By Madelyn Wilson, Chief People Officer, OM1 | March 29, 2023
As a leading health outcomes organization, our teams work in partnership with clients every day to measure, compare and predict treatment outcomes. Equity is increasingly at the forefront of many of our conversations, in both our client work and within our own workplace. Joining OM1 as the organization’s first Chief People Officer, I am grateful for the opportunity to shine a light on the importance of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion and energized to partner with our employees to set goals focused on further increasing the diversity of our teams and raising our organizational consciousness and capacity around issues of equity and inclusion. This month we honor Women’s History Month and reflect on the strides women have made in the workplace as well as the work yet to be done.
By 2019, the US Census Bureau reported women made up 27% of STEM workers, up from 8% in 1970 – while that represents a significant advancement, women remain well underrepresented in the field. The statistics are even worse when we consider gender equity in the workplace intersectionally with other marginalized identities, with only 3% and 2% of tech positions held by Black and Hispanic women respectively, and 7% of positions held by women identifying as Asian or Pacific Islander.
We see similar trend lines within our own workforce at OM1. While women hold approximately 50% of our positions, they are significantly less represented within management and leadership. Those numbers are still lower as we look at the percentage of women of color, and other marginalized identities, in both our overall employee population and in management and leadership roles. Like many organizations, we have critical work to do in the months and years ahead in order to further support the advancement of women at OM1 and increase representation of women of color at all levels of the organization. We have to be intentional about that work now, laying a foundation that will help fuel and sustain us as we grow.
As we continue to build an increasingly more diverse and equitable workplace, we also take this moment to amplify the voices of women in our OM1 community who have offered to share their stories, challenges, rewarding experiences, and outlook on the future of women in health tech.
Jessica Paulus, Vice President of Research at OM1, is well-versed in the study of disparities and biases and their negative implications – in a bedside setting for patients and in the workplace for female scientists. She has noted throughout her career how “fewer and fewer women are present in the room as you get higher on the organizational chart.” Making the pivot to healthcare tech after a career in academia offered Jessica a chance to accelerate her own leadership. She has found “the explosive pace of growth and dynamism of the organization can facilitate career advancement in a turbo-charged way, a way that – with leadership committed to promoting equity in the workplace – can transcend outdated or inequitable gatekeeping practices and other kinds of advancement barriers women may face in certain work environments.”
Rising to a position of leadership is only part of the equation, noted Sonja Wustrack, Managing Director of Evidence Generation Networks at OM1. Even in a position of leadership, Sonja observed that “it can often be difficult to find a strong, steady voice at a male-dominated table.” She shared the importance of mentorship, highlighting that she has “been fortunate to have had generous mentors who have helped me navigate intimidating, and sometimes unwelcoming, environments. Specifically I have been offered advice on how to balance roles of parent and professional, on how to find strength in my voice, and how to lean on others when needed.”
Jessica Probst, Senior Specialist of Real World Evidence at OM1 echoed the importance of visibility and mentorship, noting, “if students don’t see people who look like them doing the work, it feels unachievable. Having honest, supportive mentors who shared their journeys made all the difference, and it’s important to pay that forward to the next generation. Mentoring goes beyond the technical skills required in our field; I learn just as much from my mentees as they do from me.”
As a woman in STEM, Jessica Probst is “excited about the opportunities we have to generate real-world evidence that moves the needle toward health equity. For too long, advancements in medicine and clinical research have been focused on limited patient populations, and this in turn limits the applicability of findings to patients in the real world. By including more diverse, representative populations, we can begin to ask questions about not only how a disease may impact patients differently, but why.”
Yaning Zhang, Engineering Manager at OM1, shared “I really appreciate being able to feel purpose in the work I do, and having that align with real concerns of people from all walks of life. Working with real data and real problems grounds my day-to-day in immediate potential impact. There’s always more we can do to ensure that the work being done is providing as much benefit as possible to those who need it most, and many steps we need to take as a society to truly get there, but what I’m doing is a little sliver to help get us there!”
In addition to the energizing effects of supporting groundbreaking insights on treatment outcomes, they recognize how important it has been to feel connected to and supported by their teams and in their personal lives. For Jess Paulus, working at the leading edge of a scientific enterprise and “getting to do it with some of the most brilliant people — the kind of people who are pioneering or attracted to this kind of innovative and grand-scale undertaking” has been one of the most rewarding parts of working at OM1.
Jina Zhou, Senior Designer at OM1, noted that her team “has always been very supportive of women in terms of career advancement and granting opportunities to pursue education in our respective fields.” Renee Hurley, Vice President of Marketing and Communications, reinforced this perspective and shared her advice to women across and outside of OM1 to “find the people who will celebrate your wins, build you up and mentor you when needed, and encourage you to share your voice.”
The Future of Women in Health Tech
When asked how they’ve seen women’s roles change and evolve in health tech, sentiments of hope and excitement for the future were shared. “Over the past decade I have seen many more women rise to roles of leadership, which has paved the way for other women to follow”, Sonja Wustrack reflected “and equally as important it has changed the entire conversation to be more inclusive and comprehensive.” Jina Zhou observed, “women have taken on more leadership roles in recent times than ever before in healthcare tech. At OM1, women lead our research and RWD teams in creating award-winning posters, moderating expert panels, hosting webinars, and publishing in peer-reviewed journals. I believe this trend will only continue as more women get the recognition they deserve.” Jess Paulus also shared her enthusiasm and highlighted that leading health tech companies can further accelerate momentum by working to help address the “pipeline problem,” or the disparities in STEM fields that begin to crystallize in earlier educational or training settings.
“Providing mentorship and sponsorship to women who are still in training at early points in their career is a key piece in (eventually) addressing inclusion all the way to the highest tiers of an organization.”
Insights from these incredible women reveal important strategies – from increased visibility to mentorship and other supportive relationships to opportunities to engage in meaningful work — that organizations can leverage across the industry to improve current statistics and support the leadership of women from all backgrounds in STEM. I am hugely grateful to all of them for sharing their stories and, like them, hopeful for and excited about what we can accomplish together in the future.