How to get more women in healthcare technology

Elisa Costante from Forescout Technologies and Helen Marsden at Medichecks tell us how they got to where they are today

Two women leading the way in health tech, Elisa Costante  from Forescout Technologies and Helen Marsden at Medichecks, tell us how they got to where they are today. 

Elisa Costante  is the Vice President of Research at Forescout Technologies 

I started my career as a software engineer. I then moved to the Netherlands to do my PhD in privacy and security, looking into cybersecurity, privacy, intrusion detection, and machine learning - all the topics that are now becoming "hot". 

Towards the end of my PhD I was lucky enough to meet some cool people that had just founded a startup, so I went into the industry and started looking at how to apply my knowledge to issues like protecting critical infrastructures. I carried on as a researcher, working on the edge of the technology and how we can apply innovation to solve our problems. 

I basically grew there - from researcher I became Chief Technology Officer because I was applying a lot of technology to the products so I was very close to the production. Today I am Vice President of Research at Forescout globally, as a result of  10 years' of experience in the security of OT (operational technology), IoT and critical infrastructures.

At the beginning of my career I would be the only woman at the table, sitting with 20 men, all talking about the same technical issues. I do see that things are improving somehow, but still, even in my team, although I actively try to get more women's CVs to fill open positions I don't see that many.  I think it comes down to there not being that many women starting this type of career at all. 

I think having the right role models to normalise the fact that this career is possible for women if they want it is definitely something that we should do, to get more women starting careers in cybersecurity,  and in technology generally. 

It's about understanding that women can do it. This is a very personal opinion, but I think that sometimes women believe that if they want to have a family it will conflict with their career or with having a high demanding role. 

Those two things can be kept very separately, for example if someone speaks about their career they don't speak about their personal life. Maybe we can put both those things together, so that we show publicly that certain roles also have a human being with a personal life behind them. 

Helen Marsden is co-founder and CEO of Medichecks 

I started my career as a graduate trainee in an investment management company in the City of London. It was in the 1980s, and the City was going through a huge change as markets deregulated. A wave of change swept through the City and led to opportunities for everyone. Although women were still few and far between, there were already women in leadership positions at two of the UK's most prominent investment companies. This illustrated that women could be successful in what had traditionally been a male preserve and inspired other women (like me) to set ambitious goals. 

Although I had learned valuable skills in investment, marketing and management, I wanted to apply them to a subject I was passionate about, namely health. Coming into a small health tech startup brought me into a whole new world with its own language, skills, and ways of working. I knew nothing about technology, but I could see how digital products could transform healthcare and create user experiences that would provide insights and convenience for customers. 

Like many companies, at Medichecks we find it increasingly difficult to employ people in STEM roles – particularly developers. More women joining the talent pool would open up opportunities for jobs across the industry. Science identified a growing gap between the number of people with STEM skills and the STEM roles that need to be filled. With an annual shortfall of 40,000 STEM skilled workers, there is also an economic need to improve diversity in STEM in the UK.

Research shows that businesses perform better with a more diverse workforce and more women in senior management. A McKinsey report shows that companies in the top quartile for racial and ethnic diversity are 35% more likely to have financial returns above their respective national industry medians.

Hopefully, we're leading by example. Over half our workforce are women, and women occupy half of our leadership roles. We know that diversity doesn't just apply to gender, and we are working to be an inclusive employer on every level. A recent staff survey showed just how important this was to our teams, and we are now actively developing a CSR policy to ensure more diversity in all our roles. 

We recognise that many women (but not exclusively so) have challenges with work-life balance. We recently introduced hybrid working contracts for everyone, as well as a well-defined maternity policy which gives career stability to women who want to have a family and continue their career with Medichecks. 

I still believe that there are some careers, especially in STEM, that many women don't consider because men dominate them. But it only takes a few successful women to change minds and inspire the next generation. If we could infiltrate the "old boys’ network" of the City, I'm optimistic that we can do it in other industries too! I am greatly encouraged by UK Government figures which show that for FTSE 350 companies, over 34% of board positions are now held by women, up from 20% five years ago.


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