We Are the 51 Percent: Surveying Women Medtech Leaders


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34 percent of respondents felt that venture capitalists are, by and large, more receptive to women CEOs in medtech than they were 10 years ago; only 4 percent felt that VCs are less receptive while 24 percent said it was about the same (38 percent had no opinion).

While there is a recognition that is harder than a decade ago to find new opportunity in a medtech world living on fewer resources, and while it is still “somewhat rare to see women in executive leadership team” roles, in the words of one survey respondent, many survey participants commented that it is also a time when women entering the field can benefit from the first generation of female leader success stories. In other words, while women CEOs and executives have been relatively few in the past, enough have demonstrated great success and to become the first generation of role models and mentors for those who aspire to follow in their pedicured footsteps.,

Among those cited as setting the course for the current crop of women aspiring to lead were Ginger Graham, former President and Chief Executive Officer of Amylin Pharmaceuticals, Maria Sainz, President and CEO of recently acquired Concentric Medical and Stacy Enxing Seng, President, Covidien Vascular, among others. While women are often first-time CEOs in the current marketplace, and while investors tend to prefer those who have had the title before, survey participants seemed to  believe that an emerging class of women medtech executives will have opportunities that may previously have been unavailable.

Interestingly, the number one cited impediment to women getting more medtech CEO roles and related venture funding is “lack of access to the network that fosters these opportunities.” A full 33 percent of survey respondents picked this answer, almost double those who felt that choices around parenting or the economy or even straight-up chauvinism were the biggest barriers to women’s advancement in the field.  Mentorship between and among women and the need to break through or just go around the “old boys’ club” were noted as essential to moving women in medtech further. It was precisely this challenge that the Medtech Women organization was designed to address, bringing together senior- and middle-executive level med tech women from around the country to develop new relationships and opportunities for cross-pollination.

One survey respondent commented that the women who populated the CEO panel at the conference—Kimberly J. Popovits, Chairman of the Board, CEO and President, Genomic Health; Lissa Goldstein, CEO, Auxogyn Inc; Patricia Scheller, CEO, Viveve; Lisa Elkins, CEO, ImmuneTech; and moderator Sandy Miller, Managing Director of New Ventures, Singularity University—never mentioned networking or mentorship as important to their success as CEOs but that men often cite these advantages. While it is clear that women think networking and mentorship are essential to career advancement, it is interesting that they are not issues women may think to mention; that in and of itself may be one of the reasons that such opportunities have not spread as fast as women would like.

When asked what the ONE thing women could and should do to improve their chances of achieving medtech CEO positions and/or receive venture capital funding for their women-led businesses, the answers were heavily focused on the importance of women increasing their level of self-confidence and sense of self-worth, and the related idea that women need to more actively advocate for their own advancement. In support of this thought, Patricia Scheller, speaking from the CEO panel, said, “You must believe in your self. I had many times where I was not viewed as the person who could speak with customers because I was an engineer. I set out to get customer-facing experience and taught J&J that you can take a backward facing engineer and turn them into a marketing person.” Lisa Elkins later added how important it is for women leaders to believe in themselves and not take adversity personally, saying, “I take a 2×4 upside of the head twice a week so I need to be able to tuck and roll.”

Survey respondents commented that women must seek out coaches and mentors who will also introduce them into the “network” that are held out as the gatekeeper to industry success. Many of the 100 survey respondents commented that men are more comfortable with their own skill sets and with promoting themselves for opportunities than are women, and that women too often … Next Page »

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Lisa Suennen is a managing director with GE Ventures and former managing member of the Psilos Group, as well as the co-author of Tech Tonics: Can Passionate Entrepreneurs Heal Healthcare With Technology? and author of the blog Venture Valkyrie. Follow @venturevalkyrie

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