Diversity by Doing HealthTech Celebrates Five Years of DOING

by | Jun 7, 2024 | Alliances, Diversity

It’s well known that the most successful innovations start with a deep understanding of a problem and take the needs of all stakeholders into account when developing a solution. With this as a foundation and a sustained lift from healthtech industry volunteers determined to make a difference, Diversity by Doing HealthTech (DxD), the initiative created by Stanford Biodesign and Fogarty Innovation five years ago to improve diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) in the health technology innovation ecosystem, is knocking it out of the park. 

Founded on a commitment to action, DxD works to improve diversity through programs that serve individuals across the career pipeline. These include Pathways, which introduces community college STEM students to career opportunities in the industry; a Healthtech Exploration Workshop for diverse college students interning at companies in the ecosystem that provides an expanded learning experience; Speed Mentoring, which introduces early- to mid-career women and minorities to mentoring as a way to help them succeed in the workplace; and Building a Business of Purpose, a seminar series for company leaders that helps them operationalize diversity in the workplace.

At the same time, the programs serve the small and startup companies that are the backbone of the innovation ecosystem by making it possible for them to take an active role in fostering DEI. “While it is difficult for a startup with limited resources to run a whole diversity program, for example, they can get involved in DxD programs with a longer-term goal of influencing their own businesses through those pathways,” said Paul Yock, MD, the founder and director emeritus of Stanford Biodesign, and a co-founder of DxD. 

“Diversity by Doing opens the door of possibility,” said DxD executive director, Ingrid Ellerbe. “We invest in the development of underserved individuals and support small companies focused on what matters – improving patient care — by addressing the need for representation. Ultimately, by helping to build innovation teams that reflect the patient population served, we can help end disparities in care, access, and outcomes.”

Where it started: understanding gender perceptions in medtech

DxD started as an effort to better understand gender issues in the Stanford Biodesign innovation training program and in the medtech industry overall. It was led by Yock, and a working team that included Mike Regan, chief innovation officer at Fogarty Innovation; longtime medtech executive Maria Sainz, and then-Biodesign executive administrator Annette Ewanich and communications manager Stacey McCutcheon. 

One of the team’s first actions was to develop a survey. “We needed to do some landscaping,” said Yock. “We believed that the medtech industry was more inclusive than tech, for example, but we didn’t have any data.” 

Although the group considered investigating other axes of diversity from the beginning – notably race – they decided to limit their initial focus. “We didn’t know how much we could do without being a mile wide and half-inch deep,” recalled Regan. “Half the population is women and the idea that they were being limited in their ability to contribute to our industry was untenable, so we decided to start there. Our goal was to learn and then apply those lessons to other cohorts in the future.  

After deploying their survey, the team organized a summit at Stanford to raise awareness of the issue and share their research. Survey findings included a dramatic lack of women in leadership positions, a workplace experience for women marked by exclusion from influential communication networks, stereotyping and bias, and the fact that — largely because of these issues — more than a third of women respondents were considering leaving their jobs.  

To increase participants’ understanding of the way bias and gender stereotypes can pervade office life, summit attendees explored problematic scenarios around topics like hiring, promotion, and an employee offsite. Using the Biodesign Innovation Process, they characterized the problems and brainstormed early-stage solutions. 

A Commitment to Action

By the end of the event, it was clear that the summit was just a beginning. “The pervasiveness of the problems was stunning,” recalled Yock. “People did not have to work hard to find examples of gender-based problems they had encountered – the stories just flowed.” He continued, “There was a resonance in that meeting – a general awakening of saying – we really have a call here for some fundamental changes that we need to make in our attitudes and our practices.”

Recognizing that any next steps needed to bridge the university and corporate community, the core team broadened their working group to include other summit attendees, forming a DxD steering committee. “People really wanted to do something,” said Regan. 

Launching DxD

One of the steering committee’s first efforts was to brand their initiative. Led by Fogarty chief commercial strategy officer Marga Ortigas-Wedekind, Diversity by Doing HealthTech, or DxD (pronounced D by D) was born. “The name was a very conscious choice,” said Ortigas-Wedekind. “We wanted to emphasize that our focus would be on making a difference through actions – even if they are small at the start. That was our mission and our essence.”

The committee also felt ready to expand beyond the initial focus on women. “The death of George Floyd galvanized the medtech community around race in 2020,” said Ortigas-Wedekind. “And research by the DxD team showed there was great intersectionality between the issues voiced by the BIPOC population working in medtech and the gender survey findings.”

Speed Mentoring

In parallel, the team sought a viable avenue for the group’s first attempt at “doing.” The answer came from the survey’s findings that having a mentor increased job satisfaction for both men and women, and that women with mentors also experienced a more inclusive work environment.

Conceived as an in-person exercise, the pilot DxD Speed Mentoring session was nearly derailed by COVID. Instead, it went virtual, a fortuitous pivot that ultimately improved access and participation. The format was high-energy; mentees and mentors gathered on Zoom, heard three short keynote presentations on topics related to career or personal development delivered by luminaries in the field, and participated in three 1:1 mentoring sessions in breakout rooms. The entire event was done in 90 minutes. 

