Exploring the essential role of gender diversity in MedTech innovation, WomenTech Network champions inclusive design for better healthcare outcomes.
Board Member, WomenTech Network
CEO & Founder, WomenTech Network
Imagine a world where the leading cause of death in women is treated as an afterthought.
For years, heart disease was labeled a man’s problem, with research and treatments tailored to male symptoms. This misalignment wasn’t a minor error; it was a systemic failure that contributed to women’s suffering and loss of life on a massive scale. Because less than 20% of those who design medical products are women, the repercussions of this gender disparity are far-reaching.
Now, envision medical AI, touted as the future of diagnostics, stumbling over female health data because it was trained on male-centric datasets. This isn’t a dystopian narrative — it’s a stark and uncomfortable reality in the field of medical technology (MedTech). As the industry accelerates toward groundbreaking innovations in personalized medicine and artificial intelligence, the absence of gender diversity in the teams that design, develop, and deploy these technologies poses a stark challenge.
In MedTech, the consequences of a gender gap can be dire: biased healthcare algorithms, medical devices that miss the mark on women’s health, and diagnostic tools that perform suboptimally for female patients. Such oversights not only compromise the quality of care but also deepen existing health disparities. It’s a critical issue that the FDA has begun to address, requiring more diverse and inclusive data for AI validation. Yet, the question remains: Is regulatory compliance enough to catalyze true equity in healthcare innovation?
A long-standing issue
Historically, the exclusion of women from clinical research and medical trials has led to a lack of understanding and misdiagnosis of women’s health issues. Algorithms for detecting skin cancer, for instance, can be less accurate for skin types that are underrepresented in training datasets. When these datasets are primarily composed of male data, the resulting tools may overlook critical aspects of women’s health, from cardiovascular disease to cancer diagnostics. Additionally, the lack of female representation in early drug trials often resulted in medications that were less effective or had more adverse effects on women.
Another poignant illustration of the controversy stemming from the gender gap in MedTech is the design of personal protective equipment (PPE). According to the 2022 Bureau of Labor Statistics, 75% of hospital employees in the USA are female, yet the surgical masks and gowns have historically been designed using male body proportions.
This incongruity in design not only leads to poor fits for much of the healthcare workforce, but also sparks a contentious debate about the safety and efficacy of PPE. Inadequately tailored PPE can increase the risk of infection for healthcare providers and compromise their ability to care for patients effectively — outcomes that underscore the urgent need for gender-inclusive design in medical products.
WomenTech Network is committed to reversing these trends by promoting diversity in MedTech. We understand that innovation thrives on different perspectives and that women must be involved in every step of the process, from research and development to clinical trials and leadership. Our initiatives aim to inspire and support women in the field, creating a ripple effect that enhances healthcare for everyone.
Our network champions the integration of women’s insights into the development of new medical technologies. Take, for instance, the wearable breast pump — a device that was reimagined by women who understood the need for a discreet, hands-free option that could fit seamlessly into a mother’s lifestyle. This innovation not only improved convenience but also supported better health outcomes by increasing the likelihood of prolonged breastfeeding.
Furthermore, consider the impact of female-led research in developing AI algorithms for early detection of osteoporosis, a condition that predominantly affects women. These algorithms are tailored to detect subtle bone density changes that may be missed by traditional methods, thereby enabling earlier intervention.
The journey toward a more inclusive MedTech industry is not a solitary one. It requires the collective effort of policymakers, industry leaders, and educational institutions to create an ecosystem that nurtures and supports female talent. Initiatives like coding bootcamps for girls, mentorship programs for women in STEM, and grants for female-led health tech startups are paving the way for a more diverse future. As we continue to push the boundaries of what’s possible in healthcare, the role of women becomes increasingly critical. Join us at the Women in Tech Global Conference 2024, where we’ll further explore the intersection of gender diversity and innovation in MedTech. Together, we’re not just transforming an industry — we’re shaping a future where medical technology is by all and for all.