Why Diversity Matters in HealthTech Innovation

by | Dec 9, 2021 | Alliances, Fogarty Innovation, Thought Leadership

Small and start-up medtech companies are often so focused on technology development and the immediate demands of the job at hand that they have little bandwidth for issues that seem less urgent — like building a diverse team. According to the Diversity in MedTech panel at the MedTech Strategist conference last month, however, the time to start thinking about diversity is from the get-go. What’s more, Diversity by Doing HealthTech (DxD), can help. 

Moderated by David Cassak, the co-editor-in-chief of MedTech Strategist, the November panel featured Marga Ortigas-Wedekind, chief commercial strategy officer of Fogarty Innovation, and Ingrid Ellerbe, the executive director of DxD. The organization was formed by the Stanford Byers Center for Biodesign and Fogarty Innovation in early 2020, after a survey and summit about gender in health technology catalyzed a demand for ways people could take action to improve diversity, inclusion, and equity in the industry.

The Benefits of Diversity

“Diversity is something that small-to-mid-size companies need to care about for multiple reasons including returns, retention, and reporting,” said Marga. “First, many studies have demonstrated that companies with diverse management teams perform better financially. Second, in an era when it is difficult to find good workers, the last thing you want to do is lose them.” 

While men and women start entry level positions in equal numbers, women fall out at a faster rate than men at each step up in the organization. “In 2020, the 100 top medtech companies had leadership teams that were only 18% women. And the statistics are even worse for women of color,” added Marga. 

Finally, embedding good environmental, social, and governance practices into a company’s operations, and reporting on those efforts, is important to employees, venture and public investors.  

According to Ingrid, diversity also benefits medtech companies by enhancing their ability to innovate for different patient populations. “The easiest way to accomplish this is to build diversity into the company’s DNA from the very beginning,” she said.

“To build the best products, you need a team with different perspectives who can challenge each other,” agreed Marga. “This requires a true leadership focus on diversity. The tone from the top matters,” she said. 

How DxD Can Help 

Recognizing that small and midsize health technology companies often lack the bandwidth or resources to focus on diversity and inclusion, DxD is focused on delivering needed expertise and programming. “We’re a force multiplier,” said Ingrid. “Companies that work with us can continue to focus on the hard work that has to be done, and DxD can be an asset and a support system to help with their diversity, equity and inclusion needs.” 

Currently DxD has two programs underway: Speed mentoring and a summer innovation series. Held quarterly, speed mentoring events bring early- and mid-level employees in medtech from underrepresented groups together with senior industry executives for short presentations on career and personal development and 1:1 mentoring sessions. The sessions are designed to introduce mentees to the power of mentoring as a way to help them rise and succeed. 

“The connections that have been made are meaningful, and many of the mentees and mentors have stayed in touch after the event,” reported Ingrid.  DxD also organizes a summer program for college-age interns from underrepresented groups working at medtech companies. Other efforts are in the works, including a Pathways program to reach out to STEM students in two-and-four-year colleges and introduce them to the health technology industry.  

While DxD is focused on California initially, “we’re prototyping in our own backyard,” said Ingrid, she plans to grow the initiative geographically over time. To fuel that growth, DxD is also collaborating with MedtechWomen and MedTech Color to maximize their reach and ability to make progress towards shared goals of diversity, equity and inclusion in medtech. 

To learn more about DxD, contact Ingrid Ellerbe: iellerbe@diversitybydoing.org

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