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This millennial is on a mission: Build a gender-balanced health tech industry

This millennial is on a mission: Build a gender-balanced health tech industry

"When you walk into a health-tech company office, attend a meeting or a conference, it is highly possible that less than 10 per cent are women," says Healthcare Technology Association CEO and University of Auckland student Christiane Zhao

Imagine a company which designed period-tracking apps, fitness tracking bras and other wearable products. This company will be limited to a male dominated perspective

Christiane Zhao, Healthcare Technology Association

Christiane Zhao is completing her undergraduate studies in health and science at the University of Auckland.

But this early, she knows a focus for her in the years ahead -  to help build a more gender-balanced health technology industry.

Over a year ago, she established Healthcare Technology Association, a non-profit community organisation, and established a branch as a club at the University of Auckland.

She says HTANZ helps industry professionals and tertiary students learn from each other through affordable after-hours events and conferences at the university and at company forums.

She says students and professionals in the health tech industry often complain about the high cost of conferences and workshops that prevent them from accessing new information and networking with colleagues.

“We want to create an open and engaging environment for the industry and for people, regardless of their own ability, age and gender, and to ensure they have the right to access high quality presentations and talks from the industry,” Zhao tells CIO New Zealand.

“If we educate graduates and young professionals earlier, help them to access useful information and advice, then the industry as a whole can benefit from it.”

She says from the start, Zhao realised gender diversity is an urgent issue the health technology industry needs to address.

Female voices in the field can minimise blind spots and provide new dynamics to the workforce

Christiane Zhao, University of Auckland

“Where are the women?,” she asks. “When you walk into a health-tech company office, attend a meeting or a conference, it is highly possible that less than 10 per cent are women.  

“Promoting gender equality is more than just a moral imperative, but there are multiple and quantifiable reasons on why men and women deserve the same opportunity in the workforce.”

She says this was the primary reason for her to host on May 27 the first Women in Health IT Conference in New Zealand.

Creating a gender-balanced workforce is a common theme across the globe, she  says.

She says a 2016 report from McKinsey notes that women made up 37 per cent of entry-level roles in tech, and only 25 per cent advanced to senior management roles.

Compared to 45 per cent of women in the overall sample, only 15 per cent reached the C-suite, she quotes the report.

“When the industry is having much fewer females on board,” she adds, “it is difficult to imagine how its health-tech products can clearly fit women’s needs.”

She says there have been several instances where women are not considered in the process of product development.

“Imagine a company which designed period-tracking apps, fitness tracking bras and other wearable products,” she says.

“This company will be limited to a male dominated perspective. Female voices in the field can minimise blind spots and provide new dynamics to the workforce.”

Zhao says in just over a year, the HTANZ community has grown to approximately 300 active members and expects this number to grow in upcoming months.

When the industry is having much fewer females on board, it is difficult to imagine how its health-tech products can clearly fit women’s needs

Christiane Zhao Healthcare Technology Association and University of Auckland

She currently leads a team of 25 people, and their professions range from health science, pharmacy, medicine, biomedical engineering, health informatics and information technology.

Most of them are students but there are also domestic and international advisors on board, she says.

She and her team share the common goal of providing professional and affordable events to their members.

“It is always challenging to accelerate positive changes in the healthcare and technology industry, especially when you are young with limited professional knowledge and experience,” says Zhao. “I am very lucky that I receive guidance and support from both the industry and the university.”

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Tags appssoftware developersDevelopmentHealthcarewomen in technologyinclusionleadershipChristiane Zhao

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