• Anne Cooper

Former national nursing informatics leader Anne Cooper urges health IT professionals to come together, share experiences on diversity and join the digital health community at Rewired 2021.

I’ve been lucky enough to work in the digital health sector for 15-20 years, combining my skills as a nurse with my interest in technology. I’ve worked with some brilliant people from this world but time and time again I’ve found myself in the same situation – the only nurse in the room, and often the only woman. Being a woman in tech in general is particularly challenging with only around 17 per cent of the sector being female.

The feeling of being the only one is uncomfortable and it affects the way people behave. This situation is often referred to as ‘onliness’. A 2019 study from McKinsey shows the likelihood of feeling this way is higher still when women find themselves alone in a group of men. They are more likely to have their judgment questioned than women working in more balanced teams. It’s not an easy story to read.

Other biases are evident too. As Caroline Criado Perez points out in her book ‘Invisible Women’, cars are designed around the body of a man so although men are more likely to crash, women involved in collisions are nearly 50 per cent more likely to be seriously hurt. Speech-recognition software is trained on recordings of male voices: Google’s version is 70 per cent more likely to understand men. We still live in a man’s world.

Almost a year ago Caroline Craido-Perez lit up the Rewired 2019 main stage with her talk. She used humour to shed light on the serious issue of how data gaps in healthcare are a serious risk to women’s lives. She ended her keynote encouraging everyone involved in healthcare to be aware of the gender data gap and to do what they can to remedy it.

However, it’s not just gender inequality that is a concern – there are wider diversity issues at play. The 2020 NHS IT Leadership survey suggests there is much further to go to ensure healthcare IT teams fully reflect the communities they are serving. Half of respondents said they have never reported to a black or minority ethnic (BAME) manager during their time in the NHS; almost a quarter reported they had no people of colour in their immediate team. Multiple respondents said their organisation was committed to changing this.

It’s time for us to tackle these issues together and support women and other under-represented groups to make the contribution they can make, and in doing so improving the culture of the organisations we work in. The right culture attracts the right people, which in turn create the best results. Avoiding onliness and supporting underrepresented people to succeed seems like an obvious choice.

Rewired provides an ideal opportunity for diverse individuals and teams to share, learn and collaborate to tackle ‘onliness’. I’m pleased to see that the Shuri Network and One Healthtech are partnering with the event and are working hard to push this agenda. The agenda features many women, including: Sam Allen, CEO of Sussex Partnership and Chair, Health & Care Women’s Leaders Network; Dr Mala Mawkin, host of the Royal Society of Medicine’s Digital Health Podcast and Head of Market Development at Cellen; and Sonia Patel, CIO, NHSX. But I am also looking forward to hearing from some people who are much closer to the delivery of care: Rachel Foley, Ann Gregory, Lisa Ward, James Wyatt and Gang Xu all stand out.  There is a great line up this year!

Rewired is expecting over 3,000 registrants on one dedicated platform, so you will have the ability to search and connect with members of the UK digital health community – from all backgrounds at all levels. We all need to do our bit to continue to help and stay focussed on making our culture and work spaces the best that they can be – that means making sure they are diverse and representative.

Get your ticket for Digital Health Rewired 2021 to join the must-attend virtual festival celebrating the best of digital health and care, taking place across 15-19 March 2021. 

Book your place here

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