corporate women working together

There are many parallels between designing good products and building a successful company that at first glance, may not spring to mind.

I’ve been lucky enough to experience what it’s like to build and grow a start-up, and what it’s like to lead brilliant product teams in different types of health tech organisations.

When I was in my early 20s, I co-founded a beauty tech start-up and whilst running it, I learned heaps about business, product and investment in the process. But after a few years, I realised that this wasn’t where my passions were and I made the difficult decision to take a step back and started exploring health tech. I started my career in medical science and saw a big opportunity to apply everything I’d learned to healthcare. I was curious about how we could translate research findings into clinical practice faster (it often takes many years!) through scalable & effective products that have a real impact on people’s lives.

Making that transition really helped me to discover what drove me and I discovered that the skills needed to succeed as an entrepreneur and product leader had a lot of overlap – at the heart of any successful start-up is a loved product, clear strategy and aligned business model. But the two career paths also share some of the same challenges for female leaders too.

Leadership challenges facing women in tech

Sadly, women are still underrepresented in senior leadership roles in tech and VC. And this lack of diversity limits organisations potential to thrive, as we know brilliant and innovative organisations and products are built by diverse teams.

Raising funding is critical to scaling a business from an idea to a scalable product. But raising funds can be challenging for women. In fact, women receive less than 3% of all venture capital investments, and women account for less than 15% of check-writers. Often if you’re pitching your idea in a room of potential investors, there will be less women at that table than men.

We’re seeing more women founding and joining tech and VC companies but there’s still not enough in senior leadership roles, closing the bigger funding rounds or at the decision-making tables.

And from the conversations I’ve had with women across the industry, if you do end up in those positions, it can be challenging to be one of the only female leaders in the company. The scale and types of challenges faced often depend on the individual company and its culture.

So not only do we need to encourage more women to set-up companies and move into leadership roles but we also need to create the right funding and company environment for them to thrive.

I’d encourage any woman considering a career in tech, to understand that whilst barriers may remain, there is lots of support and opportunities too.

Overcoming the challenges

We need to see more women in senior leadership positions and boardrooms across the industry. But their success is reliant on support, visibility, and the ability to believe that they’ll be able to overcome the barriers ahead of them.

There’s no overnight fix. But in my experience, there is so much we can do to help.

Whilst no one article can list everything we need to do, here’s a few suggestions of what can help:

1. Adapt your hiring strategies

Hiring strategies are a huge part of getting women into leadership positions. There’s a big job to be done in expanding the talent pools we’re searching from too.

One of the ways we can expand talent pools to create better access to leadership positions for women, is by implementing tailored learning and development strategies to upskill women from within your own organisation. Your best single source of future leaders may already be within the business. So it’s important to invest in your current talent. Arrange for these aspiring leaders to be mentored. Work with them to build their skills up, and train them into these roles.

It’s important to encourage all staff members to take training in unconscious bias too – especially if they’re in hiring positions. This helps employees to recognise and understand biases, complementing diverse hiring practices that can work to ensure equal representation and better workplace satisfaction.

2. Creating communities

Community is also so important. Surrounding yourself with people who are facing similar challenges – from fundraising to hiring to board rooms – can be both validating and helpful. I set up the Women in Heath Tech community (we run London dinners and have an active WhatsApp group) to help build a community for leaders in health tech space. It’s given me the opportunity to meet like minded people, problem solve with my peers, and inspire the next generation of female product leaders in the healthcare industry too. There are lots of groups like this out there, regularly putting on events to support women in these industries and they are well worth tapping into.

3. Support flexible working

There’s a large pool of leadership talent out there that remains largely untapped. From working Mum’s, through to care givers and those situated in more remote locations. Re-entering the workforce, or gaining equal access to opportunity can be tough. Businesses need to build a working model that supports all of its employees.

Encouraging flexibility and creating a working environment that works for everyone is critical. Whether that’s a flexi-working pattern, or the ability for them to commute around other commitments, each employee ought to be able to communicate openly with their employer about the challenges or commitments they may have in their own lives. This not only helps them with their own career planning, but it creates a supportive environment that continues to nurture talent from within. This needs to be role modelled from the top too – by all genders.

Throughout the course of my career I’ve seen progress made when it comes to female representation in entrepreneurship and product leadership, however, there’s certainly more to be done. But for now, I’d encourage any woman considering a career in tech, to understand that whilst barriers may remain, there is lots of support and opportunities too.

Join a community, find a coach or mentor and keep an eye out for the companies or VCs that are leading the way tackling some of these challenges and changing the way they hire and invest.

About the author

Brigitte WestBrigitte West, Product Director, DrDoctor

Brigitte West currently serves as the Executive Director of Product at DrDoctor, the UK’s leading patient engagement platform. Here, she uses her wealth of experience from working at the forefront of healthcare technology in product strategy to lead the product, design and AI teams in building a more data driven, hybrid and efficient healthcare system.

Alongside her role at DrDoctor, Brigitte is an advisor to early-stage tech start-ups, sits on the board of trustees for the Resuscitation Council UK and runs a global network of 500 ‘Women in Health Technology’ leaders, bringing together change makers from across health tech to work together on the biggest healthcare challenges.