Women in Health IT Breakfast
Minister Rauch, Dr. Fialka, Honored guests, Welcome!
I’m delighted to be hosting the Women in Health IT Initiative here today. And I’m especially delighted an honored to be joined by Minister Rauch this morning. His presence is a testament to the importance of having women in the digital health space.
I too believe it important – indeed essential – to have women in health IT. In addition to my passion for health care, I’m a proud advocate for diversity and inclusion in all facets of our lives and am delighted that gender equity has been a priority for the Biden-Harris administration. Not only do we have the first ever woman – and woman of color – as Vice President of the United States, but we also have the first ever women to serve as Treasury Secretary and Director of National Intelligence, the first Native American woman to serve as Cabinet Secretary, and the first African American woman in the United States Supreme Court.
When women succeed, they help pave the way for future generations of women and girls to follow in their footsteps. There was a public service announcement that aired on U.S. television this past year, and the message was a simple as it was powerful: “If you can see her, you can be her.”
When I was a young college student in the United States, I thought I could do absolutely anything. But, as I came to learn, I hadn’t thought of everything that I might do. I didn’t know any women lawyers. I didn’t see her. So I didn’t know I could be her. It took a male professor of 18th Century British Literature to open my eyes to the possibilities of a legal career for myself.
That wonderful mentor and professor of mine literally changed my life. And, I believe, he changed the lives of women who came after me, because they could see what was possible.
But the personal and role model benefits of having women in the legal profession or in diplomacy or in the medical field, are just the tip of the iceberg. Think of the benefit of perspective and insight that only is possible with diversity.
I remember when I first learned that women had been excluded from clinical trials at the National Institutes of Health (the NIH) in my country until the 1990s. That until that time, breast cancer treatment had only been tested on men with breast cancer.
Or when I learned that even though women and men are equally impacted by heart disease, we didn’t know for far too long that women had different symptoms and different outcomes, because, for so long, researchers only studied men.
In the U.S., things did not start to change until three things came together at the same time: women were elected to the House of Representative; a woman was elected to the United States Senate; and a woman was appointed to lead the NIH. Along with enlightened male colleagues and allies, these women pushed through the passage of a federal law that has required, since 1994, the inclusion of women and racial and ethnic minorities in all NIH-funded research and drug trials.
That kind of participation was a huge step forward in my country. And while there has been some progress in Europe, there hasn’t been enough. But you can change that by adding digitalization and the innovative potential of Health IT to the mix. If that happens, then the possibilities for ending disparate treatment and for having true patient-centric care could increase exponentially. Think of what that would mean for prevention, screening, early diagnosis, and treatment for most every disease.
To realize this potential, we need more women in health IT to see her so we can treat her. But unfortunately, women today only make up only around 25% of the digital workforce in the United States and less than 20% in Austria.
Moreover, women are woefully underrepresented in the leadership of Health IT companies. Only 1 in 7 of Europe’s entrepreneurs are women and they receive less than 2% of venture capital funding. It’s similar in the U.S. A recent study concluded that 90% of the funding from major venture capital firms goes to male-owned start-ups. Perhaps that’s not surprising when you consider that most venture capital firms worldwide don’t have a single woman on the partnership team making the investment decision.
We can and we must change this paradigm. It won’t happen overnight, but we come a little closer with every successful female health-tech entrepreneur, every company that puts a policy into place to ensure that qualified women are promoted into leadership positions, and every decision to demand full inclusion of women in a clinical trial.
I am excited to kick off this discussion, and I look forward to your ideas about how to strengthen the role of women in digital health.