Female CEOs presenting at 2018’s J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference were outnumbered by men… named Michael.
Not so funny when you realise that this conference is one of the most important healthcare investment events in the world.
The under-representation of women in medtech is not just a concern for women in medtech - it’s a concern for everyone. When female perspectives are missing, we miss out on innovations that affect the health of half the bodies in the world, and through them, the health of every baby born.
Moreover, this is not just a humanitarian concern - it’s a financial one. Harvard Business Review recently found that diversity makes companies more successful and that recruiting women makes teams smarter.
So just how big is the problem of medtech’s missing women - and how can we solve it?
These are the numbers
Women represent half of the UK workforce - but only 22% of STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) roles in the UK are filled by women, and only 9% of STEM apprentices are female.
The number of women in STEM is growing - in 2019, it finally reached a million. And for the first time, 2019 saw more science A-Levels awarded to girls than to boys.
However, tech roles are lagging behind. The percentage of women in tech roles has been stuck at 16% for a decade - not surprising when the percentage of girls taking physics A-Level has been stuck at about 21% for a decade.
Just how young do we need to start to attract girls to medtech?
While similar numbers of girls and boys take science GCSEs, just 13% of girls who achieved an A or A* in GCSE physics went on to A-Level, compared to 39% of boys. The percentage of girls taking Maths A-Level is also falling, mirroring a drop in the numbers of boys. This matters because without Maths and Physics, core medtech roles will be closed to girls.
The drop-off at A-Level could be because girls who have no trouble doing science still have trouble seeing themselves as scientists. According to research from New York University and Princeton, asking girls aged four to nine to “do science” rather than “be scientists” increases their engagement and persistence in the subject - because it gets around the sexist stereotypes they’ve already absorbed, even at four.
This means a change in language could attract more girls into STEM. It also means that to counteract the negative messages girls are receiving, initiatives to encourage them need to start not just in junior school, but in nursery school.
Parents also need to start early to encourage girls to choose any career they want and not allow gender stereotypes to hold them back. This is an issue very close to my heart; I have two daughters aged two and seven. Careers like medtech, engineering, and architecture have already come up in our conversations, in terms they can understand. Two is old enough to dream of building robots that make sick people better.
Why more women in medtech recruitment could be key
Women are underrepresented in medtech recruitment, too - which means female candidates feel out of place before they even get the job. By itself this might not matter too much, but as just one of a host of confidence-sapping messages that medtech is not for them, it could downgrade both their choice of roles and their performance at interview, and contribute to the pressures driving many women out of the industry altogether.
Moreover, while many men also feel strongly about this issue, it’s fair to say that more women in medtech recruitment will mean more passion for recruiting women. It also means women candidates will be met with the nuanced understanding of their needs and concerns that someone who’s been there herself can provide.
How can we attract more women to medtech and medtech recruitment?
Since women still carry a disproportionate burden of childcare, offering flexible working is vital to level the playing field, but it’s not enough.
To erase the perception of a glass ceiling, CEOs must take a strong lead on diversity and promote women to senior management and board positions. We have a long way to go here - women in life sciences only hold 17% of senior management roles.
There are also some government initiatives that offer hope, like Innovate UK’s Women in Innovation awards, which provide female entrepreneurs with funding, coaching, mentoring and business support to develop their ideas. Beneficiaries in 2019 include Jessica Bruce’s Run3D, which uses 3D gait analysis to help patients walk without pain.
Finally, it’s vital to shine a light on the role models who already exist, such as Chandra Devam, founder and CEO of Aris MD, which uses virtual reality to train doctors and surgeons, and Reggie Groves, CEO of Reva Medical and former VP of Medtronic.
At Projectus Consulting, we’re actively looking to help more women launch a career in medtech recruitment. If you think you might be interested, please get in touch with us for a confidential conversation.