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CSweetener: Mentoring for Women Healthcare Leaders

Does Life Sciences have a woman problem?  A MassBio and Liftstream study conducted in September 2017 shows that women enter the Life Sciences sector in equal proportion to men (49.6% women vs 50.4% men) but the gender-gap grows at all career stages, despite women aspiring to the C-suite and board positions at the same rate as men. The data shows that by the time women reach the C-suite, they account for 24% of the positions and 14.4% at the board level.

“Not only does this report provide quantitative evidence of the visible gender inequality in the life sciences industry, it also explains how a confluence of factors harm women’s career advancement at all stages despite women entering the pipeline with equivalent potential and motivation,” said Karl Simpson, CEO of Liftstream. “The findings challenge some longstanding assumptions and deepen our understanding of why the gender-gap exists. The industry needs to fix these problems so women can participate equally throughout the talent pipeline, thereby ensuring the future leadership at the top of companies is gender diverse and fully includes women.”

And it goes beyond Life Sciences as well.

By any measure, female decision makers continue to be woefully underrepresented in the senior management of healthcare companies.  Only 8% of the top 100 hospitals have a female CEO. There are zero female CEOs in the Healthcare Fortune 500.  In 2017, female entrepreneurs received a sadly disproportionate 2.2% of all VC funding. And that’s up from 2016, when they received only 1.9%. And recently, Modern Healthcare published its list of the 50 most influential physician executives and leaders; the list included only seven women.

The math leaves much to be desired.   And the math isn’t just about the equality.  Numerous studies have demonstrated that companies with diverse leadership teams have higher profits and return on equity, among other financial metrics.

One of the biggest problems cited by women is a lack of female role models and both male and female mentors who are committed to help them climb to the highest roles in the life sciences field and across healthcare generally.  Mentoring is often cited as the most impactful tool that women have had in helping them advance their careers, but there are challenges.  Well-matched mentors who have the desire to help and the experience to make a difference can be a challenge to find, much less engage.

Enter CSweetener.  Founded by Lisa Suennen and Lisa Serwin, CSweetener is a non-profit online platform based in San Francisco that matches vetted mentors in the healthcare industry with female mentees aspiring to break into the C-Suite.

CSweetener operates much like a Match.com for healthcare that pairs emerging female leaders with established male and female mentors (note: candidates have to be new or near to the C-suite or in an equivalent role to be accepted into the CSweetener program). Once accepted, mentees pay a nominal fee and are matched with a mentor based on their skill to need match, personality and availability. With their membership, mentees gain 12 sessions per year, which can be with the same mentor or a variety of different mentors.

Mentors have to be experienced healthcare executives who have been there, done that and are talented at giving advice. Mentors must commit at least one hour per month to speaking with mentees.  They must also have a passion for helping change the gender diversity equation.

Pairings can contact each other through the phone and video capabilities in the app so they don’t have to exchange personal information if they don’t want to. They can also meet in person if desired. After the initial sessions, mentors and mentees can decide if they’re the right fit for each other before moving forward with additional meetings.   Both mentors and mentees get tips and advice for making the sessions productive for both parties.

There are real advantages to this approach, notably access to the right kinds of people who have volunteered to make a difference; privacy since the mentors are not internal to the organization where mentees work, diversity of thinking since mentors come from all parts of healthcare, and convenience since the connection can be made in multiple modes and without the formal structure of corporate mentoring programs.

Serwin and Suennen offered a few examples of how healthcare executives and entrepreneurs are using CSweetener: “A Series A CEO found a mentor who wound up on her Board of Directors and who assisted her to a successful financing”, and “A mentee conceptualized and created a new European Venture Fund with advice and Advisors, including limited partners and legal support gained through mentors on the platform”, and finally “a VP used the platform to collect the data she needed to negotiate a better salary and equity package than she would have otherwise.”

Lisa Serwin added the lack of women leadership is bad for the industry. “Women make most of the healthcare decisions and purchases for their families. Excluding the majority of customers from the executive table and board room is a huge loss”. “Your products, decisions and technology will miss the mark.”

For more information on how CSweetener can help advance your career, please reach out: www.csweetener.org.

Stay tuned for an upcoming CSweetener reception with CLSA members.