Inspirational Woman: Gaele Lalahy | COO, Balance

Louise Newson and Gaele LalahyGaele Lalahy is the COO of which offers free support for perimenopausal and menopausal women.

Tell us a bit about yourself, background and your current role

In my former role, I was a member of the Board at Panasonic UK, leading the company’s marketing communications across the product portfolio of brands such as Panasonic, Lumix, Technics and led the global digital campaign for Panasonic during the London 2012 Games. I am passionate about tech innovation, and I had the chance to set up Panasonic’s digital marketing and ecommerce arsenal from the start and work with many start-ups and progressive minds to bring a number of media first innovations to Panasonic.

And then after an amazing 20 years’ career I decided to jump and join Dr Louise Newson in her almost solo fight to improve women’s health around the world and became the COO of the caring, empowering, essential, digital health menopause app, balance.

Coming from a big corporate the fact that 31% women thought about reducing their working hours and 32% had thought about leaving ( 1 )  because of the impact of sub-optimal menopause support and treatment, completely shocked me.

 At balance, our mission is empower women with unbiased, evidence-based information and knowledge so they can instigate a faster diagnosis and demand access to the appropriate treatment.  The app is free and allows women to have access to personalised expert information, track their symptoms, download their personal health report to take to their healthcare professional as evidence, and have access to a support community of like-minded women.

 Since the launch, the response has been phenomenal. We have just celebrated our first anniversary and have already supported hundreds of thousands of women in over 150 countries, women to whom we have given the courage and the knowledge to go and seek the right treatment for themselves, get back to work, and thrive in their lives and careers.

We are really excited that we are starting to work with corporates on specific solutions to  help support and retain their female talents.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

I never did actually – but when I looked for my first job I looked at nuggets of joy I wanted to have in my working life. A big brand, a multicultural environment, and a way to fulfil my passion for Japan and sports marketing. It had to have some of these in it to make sure I enjoyed every day . Luckily Panasonic offered me them all so it’s no wonder that I stayed for 20 years. Panasonic had given me the chance to develop a passion for tech innovation and always was so focused on purpose which was something I wanted to put at the heart of my job. After 20 years in a multinational, I also felt the need to prove myself again and see what I was capable of in a small structure, without safety nets. I am so glad that  balance came to find me. It was just right.

Have you faced any career challenges along the way and how did you overcome these?

I guess coming from a consumer electronics giant to a digital health start-up was a challenge.

But at the same time the drastic change was what excited me. I know many people want to shift careers or sector and it’s not always easy to find people on the recruiting side who believe that bringing someone with different skills, from a different sector can actually transform, resolve, bring a unique perspective.

How I did I overcome this challenge:

1 – I learned. the first thing I did was to train in the menopause like healthcare professionals do taking the accredited “Confidence in the Menopause” course. I had to be credible

2 – I then tried to unlearn - I was keen to avoid bringing anything from my old world with me, thinking, people, ways of doing things, and have the chance to take everything in, impregnate myself with my new environment, see how things were done elsewhere and build a totally new network in my new space.

3 – only then, I allowed myself to apply learnings and started to merge the best of both worlds together. Whether you work in a big or a small company in sector A B or C there are fundamentals that do not change and if you are a good marketer, have a good commercial and business sense, you can navigate everywhere, and I wish that more recruiters find the courage to recruit cross sector and cross industry.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

In my first 6 months we multiplied by five the number of app downloads of the balance menopause app. Without a single penny spent on direct marketing.

This makes me enormously proud not only because I can see the impact we are having on so many lives and the more we grow the closer we are to achieving our mission to improve women’s health globally but also because never have i worked before on a product such as the balance app that is so strong that pure word of mouth has created the buzz around it.

Such a privileged place to be, team balance is that intangible team of advocates that I keep discovering every day because they come and tell us what they have done off their own back because they believe in our mission, we have posters  promoting balance in the Ministry of Defence Medical Services, NHS surgeries, pharmacies, hairdressers, celebrity endorsement and a myriad of men and women advocates who want to help their friends, sisters, mums, daughters, colleagues.

That one thing do you believe has been a major factor in you achieving success? 

I guess it’s remaining focused on the big, long term vision and removing all complacency or temptations for quick wins.

Looking at where we’ve got to, understanding how we got there and getting back to work.

What top tips would you give to an individual who is trying to excel in their career in technology?

Top 3 tips :

1 – Pick up a product, sector or brand that you absolutely love & believe in – because not only by giving your heart and soul the journey will be enjoyable but also if you are driven by passion you are going to be able to take anyone with you on the journey and get the support you need at every hurdle.

2 – Be focused but don’t be scared to pivot and adapt.  Be comfortable with change!

Our product roadmap has changed many times in the first 6 months, but we always remained focused on the long goal that is what is the most important. Sometimes the HOW is not the right HOW, and it is ok to pivot or change as long as you keep in line with your WHY.

3 – Learn, open your eyes and always be one or two ideas ahead of the curve

 At Panasonic we are working on a 100-year plan, that’s probably a bit much but you see what I mean!

Do you believe there are still barriers for success for women working in tech, if so, how can these barriers be overcome?

The number of women working in tech, 17% is staggering low and more worrying, that number has not moved in 10 years! luckily there are so many organisations such as yourselves doing so incredibly well to provoke change, but change is too slow unfortunately.

The crucial points for me are to get young girls and new grads to ride of self-limiting beliefs, surface female role models & encourage investment to back up female entrepreneurs.

What do you think companies can do to support to progress the careers of women working in technology?

First of all, be open enough to recruit outside of the industry to bring in more women within. And then, promoting women mid-level is a huge issue. We know women are less likely than men to apply for a role if they do not fulfil 100% of the requirements. Companies must address this if they want to inspire women to come forward and realise their potential. In my previous company we created the Women in leadership course backed up by coaches & mentors to make sure that was addressed. So, promote your talents and do not be scared to tell them how good they are!

And of course, look at supporting your employees in their perimenopause and menopause journey to make sure you do not lose your best talents at the height of their career!

There is currently only 17 per cent of women working in tech, if you could wave a magic wand, what is the one thing you would do to accelerate the pace of change for women in the industry?

I would find a way to demystify the word TECH - I think there is a misconception of tech and many women feel that they are not techie / scientific/ enough to work in tech. I have been working for 20 years in tech, first in consumer electronics and now in a tech start up- never have I considered myself “in tech” really until you asked me this question!

I come from a brand and marketing background, and I run a FEM tech start-up. Yet, I do not code, I run a business.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech?

Going back to my point about self-limiting beliefs one book has been pivotal for me in my career as a female in a male dominated environment and that is the fantastic Lean in by Sheryl Sandberg which gave me wings and confidence to dare more.

I find it crucial to be able to take risks and put yourself in a situation of potential failure and no one talks better about the Power of Vulnerability than the fantastic Brenee Brown. At balance we keep trying new things, based on what we hear women want. Sometimes we win, sometimes we lose, but what is important is that we keep learning and moving forward.

And finally, I love getting inspiration from various industries and people, I have the chance to work with mentors in so many industries, cinema, sports, consumer electronics, tech start-ups and hearing their stories and perspectives always allow me to enrich my thinking. And to be enlightened by new thoughts and ideas and be inspired by creatives, outlines, misfits, rebels and crazy ones, there is a fantastic “extreme perspectives” podcast which I cannot recommend enough.

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