Healthcare technology (healthtech) is a burgeoning field within the healthcare sector. It represents any healthcare product or service aided by technology that can be used outside of a medical facility. The importance of healthtech exploded with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and requires constant and rapid development and innovation to ensure optimal patient care across the board. Unfortunately, to date, there is a large gender gap in healthtech, with men dominating the field.
In this article, we highlight some of the challenges faced by women in penetrating the healthtech industry and introduce three women who have made their mark despite these obstacles.
The gender gap in healthtech
Gender diversity in healthcare technology is a catalyst for innovation. It presents a greater pool of intellect and perspectives to draw from, opening the stage for ideas that are more inclusive of a wide range of patient populations. While these possibilities offer exciting implications for the future, there still exists a clear gender gap in health tech globally.
Across Africa, in particular, there is a dearth of women pursuing careers in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) related fields. Considering that the UNESCO Towards 2030 Report found that South Africa and Mozambique were among the countries with the highest representation of females in STEM careers with a mere 28% and 34%, respectively, we see how tipped the scale really is.
The trends presented in the report were considered the results of a “leaky pipeline”, with female graduate numbers in STEM seeming promising, but drastically dropping at PhD and research levels. This raises questions as to what is limiting women from being able to actively participate in STEM fields, and in the interest of this article, healthtech.
Challenges faced by women leading healthtech start-ups
With the incredible rise of global digitisation, a higher interest in personal health, and a steady recognition from governments the world over to offer support for digital initiatives, the healthtech industry will only become increasingly present and necessary. To reach its true potential, however, it must be representative of multiple perspectives, backgrounds, and experiences. Women are underrepresented in healthtech innovation and start-ups. Why is this?
Misguided societal beliefs
Many healthtech start-ups led by women do not get the same attention or backing as those led by men. This is often influenced by societal beliefs that men are better risk-takers and more successful in their business ventures than women. These misconceptions may stem from a linear understanding of risk, in which multiple risk factors that women thrive in are not considered. This paints an unequal picture of the strengths men and women bring to the table.
Exclusivity in networking
Launching a healthtech initiative requires opportunities to network with potential stakeholders and collaborators. Many networking arenas, however, are monopolised by what has come to be known as ‘the old boys’ club’ – male-centred social spaces for discussing business. The choice of activities over which many men discuss business is often not inclusive of women, especially women who have families. Missing out on making connections with others in business is a big hindrance to women-led healthtech start-ups gaining the support they need to get off the ground.
Not enough mentorship programs for women
Navigating a male-dominated field requires guidance unique to the experiences of women. Many women in business and STEM fields do not have access to female mentors who understand the struggle and can show their mentees how to overcome these.
Failing to highlight female role models
Female role models in healthtech are key in encouraging women to aim high and reach their goals, despite societal obstacles along the way. Too few women have been highlighted as innovators and valuable assets to the world of healthtech. This may isolate those wishing to enter the field or start a new initiative. In light of these challenges, we have decided to introduce three women who lead successful healthtech ventures in Africa, even though the going isn’t always easy.
Women have found ways to reimagine the field of healthtech by developing solutions that address health needs unique to the female population. Not only this but by historically assuming roles of caregiving and mothering, women offer insights that can help shape healthtech to include the health needs of caregivers, children, and lower-income communities who are often financially excluded from adequate healthcare.
Tizzita Tefera – Ethiopia
Tizzita Tefera is a Co-Founder of mTena. This SMS-based application provides women with tailored maternal and infant care information. By simply sending text messages, women have access to information regarding feelings associated with pregnancy, dietary tips, and doctor visitation notifications, alongside partner-inclusive messages. mTena helps women identify any abnormalities early on and offers comfort in times that may feel turbulent.
Tizzita has shared that her greatest role model was her mother, who started her own small venture at a time when sexism in business was even rifer. Her father backed her interest in technology, by supporting computer classes and getting her first laptop at the age of eight. Her story is a reminder of the value of having female role models and access to the support and resources required to turn dreams into reality.
Nneile Nkholise – South Africa
Mechanical engineer and advocate for social change, Nneile Nkholise, is the brain behind iMed Tech, a start-up producing prosthetics for cancer patients and burn victims. Her goal is to supply prosthetics specifically to those who cannot afford them.
Nneile was encouraged at school to critically engage with science and technology in innovative ways, which had a major influence on her passion for these fields. Later, despite being outnumbered by males in her undergraduate classes, Nneile’s early beginnings were a great support in motivating her to persevere in her desire to start her own business.
Paballo (Pabi) Moloi – South Africa
Paballo Moloi is a software engineer from Johannesburg with a goal to break the stigma around menstruation in black households. In many parts of Africa, women are taught to hide their menstruation experiences during reproductive years, which can have a major impact on mental health. With her app, Uteroo, Pabi is opening up the conversation and helping black women navigate their periods and empower them with knowledge of their bodies.
Innovation Edge call to women
Innovation Edge seeks to improve the lives of young children in South Africa by addressing threats to healthy development in the first 1000 days of their lives. This involves solutions that directly focus on their mental, emotional, and physical health, as well as on the health of their caregivers, ELP practitioners, and healthcare providers.
Innovations Edge offers financial backing as well as the space for experimentation to test new ideas that speak to early childhood development challenges. Mentorship, training, and guidance are available for successful applicants. We hope to cultivate the environment necessary for female candidates who are often excluded from impactful support programs for launching innovations.
For more information on our application process and investment process, contact us.