A new trend seems to be developing in the medical world – women as leaders, founders and visionaries. In a recent feature article about innovative women in Inc. Magazine, three of the eight were in the medical field. As discussed by Johnson & Johnson Chairman, Sandi Peterson, in a world that has been long dominated by men in power positions, a shift finally seems to be happening, but there is still a long way to go.
Holmes and Theranos
The most talked about woman leading the way in medicine is Elizabeth Holmes, the founder of Theranos, a diagnostic company valued at $9 billion. An even more impressive accomplishment given that she’s 31. Holmes is often compared to Steve Jobs, like him she is obsessive in her work habits, she’s shrouded her technology in secrecy and she wears black turtlenecks.
Holmes didn’t start out trying to be a role model for women, but was focused on trying to help save lives. As we discussed before, Theranos’ earth-shattering model enables anyone to get a results for a huge array of blood tests all from a few drops of blood, and it can all be done at a local pharmacy for no more than half of what Medicare would pay. Holmes believes providing faster, more convenient and less expensive access to lab tests will transform preventative medicine.
Her diagnostic lab is aiming to upset a $75 billion industry and to help it grow another $125 billion. But what has also helped her make the news is that she’s the first sole female founder-CEO of a multi-billion technology company. As she’s become more comfortable in that role Holmes started speaking up about it, hoping that more woman are coming right behind her. She said in an interview with Inc. magazine, “I really believe its like the four minute mile. When one person does it, more and more people do it.”
Wojcicki and 23andMe
Married to Sergey Brin, co-founder of Google, and sister of YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki, Anna Wojcicki is making a name for herself independent of her relations and relationship. She founded a genetic testing company that was almost shut down by the FDA and now its worth a reported $1 billion.
23andMe allows customers to send their saliva and have the DNA embedded in their 23 chromosomes decoded. Answers provided help with everything to finding long lost relatives to whether or not people are at risk for inherited diseases like cystic fibrosis, or genetic traits like lactose intolerance. As they have refined the process the test has dropped from $999 to $99 and hundreds of thousands of people signed up. Then the FDA said the had to stop marketing their tests for for health purposes, declaring it an unregulated medical device.
Instead of giving up, Wojcicki made deal with Genetech and Pfizer, giving them access to parts of its DNA database in exchange for upfront payments and a cut of the revenue from new drugs developed using it. The company announcement its plans to make its own therapeutics and is making headway with the FDA to get back to broad spread testing.
Tandon and Epibone
Epibone, a New York City based biotech start up, uses stem cells to regrow damaged bones. It was co-founded by Nina Tandon, now 36, who has a PhD from Columbia and recently returned to school to get an MBA. Tandon says, “I’ve always been interested in the intersection between academia, but academics don’t consider themselves entrepreneurs.” She says her colleagues were confused when she applied for the MBA program.
Since after blood bone is the second most transplanted tissue Tandon saw an opportunity to alter what currently takes millions of surgeries and trillions of dollars were being spent by using research she already completed and pairing it with work done by her co-founder.
They’ve already grown a jawbone in a pig, and are replacing cheekbones, but Tandon says due to the regulatory process they won’t be to market for 8 – 10 years. She sees biology as a design element and thinks her company is on the edge of a growing trend. According to Tandon, “A woman is growing cement bricks with bacteria. Another woman, at MIT, has developed a strain of mushrooms that can be used as a natural body suit to assist decomposition instill a coffin.”
Peterson and Johnson & Johnson
Sandi Peterson has been the Johnson & Johnson Group Worldwide Chairman since 2012 and was named a 2015 Fortune Most Powerful Woman. She previously held leadership positions at Bayer Medical Care, Medco Health Solutions, Nabisco and Whirlpool Corporation. She will be taking the stage at the Fortune The Most Powerful Women summit this year.
As she discusses in an interview on the J&J blog, Peterson believes we are in the middle of a massive global paradigm shift in healthcare, and that there is a tremendous opportunity to positively impact the transformation of healthcare for the future.
According to Peterson, by 2025, the world will be a different place. 70% of us will have a wearable device guiding our health so Johnson & Johnson is working to deliver holistic solutions, centered around people, so they can have the same personalized experience caring for their health that they’re used to having in every other aspect of their lives.
She has spoken out about the existing gap in terms of gender equality in leadership positions all over the world. As of last year, women make up almost half of the U.S. labor force, and yet only about 14% of the top five leadership positions at the companies in the S&P 500 are held by women.
Peterson says that on gender equality, “we’re making good progress, but we can, of course, do better. Women now make up more than a third of our corporate executive base at J&J. I’ll be personally more satisfied when we reach 50%. This is not just the right thing to do, but it also leads to better business outcomes. Women make up half of the population, it only makes sense that they should make up half of the idea/business decision base. I believe this inequality still stems from an unconscious bias – male leaders are still likely to be making a majority of the hiring decisions, leading them to gravitate toward hiring other males into leadership positions.”
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Lindsey McCoy MPA, is an Executive Medical Recruiter and former CEO in the not for profit sector.