Life Sciences Insight

DxD Takes Action on Making Medtech Diverse

The group works to increase access for diverse students, employees, and managers in medtech.

Nonprofit, Diversity by Doing Healthtech, works to drive equity in medtech by expanding access to development and decision making in the space. The group works to increase access for diverse students, employees, and managers in medtech while also improving medical technology solutions.

At Diversity by Doing (DxD), the focus has always been how to make the most impact in expanding health tech’s diversity- which can be gender, race, culture, sexual identity, and socioeconomic status. The group’s efforts also had to be directly actionable by its partner companies.

“With DxD, doing is the operative word,” explained Marga Ortigas-Wedekind, chief commercial strategy officer at Fogarty Institute. “We want actionable, easily implementable programs, and our target audience is the small to midsize medical technology company, because while everybody’s intention is good, they do not have the resources to put in diversity programs of their own. So, they really look to us to put a program together that they can act on. We’ve done things like provide mentoring programs, exposure to college level students, and encouraging these managers and their employees to be part of this ecosystems of helping and mentoring each other.”

The smaller-sized companies that work to enhance diversity can have an outsized impact moving forward, she explained. “It’s very powerful because these are the same small companies that drive innovation and eventually get snapped up by the bigger companies,” said Ortigas-Wedekind. “If we can make it part of their DNA from the get-go that’s a great thing.

Professional Pipeline Access

Programs target different parts of the pipeline in medtech, from employees, management, and would-be employees as interns. “We are looking at a length of opportunities, from the pipeline: getting students in, to supporting early-stage or career with mentorship, and the summer internship program really inspiring those youth to continue on in the medtech space,” said Ingrid Ellerbe, executive director of DxD. 

In late June, DxD and collaborators held an oversubscribed “Summer Innovation and Exploration Series” that brought together 44 students who are currently interns at small and midsize medtech companies to learn about opportunities in the sector, learn about innovation and design through lectures and workshops, and to create mentor and career development connections. The program last year invited 20 interns.

Programs through DxD are well received and their effects spread through professionals’ respective networks.  Interest in their programs have grown organically through ever expanding professional connections and through collaboration with other diversity and inclusion groups, like MedTech Women and MedTech Color.

“We recently did a diversity equity, inclusion, and belonging series specifically for the small and midsize companies,” said Ellerbe. “We just concluded it and the group came back and said they wanted to continue to convene the original group because they understood that the whole process is not just one and done. The fact that they came back and want to hold each other accountable…that to me was one of the wins we had this year.”

The group is also coordinating a Pathways program next year which will be designed to increase awareness of medtech among community college students. Community college students, who often transfer to universities, might be unaware of opportunities in medical technology, said Ellerbe. “I’ve seen tremendous talent that is sitting right there, that just needs to have access, awareness, and belief,” to chose to pursue a career in medtech.

Recognizing a Need for Diversity

DxD was formed in 2020 following a survey that pinpointed what some professionals in medtech felt was a lack of access to career advancement and meaningful participation in development.

“The survey revealed what was a surprising result to those of us who had been in medtech and felt it was so equitable,” said Ortigas-Wedekind. “It revealed that there were numerous workplace inequalities in the industry. Respondents said that they didn’t necessarily feel like part of the team at work, they felt their ability to rise to executive ranks was constrained due of access to informal networks and that they lacked mentorships that would help them rise through the ranks and open those doors. It was making a big difference in their job satisfaction and a lot of women were contemplating leaving the industry.”

The initial survey was aimed at women in medtech and was distributed across the US. As a result of the survey, a team was convened in 2019 to discuss actions and in 2020 additional focus groups on medtech professionals of color echoed similar access issues. DxD was formed to address their concerns.  “The action part was reflected in the name, that’s how we felt we are distinguished from all these groups that talk about policy and whatnot. We’re actually acting on it,” said Ortigas-Wedekind.

Tackling a lack of diversity in medtech can improve patient care for many. Medical devices designed for a singular patient population might not address all patient needs. Expanding diversity in health technology is thought to be key in increasing applicability and efficacy of the technologies.

“I’m a physician and if you don’t have a diversity of voices then you don’t have a diversity of solutions for your patients, and only a small set of that patient population is actually being treated. And medtech is all about the patients,” said Janene Fuerch, Assistant Director, Innovation Fellowship, Stanford Byers Center for Biodesign. “For a very long time and I would argue probably even still now, the majority of the devices are addressed for older white men. If you don’t have people representing [diverse] populations, being allies for those populations, or actually from those populations, you don’t get products for most of the healthcare system, you get it for a very narrow subset.”

Ortigas-Wedekind pointed to pulse oximeters which were previously not able to properly detect oxygenation levels in darker skin tones and Fuerch mentioned jaundice being diagnosed after significant negative impact on African American babies since technologies only were able to detect changes in light skin color.

Innovation may also be narrowly focuses on tech-saavy and affluent demographics. “Sometimes we innovate in a bubble that does not address the actual needs around the globe,” said Fuerch. “Being intentional and thinking about it, it matters who is at the table, because other people get left out.”

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