Historically, creating equal opportunity for women has been slow. However, progress has been made in recent years as more opportunities open for women to have a fulfilling career in the medical technology industry. Caroline Beecham, commercial & distribution director UK & Ireland, Theresa Shapland, strategic relationships director and Sian Burgess, national clinical manager, all from UK medtech company BD, share their experiences of moving up the career ladder and discuss the continued change they hope to see in years to come.
How has representation of women in medtech changed during your time working in the sector?
Caroline Beecham: I have been in medtech for nearly 20 years, and the fact is that we do now see more women in leadership positions. However, we are still not where we need to be. While progress has been made, we as an industry still have some way to go.
Theresa Shapland: Thankfully, like most industries, it is changing to recognise the importance of (all) diversity amongst teams, and the ‘female’ leadership competencies that complement our traditional, more male, leadership. But change feels slow. This is still an industry where management is dominated by white, middle-aged males.
Sian Burgess: I think the sector has changed significantly during my time working within it. When I started my career in 20 years ago, there were no females in leadership roles. However now we are seeing women being far more represented in the leadership teams. There are far more initiatives that are being driven around this subject matter today.
Is the sector now focusing more on the needs of women than it was before?
CB: Before we can fully answer this question, I think there needs to be a fair investigation as to what it is that women need and how that differs from male employees. Maybe it is not the workplace that needs to change for women, but relationships and society as a whole.
TS: It’s easy to get caught up in the needs of women, but the conversation can be broader. The ability to work flexibly is something we can all benefit from. The COVID-19 pandemic meant that we all had to embrace working differently, and in that caused no harm in our ability to perform and meet the rapidly changing needs of our customers, during arguably our busiest ever time. In fact, this aided our agility, and changed the office hours culture forever. As we return to ‘normal’, lessons have been learnt and the overall changes in the workplace align well with many of the teams juggling multiple priorities.
SB: I think industry should be focused on the needs and capabilities of all employees, not just those specific to women. Everybody should be treated fairly and given the same opportunities.
Do you think there is much work to be done so women are adequately represented/heard in medtech?
CB: I think the data proves that there is still much work to be done across the medtech sector, but progress is being made.
TS: There is always more to be done. Most senior level teams continue to show an under-representation of women, so focusing on the blockers and how we create a culture that delivers the right balance is as important as ever. Change takes time, but we can’t afford to take our eye off the ball. With more focus on recruitment, development, and support, we can create the right balance, which (as the data suggests) will also deliver the best results.
SB: I still think we need to do more to ensure that women are represented and heard.
With the advent of COVID-19, I do think that hybrid and flexible working has made the work / life balance for women more accommodating.
What further changes/reforms in the sector would you like to see?
CB: I’d like to see some real effort made to understand why women in top leadership positions are still few and far between. Once those roadblocks are understood progress can then be made to remove them and better enable women’s progression. Cross-industry learning could be a useful approach here – what do other industries do that have more women in leadership, and how can medtech learn from this?
TS: I’d like to see the status quo in this area continually challenged. In doing nothing, organisations risk stagnation, at a time when all aspects of equality and diversity have come to the fore, backed by data that is difficult to refute. Supporting emerging female leaders is key, particularly whilst there are few role models, training, coaching, and mentoring all play a part. From a personal perspective, I think it is my responsibility to share my story and experiences, and support and mentor female talent to enable talented women to rise. After all, there is much data showing gender diversity in executive teams improves results. In 2018, McKinsey showed that companies in the top-quartile for gender diversity on executive teams were 21% more likely to outperform on profitability and 27% more likely to have superior value creation. We need them!
SB: I think there are still some traditional gender roles that can cause personal conflicts with progression to management. I think some society and cultural changes need to happen in the first instance to facilitate corporate change.