Why diversity is a 'guiding light' for the majority-female team behind the Boston Children's innovation accelerator

With women making up the majority of its 80-person team, the Innovation and Digital Health Accelerator program at Boston Children's Hospital stands apart from its peers not only in the realm of hospital innovation, but also in the tech industry as a whole.

There isn't an explicitly defined "secret sauce" behind the impressive strides IDHA has made in boosting gender equity in the field, but the team's results have undeniably proven the impact and necessity of filling the seats at any innovation-related table with a diverse array of perspectives.

"We really believe the diversity in hiring actually makes us a lot stronger and helps us to further meet the needs of the diverse patient population at Boston Children's Hospital," said Elizabeth Kidder, program director of IDHA. "We're creating things that could touch anyone, in any country, in any language, so having those different perspectives always makes sure that we keep the end user in mind and are designing something that works for different populations."

Here, Ms. Kidder discusses how the program prioritizes diverse voices in both staff members and accelerator participants, and what it will take to improve race and gender equity in digital health.

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

Question: Could you give an overview of the makeup of the IDHA team?

Elizabeth Kidder: The group focuses on a couple different workstreams within the hospital: We have the accelerator model, which I'm a program director of; we have a whole [research and development] side for the hospital; and then we're also in charge of broader digital health strategy initiatives for Boston Children's Hospital — everything from the patient portal to telehealth and virtual visits.

We do have a majority female team. I don't have the exact numbers off the top of my head, but it's been pretty consistent in that way since I joined about a year and a half ago. Our team has grown a lot recently and, historically, we have been majority female for a while, so it's been great that we've been able to continue that with recent hires as we've staffed up.

I also want to point out that about half of our team are technologists. We have a full dev shop, too, so we do have that technology bent in-house, as well as working with external parties and vendors.

Q: Are there specific initiatives in place to ensure that you're recruiting a lot of women? And either way, why do you think your team is majority female when so much of the innovation and tech space isn't very female-driven?

EK: I think part of it is we have an amazing female CEO at the hospital, Sandi Fenwick. Having that visible leadership in place is a great beacon for women who want to join an organization that has that leadership.

For our team, in particular, we don't have any formal initiatives that I'm aware of, but our hiring process includes interviews with tons of different teams. I mentioned those three different workstreams — we make sure, because we do so much cross-functional work within those teams, that interview candidates are seen by multiple people, allowing for different perspectives in the hiring process. We also rely heavily on our relationship with HR to make sure that we're always hiring holistically and taking a look at the team as a whole and what makes sense for each role.

Our team covers so many different categories and is so multifaceted that we really believe the diversity in hiring actually makes us a lot stronger and helps us to further meet the needs of the diverse patient population at Boston Children's Hospital. Keeping that in mind as a guiding light is super helpful.

Q: Could you talk more about the ways that having a diverse team helps you achieve your goals?

EK: A lot of times we're designing products, services and companies to meet the needs of our patients at Boston Children's Hospital, but also, the mission of this group is really to extend the leadership of Boston Children's Hospital more globally. We're creating things that could touch anyone, in any country, in any language, so having those different perspectives always makes sure that we keep the end user in mind and are designing something that works for different populations.

I'll call out specifically HealthMap, which is on the research side, operates in 15 languages and is used globally. That's an example of something that we know is touching people across the world, and we need to make sure that it works for all those different populations. Having different people in the room to give their perspectives and talk about what works for them vs. other populations, it just makes our design process better and it makes our products more impactful.

Q: When you're choosing companies to join the accelerator program, are you also keeping an eye on creating race and gender equity?

EK: We definitely are, and we keep that in mind in terms of the external experts that we bring into the room for the Opportunity SPRINTs, which are part of the vetting process. We make sure that we're bringing in people from different teams to understand the ideas that represent those different backgrounds. And we have an advisory board, as well, which has some amazing, strong female leaders on it, which helps, too, as we're vetting those finalists down the line.

Q: What do you see as obstacles or challenges keeping qualified women and people of color out of the digital health space? How can we improve representation in the industry?

EK: I don't really have a great answer for this, but we're starting to see a shift where people understand that it's important to have that diversity in the room and that it makes them stronger as a company and as a team.

As for what it takes to achieve more gender and race equity, I think it's really that leadership commitment and communication about how important it is. We're lucky to have that at Boston Children's Hospital, that not only can you look at leaders and see diversity, but that it also comes down through all the teams here. We have patients coming in from all over the world, so it's important that staff also look like them and are able to reach those patients more simply.

More articles on innovation:
Brigham and Women's study: Innovation depends on more than hospital profits — patients have to be on board, too
House bill pushes for more accountability in CMS innovation arm
Verily launches joint venture for ophthalmology innovation

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