Over the course of her 30 year career in medtech, IBM Watson Health general manager Deborah DiSanzo has been a firsthand witness to the effects of gender imbalance within the industry. She started as a project manager for Apollo Computer, and after Apollo was bought by Hewlett-Packard, DiSanzo recalled there were plenty of women working beside her. “I can now point to 1 woman who’s still in medtech from that,” DiSanzo said.
A panel of female medtech executives discussed the under-representation of women in the medical device industry to a crowd of over 300 people at MassDevice’s 5th annual DeviceTalks this week. The panel included DiSanzo, InfoBionic CEO Nancy Briefs, and Rotation Medical CEO Martha Shadan. Brad Perriello, executive editor and co-founder of MassDevice, moderated the panel.
Data published in a survey conducted by LeanIn.org and McKinsey & Co. show a clear pattern – women hold 45% of entry level positions, but only 19% of C-suite roles. Just 5% of Fortune 400 CEOs are women. The study reported that for every 100 women promoted to a managerial role, 130 men are promoted.
Briefs recalled that when she was first recruited by a leading heart valve company in the early stage of her career, they told her that part of the reason she was hired was to fill an employment quota.
“I went on to become the rookie of the year, and all of the men in my group were so supportive,” she said. “I have to say that I got off to a really great start. I was the only woman in the sales force at the time of I think about 80 to 100 people.”
All of the women noted that when they gathered for corporate events with their predominately-male colleagues, the activities were always geared toward men. Shadan explained that one company event, the choices were paintballing or mountain biking. Briefs chimed in, adding that she and her colleagues were once offered a choice between golf, cigars, or running a half marathon.
With DiSanzo and Shadan at the helm of their companies, both IBM Watson Health and Rotation Medical have gotten closer to achieving equal gender representation. Shadan reported that 40% of Rotation Medical’s employees are women and that there are 3 in the C-suite. Watson Health’s executive team is 40% women, according to DiSanzo.
Despite slow progress towards gender equality, attitudinal biases against women in leadership roles still exist, Shadan acknowledged.
“I learned very early in my career that I had to subjugate having feelings or displaying feelings in the workplace,” she explained. “So, it has been difficult as a woman, especially moving up in the ranks, to be true to myself, who I am, to display authentic leadership, yet be able to fit in.”
As women become equal contributors to the medtech industry, companies are focusing on how to achieve equal compensation. Briefs said that for start-ups, it’s as simple as ensuring that compensation equity is an early part of their strategy. If you want to attract the strongest talent, Briefs said, a solid compensation plan is critical.
DiSanzo added that equal compensation often comes when companies and industries make that information available to the public. “Transparency is key,” she said. “When you look at it, you can change it.”
Briefs, DiSanzo, and Shadan agreed that it’s not just about ensuring gender equality in the industry – it’s about diversity in general. “It is important to have more women but I think fundamentally it’s important to have divergence of thought,” Shadan explained.
“If you just look at the statistics it says the more inclusive, the better their performance,” Briefs noted. “I think performance at the end of the day in the business is what we’re all driving for.”
Looking ahead, these 3 executives expressed excitement about the industry and for the innovation that diversity can bring to medtech. “I certainly hope that the woman who’s standing here 30 years from now doesn’t have to say that of the women I started with, there’s only 1 that I know today,” DiSanzo said.