Julie Yoo, health tech founder & venture capitalist, on why digital health must cater to women

As a co-founder of healthcare technology startup Kyruus and general partner at venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz, Julie Yoo is something of an anomaly — though she finds being singled out as a rare woman in each field both a blessing and a curse.

"While it's nice to be recognized as a trailblazer in any context, it can be irritating to receive praise just on the basis of one's gender," she told Becker's Hospital Review.

Ideally, she explained, teams in these and other fields with traditionally low female representation would be balanced not only in terms of gender, but also in race, training, expertise and more, without focusing so much on this balance that it starts to feel tokenist or like an organization is simply fulfilling a quota.

Here, Ms. Yoo discusses how organizations can achieve that ideal balance, why digital health startups and initiatives need to place a greater priority on female patients and how she uses her own position of power at Andreessen Horowitz (often shortened to a16z) to lift up other women and people of color in her fields.

Editor's note: Responses have been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Question: You've said that women are often the "CMOs" of their families. What are some ways health tech startups should be catering to them?

Julie Yoo: Moms drive the majority of healthcare decisions for themselves, as well as their immediate and extended family. For a provider or payer organization seeking to manage utilization and cost, a long-term relationship with the "mom figure" can be a powerful leverage point to influence the behaviors of multiple related individuals.

Women also have very specific clinical needs that change throughout life, which means startups can build tailored care models with relevant bundles of products and services that aim to enable that 10x better experience for this user set, versus a more generic set of services that they might receive through general primary care or traditional gynecology clinics.

Q: Women are largely underrepresented in both startup executive teams and venture capital, and you've been a part of both — what are some key strategies to get more women into both of those male-dominated fields?

JY: The emphasis on "women in the workplace" can sometimes be a blessing, and other times a curse — while it's nice to be recognized as a trailblazer in any context, it can be irritating to receive praise just on the basis of one's gender. Don't get me wrong — gender balance is certainly important, but I tend to think of gender as one of a number of variables to consider when building balanced teams.

It just so happens that both the executive leadership team at my startup and our healthcare investing team here at a16z are 50/50 gender balanced; but we are also balanced on the basis of ethnicity and race, academic training, level and type of professional experience and tastes in sports teams!

Q: Do you — or a16z as a whole — have any initiatives or guidelines in place to ensure you're investing in a diverse group of startups, including those founded and led by women and people of color?

JY: This is a very important topic at our firm, and of course something I think a lot about personally, as diversity of background often yields better ideas, thus better and more robust businesses. We're always looking to connect with the best entrepreneurs, period. While there is still much work to be done in our industry around diversity (whether related to gender, race, geography, socioeconomics and even things like creating opportunities for military veterans), it's encouraging that we're actively having public conversations about inequities.

A16z has specific programs in place for portfolio companies to further these goals. For instance, within 60 days of signing a term sheet with a16z, our portfolio companies meet with our HR advisors to learn how to structure their company culture and create a safe work environment for all employees. We also continuously invest in network connectivity with events like our Director's College, where we connect with diverse groups and teach them how to be effective board members.

Also, two years ago we raised our first Cultural Leadership Fund, a new fund exclusively funded by African-American LPs to invest in technology companies. We donate our share of the fund's carry and management fees to select nonprofits helping to advance African Americans in technology. You can read more about the organizations here.

More articles on innovation:
Stanford physicians, medtech entrepreneurs form COVID-19 digital health task force
Hartford HealthCare funnels $14M into tech-focused venture studio & access center
Mount Sinai spinout unveils digital toolkit to help hospitals triage, monitor COVID-19

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