How Medtech Can Address the Gender Imbalance

23rd April, 2019

By Dr Anne Blackwood, Chief Executive, Health Enterprise East

Originally published by Med-Tech Innovation News

Over 75% of the NHS workforce is female and yet in our work at Health Enterprise East, only around a third of the clinical entrepreneurs submitting ideas for new medical technologies are female. Females are under-represented in the start-up sector too, raising just 16% of equity deals in 2018.

There is no doubt a gender imbalance in female entrepreneurship in tech, but the reasons are multi-factorial.

The percentage of girls and boys studying maths and science at GSCE level is similar, since these subjects are mandatory, but there is a massive drop off in the number of girls studying STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematical) subjects beyond GSCE (35% girls: 80% boys). At university, 25% of STEM graduates are women. More must be done to encourage girls to study STEM subjects and see them as an attractive career choice.

Once in the workplace, more support for flexible working is needed. Technology enables today’s workforce to be more flexible and productive so management should help their staff achieve a better work-life balance.

CEOs must lead on diversity issues too. While I was fortunate in my early working career to develop under leaders who recognised talent and hard work irrespective of gender, a lot of women still feel a glass ceiling. Within life science companies over the last five years, women have consistently only held 17% of senior management positions and 34% of middle management positions. Having more women in senior management teams and the boardroom will bring new perspectives and insight to the sector.

UK Government initiatives, such as Innovate UK’s Women in Innovation awards, are certainly a step in the right direction, providing UK funding and mentoring, coaching and business support to UK business women to develop their ideas. New female led businesses backed by the scheme in 2019 include Virtue Health– a tool to help clinicians assess patient health more efficiently – led by Alex Haslehurst and Run3D, led by Jessica Bruce – which uses 3D gait analysis originally conceived for runners to help older adults and those recovering from surgery to walk pain-free.

Women are traditionally not seen as risk takers, so initiatives to create more role models and shine a light on female entrepreneurship in tech are much needed. Fortunately, there is a new breed of female entrepreneur coming through, who took a traditional medical training path but is now applying their clinical knowledge and expertise to innovation.

Dr Maryanne Mariyaselvam, a clinical research fellow at Queen Elizabeth Hospital, King's Lynn NHS Foundation Trust, is one such role model. Maryanne’s research focuses on patient safety and solutions to prevent so called ‘never events’.

With Health Enterprise East’s support, Maryanne has developed two safety innovations, Arterial Glucosave, licensed to technology development company Medovate, which prevents inappropriate administration of insulin, and the Non-Injectable Connector (NIC) which helps avoid complications associated with arterial lines. Maryanne is a fellow of the NHS Innovation Accelerator Programme that supports national implementation of saleable innovations.

Dr Tamsin Brown, of Cambridgeshire Community Services NHS Trust, developed a headset that uses bone conduction headset technology to help children with long-term glue ear overcome hearing loss. Tamsin, a community paediatrician, based the idea on headsets currently used in sports including cycling.

Female medical innovators like Maryanne and Tamsin are being supported by clinical entrepreneur programmes that will equip them with the skills and knowledge needed to deliver the new medical technology innovation the NHS and wider healthcare industry desperately need if we are to deliver safe, effective and efficient care in the next 10 years.

There has never been a better time to become a health tech entrepreneur and female led businesses and innovators have a huge role to play.

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