Gender Bias in Health Tech

The health tech industry is rapidly advancing, offering innovative solutions to address healthcare challenges. However, despite the potential benefits of these advancements, the industry continues to be plagued by gender bias and gaps that threaten to undermine their potential impact. Lack of diversity and inclusion in the health tech industry can result in a dearth of understanding and representation of women and marginalised communities’ healthcare needs, leading to gender bias in health tech products and services, eventually leading to misdiagnosis, delayed treatment, and poor health outcomes. This article will explore the prevalence of gender bias in the health tech industry, its impact on healthcare outcomes, and potential solutions to address the issue.


What Do We Mean By Gender Bias in Health Tech?


Gender bias in health tech refers to the inherent prejudice in technology design, development, and distribution that favors male perspectives and needs over those of women and other marginalised communities. It is a form of discrimination that can lead to significant gaps in the health tech job market and healthcare quality and accessibility for women.


It’s reported that women make up almost 50% of the workforce in global healthcare, yet only 30% of the health tech workforce comprises females. Furthermore, results of a worldwide analysis revealed that women earn 24% less than men in the healthcare sector. These numbers show that women are significantly underpaid and underrepresented in healthcare and related tech jobs at every level, including design, development, and testing. Consequently, the existing gender bias is reflected in the products and services being offered in the healthcare market resulting in inadequate healthcare solutions for women. 


Moreover, women from marginalised communities, such as women of colour, LGBTQ+ women, and women with disabilities, are even more underrepresented in the health tech industry. This further exacerbates the gender bias in health tech and can result in even greater disparities in healthcare quality and accessibility for these communities.


Underrepresentation in Leadership Roles


Despite the contributions of women to the healthcare industry, they remain underrepresented in leadership roles in health tech. A study found that women hold only 23% of executive leadership positions in health tech companies, while men hold 77% of these positions. The study also revealed that women of colour make up only 3% of executive positions, indicating a significant lack of diversity at the highest levels of leadership. 


Research suggests that gender bias is deeply ingrained in the hiring and promotion processes in the healthcare industry and has consequently seeped into the health tech sector as well. Women are less likely to be considered for leadership positions and are often held to higher standards than men. A study by the Harvard Business Review found that when evaluating leadership potential, women are often judged more harshly for exhibiting the same behavior as men. Additionally, women are often overlooked for promotion in favor of their male counterparts, even with equivalent qualifications and experience.


Furthermore, the lack of diversity in health tech leadership also has significant implications for innovation and progress in the industry. Research shows that diverse teams are more likely to generate innovative ideas and make better decisions than homogenous teams. When leadership teams lack diversity, they may be less likely to consider the experiences of diverse populations, resulting in products and services that do not meet the needs of all users. 


The Impact of Gender Bias on Healthcare Outcomes


Gender bias in health tech has significant implications for women’s health, as biased algorithms, inadequate clinical trials, and a lack of understanding of women’s health issues lead to suboptimal care for female patients. For example, medical devices, such as heart rate monitors and fitness trackers, are typically designed using data from male bodies, leading to less accurate results for women. This can result in inaccurate diagnoses and inadequate treatment for women’s health issues.

According to a report published by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), out of the 340,000 individuals who the FDA identified as having suffered harm from a medical device, approximately 67% were women, and 33% were men.  This gender bias in technology design and development exists due to the lack of females occupying senior positions in health tech organizations. 


Furthermore, clinical trials often exclude women or do not include enough female participants, leading to ineffective or potentially harmful treatments for women. A recent study showed that women are significantly underrepresented in drug trials for various diseases. Clinical trials for cardiovascular disease medications had 41.9% female participants, while 49% of individuals with cardiovascular disease are reported to be women.

Similar numbers were found for cancer drug trials, where women make up a higher percentage of patients than participants in the clinical trials. The gender gap was even more prominent in psychiatric studies that reported only 42% female participants, while 60% of psychiatry patients are women. This results in a lack of effective treatment options for women contributing to unnecessary suffering and poor health outcomes.


Moreover, biased algorithms used in healthcare decision-making can perpetuate gender disparities in healthcare outcomes. A study found that a widely used algorithm for healthcare management in the US was biased against Black patients and women, resulting in lower rates of referrals to specialised care. In another example, a study showed that an algorithm used to determine the level of care for patients with complex medical needs resulted in less care for women than for men with the same medical issues. Therefore, it is critical to address gender bias in health technology to ensure equitable and effective care for all patients.

Future Implications of Addressing Gender Bias in Health Tech

Addressing gender bias in health tech requires a concerted effort from all stakeholders, including the tech industry, healthcare providers, and policymakers. By recruiting and appointing more females to senior roles, incorporating more diverse datasets and including women in clinical trials, health tech can provide more accurate diagnoses and personalised treatment plans tailored to women’s unique health needs. This will lead to better health outcomes for women and reduce healthcare disparities.


Additionally, addressing gender bias in health tech can promote innovation and economic growth. By developing products and services that consider the unique needs of women, health tech companies can tap into a previously underserved market and create new opportunities for growth and innovation.


According to Deloitte Global, in 2022, large global technology firms achieved an increase of females in the health tech workforce by just over 2 percentage points from 2019. Furthermore, recent statistics indicate that only 9.7% of funding goes to female-led Health Tech start-ups. While this progress is a step in the right direction, tech companies need to put even greater effort into improving these numbers further in the future. Hence, it is imperative to support female inventors, business leaders, and healthcare executives who are developing innovative technologies to address the current gender disparities in medical research and healthcare practices. 

Inflamed’s role in closing the gender gap


Led by a predominantly female team of colour, InflaMed is an example of a platform that aims to improve gender equity in the area of chronic inflammation. InflaMed is a health-tech platform founded by a passionate and resilient entrepreneur, Mari Robert, who has embarked on a journey to revolutionise the way we address chronic allergies and eczema based on her own lived experience. She has experienced the challenges of living with these conditions firsthand and understands the struggle of finding effective care. As a patient advocate, she has made it her mission to transform the lives of those who battle chronic inflammatory conditions daily.


Leveraging her extensive expertise and dedication to fostering positive change, she has developed a cutting-edge platform that not only offers self-management care solutions but also empowers individuals to take control of their health by encouraging and enabling shared and informed decision-making. 


By combining innovative technology with a compassionate approach, Inflamed is committed to making a lasting impact on the lives of millions who face the daily challenges of chronic allergies and eczema.

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