in attendance. After the event, he offered his takeaways, which included:
- Companies need to combine quantitative measurement of diversity’s impact with a belief that it's the right thing to do from a business standpoint.
- Gender bias is real and hard to address because we create cognitive shortcuts at a young age that are continuously reinforced in society and language. However, the impact of these biases on organizations can be minimized through interventions.
- Mentorship can be used to help overcome gender issues.
Ashlee Adams, head of research and strategy for Rock Health and co-founder of women's leadership community Hygge Health, highlighted three areas to pursue:
- What actions can we take to mitigate unconscious bias?
- How can we measure the direct impact of diversity and show that it leads to better business value?
- How does ageism present as a form of discrimination and what are the dynamics at play between Millennials and an older workforce?