An Extraordinary Connection

From the very first session, it was clear that Speed Mentoring had an extraordinary resonance. “DxD was doing something that shouldn’t be groundbreaking but felt like it might be,” said Toni-Moi Prince, a product planning professional who was one of the first mentees, and later a mentor in the program.  

“There’s magic there,” observed DxD Advisory Board member and strategy consultant Rebecca Lai. A triple minority when she entered medtech over 20 years ago, (young, female, and Asian) in a white male dominated industry, Lai experienced discrimination, bias, and harassment in her journey through the ranks. While she normalized it at the time, today her involvement with DxD is part of her intense focus on changing that environment. 

“Who doesn’t have 90 minutes to share your experience and help others?” she asked. “And when I was earlier in my own career, I had so many questions, but I was afraid to ask because I felt that senior executives were just too busy. Speed mentoring gives today’s young professionals access to those same people who intimated me.” 

DxD began organizing speed mentoring events on a quarterly basis. The events brought companies in to see what DxD was doing and started to build enthusiasm and interest.

New Directions

To lead DxD forward and catalyze its efforts to serve a broader population, BioQuest partner Kim Ennis undertook a search to find an executive director. She hit the jackpot, convincing Ingrid Ellerbe, who had spent three decades helping underserved communities succeed in the technology and education industries, to come out of retirement to take the position in early 2021. 

“When I got the call, I started to scrutinize issues around health outcomes for underserved populations and immediately saw that this was an opportunity to further my work and also address the many disparities and inequities that exist in healthcare,” Ellerbe said. “To effect change, you have to move past rhetoric into action. And so the ‘doing’ part of Diversity by Doing was very appealing.”

Ellerbe not only cemented DxD’s expanded focus on racially and culturally diverse and other underrepresented groups in medtech, she continued to build the initiative’s offerings. “As we dug deeper into the issues, we recognized the need for additional programs geared towards supporting companies including an education series, building a pipeline of future talent, and supporting their current teams,” she said. 

Pathways Program Opens New Opportunities for Students

One of the most exciting DxD programs is Pathways, the first program specifically targeting community college students. An immersive endeavor comprising 48 hours of intensive coaching over eight weekends, Pathways combines project-based work led by volunteers from healthtech companies with career panels that showcase the range of employment opportunities in the industry and confidence-building mindset training. 

 “The participants are coming from lower resourced backgrounds and may not have exposure to the health tech field,” said Lai. “The program speaks to interests and skills and passions they may not even know they had. By facilitating these opportunities, Pathways opens new possibilities and gives them agency for their future.”

Pathways also connects students with a network of individuals in the industry. “I refer to Pathways as the start point of my career path,” said Daniela Perdomo, who participated in the first Pathways program in 2023. “Before the program, my knowledge of how an engineer contributes in the health industry was limited. When I discovered that engineering plays an important role, I was motivated to look for an internship.”  

Now an engineer for Zuno Medical, Perdomo is also a member of the DxD Advisory Board. “My journey with DxD Pathways fueled my passion for ensuring that underrepresented voices are heard and integrated into the healthtech ecosystem,” she said. “By joining the advisory board, I aim to leverage my experience to help shape programs that foster a more inclusive and equitable future in health technology.”

The Secret Sauce

While the enthusiasm for the program is unanimous, queries about the “secret sauce” of DxD yield different answers depending on who is asked.

“DxD programs are a win-win for both companies and individuals,” said Regan. “I believe that 99% of the people in the world want to help others. But in the absence of an opportunity, inertia can be overwhelming. We ask people for specific blocks of time and tell them exactly what we need, and the response has been tremendous.” At the same time, he notes that DxD is helping companies by fostering a new talent pool of individuals with diverse perspectives on everything from how they access healthcare to how they experience disease processes. 

“The secret sauce at DxD is having an executive director and a team that are so passionate about their work,” said Lai. “Ingrid’s connections to industry leaders have built an incredible base of support. Claudine Joseph, DxD program manager, not only runs all the programs but takes the time to work on a personal level with everyone who participates. And Christine Byrd, DxD communications manager, has made the organization’s channels a centralized source for news about diversity in healthcare while building awareness and interest in DxD programming.”

“The secret to our success lies in the multitude of professional volunteers who selflessly give of their time,” said Ellerbe. “At our core, we are a small team. However, when you consider all the support and energy we derive from our volunteers, the DxD community, and other advocacy organizations, you understand the power and force of DxD.”

What’s Next

Going forward, Ellerbe hopes to reach students even earlier in the pipeline with a high school program. She is also considering geographic expansion to other medtech hubs. “The impact we are making now could become exponential with the right resources, and I can only begin to imagine the positive change that would make in this industry,” she said. “The idea that one day we will have an array of people who reflect our country’s population innovating to improve patient care and ensure equitable health outcomes for all is our North Star.”

To learn more, become an affiliate DxD company, volunteer for a DxD program or participate in another way, visit www.diversitybydoing.org.

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