Breaking the glass thermometer: Women seek to give women a leg up in health-tech

We@Heathtech program hopes to propel junior women managers to executive positions; ‘We can either complain or bring about change from within,’ says co-founder

Shoshanna Solomon was The Times of Israel's Startups and Business reporter

left to right: Dorit Sokolov, Yael Gruenbaum-Cohen, Ronit Harpaz and Irit Yaniv, the founders of We@Heathtech (Courtesy)
left to right: Dorit Sokolov, Yael Gruenbaum-Cohen, Ronit Harpaz and Irit Yaniv, the founders of We@Heathtech (Courtesy)

The government last week created a new, downsized coronavirus cabinet, reducing its members from 16 to 10 — all of them men.

This is exactly the kind of thing that a new program called We@Healthtech is trying to combat, said Dr. Irit Yaniv, a founding partner at Almeda Venture Fund, a new equity partnership fund, and a 20-year veteran of Israel’s life sciences industry.

“The next time there will also be women on that kind of panel,” vowed Yaniv in a phone interview. “This kind of thing shouldn’t happen anymore, neither here in Israel nor anywhere else.”

We@Healthtech hopes to propel junior women managers to executive positions in the health tech sector by mentoring them and putting them through an eight-month program of lectures and networking events.

A lecture organized by We@Heathtech (Courtesy)

“We need to change perceptions among women themselves,” said Dorit Sokolov, a managing director at aMoon Fund, the largest healthcare fund in Israel, who is a co-founder of the initiative. “If women understand that there is a gap and how they can get to senior management positions and become directors on boards, then this is the way to attain change, not by complaining about why things are this way.

“We can complain and blame everyone — or do something about it, and bring about change from within.”

The program, which started in June, was set up together with the 8400 Health Network, a nonprofit organization established by cybersecurity billionaire Marius Nacht that seeks to make Israel a global leader in healthcare

Yaniv, Sokolov, Ronit Harpaz and Dr. Yael Gruenbaum-Cohen, who set up We@Heathtech, are already leading the way in Israel’s life sciences sector. They feel it is their duty to pave the way for additional women in leadership roles in the health sector.

“You can’t be what you can’t see,” said Harpaz, the CEO and co-founder of Endoron Medical, which has developed a suture-like device to treat abdominal aortic aneurysms, and is an angel investor in NEOME – Women Investing Club.

A WE@HealthTech lecture held via Zoom (Courtesy)

“We built the WE@HealthTech eight-month program with this motto in mind, and we aim to propel junior women managers to the executive positions of Israel’s health-tech sector by connecting them to inspirational and successful women leaders.”

These include Prof. Rivka Carmi of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, the first woman to be appointed president of an Israeli university, and Dr. Anat Cohen-Dayag of Compugen, one of the only two women CEOs whose companies are included in the TA-125 benchmark index, she said.

Data provided by We@Healthtech shows that women account for 30% of Israel’s tech scene, and just 18% are in executive leadership roles. In the health-tech sector, women account for 70% of the workforce but just 12% of the leadership roles, the data shows.

In health-tech, the higher you go up the ladder, the fewer women you see, said Yaniv. “Women remain behind.”

“There are women who have made it to the top, but they are few,” Yaniv said. “Mostly when we look around, in meetings and other places, we are the only women present.”

There are a number of reasons for this gloomy picture, the We@Healthtech women say.

People in top positions — mainly men — tend to connect with similar people, other men, based on an existing network of connections. Women tend to underestimate their capabilities and shirk opportunities and risky entrepreneurial positions when they are presented. They also tend to avoid self-promotion and refrain from demanding higher pay and positions out of concern they will lose their work-life balance. In addition, both female and male managers are biased against young mothers.

And yet, research has shown that public corporations with women on their boards out-perform boards that have only men, in profitability, productivity and workforce engagement.

“Goldman Sachs stated that they’re not going to take a company public unless there’s at least one diverse board candidate, with a focus on women,” said Gruenbaum-Cohen, director of Medison Ventures, the corporate arm of global pharma firm Medison Pharma, and CEO of Andlit Therapeutics. “We have a unique opportunity and momentum in our growing ecosystem in Israel to re-shuffle management diversity.”

The organization hopes to instill into the women who join their course soft professional skills including how to negotiate, how to talk about money without feeling uncomfortable, and how to network effectively.

“We want to create a group of women that have the capability to take upon themselves more and more executive roles, that understand and are interested in this and have a wide network with other women and role models,” Sokolov said.

Creating a ‘spiderweb’

The program aims to give participants a network of peers and of women who are already in senior management positions, and create a community of members that will continue to interact with one another. Members should be able to phone each other up for advice or recommendations, and thus climb their way up the ladder.

“Typically, women prefer to go home and don’t stay for that extra cup of coffee or to chat with other office members,” said Yaniv. Israeli men have a strong network of connections as a result of their army service, she said.

With this “spiderweb” of people who support them, women will know that “for their next job, there is someone who will help open the door,” Yaniv said. “But first of all, it is important for them to say ‘I want that job, I want to get there.’ And then they will look around and see who can help them.”

Candidates for the program can come from a variety of backgrounds — academia, hospitals, VC funds, health-tech incubators, health providers, hospitals and corporations. All they need to prove is that they have the potential to reach senior executive positions and already hold a junior managerial position in the field.

“The change has to start from us women,” said Sokolov. “Younger women must aim higher and learn how to reach higher and ask for it.

“We must change the mindset. We can’t expect the world to change for us, we must make the change.”

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