14 March 2024

Charting an Inclusive Future in FemTech

Braden-MacDonald
Braden-MacDonald
Braden MacDonald
Senior Account Executive

In FemTech, inclusivity isn’t just a buzzword; it’s a necessity: the United Nations Global Report found that nearly 90% of men and women hold some form of gender bias against women. This can have serious consequences – misdiagnosis, delayed diagnosis and lack of treatment. For femtech, the response is to dismantle these biases with innovative solutions tailored specifically to women’s health and conditions that disproportionately affect women.

FemTech has a market potential exceeding $103 billion by 2030, which is use case enough. However, a significant challenge remains: the investment landscape is wrought with  biases and stigmas that undervalue businesses led by women or those addressing ‘taboo’ health conditions. So how can FemTech bridge the gender health gap, while addressing these hurdles to support the unique needs of all communities, including those of different ethnicities, races, abilities, religions and gender identities?

Diversity is Dynamite

The difficulties for FemTech aren’t just financial; there are significant cultural factors at play. Deeply ingrained beliefs significantly impact women’s access to health resources and treatment. In parts of Asia, the Middle East and Africa, where even talking openly about menstruation is taboo, this severely restricts access to support and care. These cultural stigmas, compounded by socioeconomic challenges highlight the urgent need for solutions that are not only technologically innovative but culturally sympathetic, to address different cultural and religious contexts. It’s this approach, understanding and integrating cultural sensitivities into FemTech, that will drivesolutions that are accessible and impactful for all women.

Equally, the impact of these disparities is evident in the health outcomes of different racial groups: stats reveal that black women are at a 40% increased risk of miscarriage compared to white women.. What these stats reveal is a healthcare landscape where women of colour’s  natural bodily functions are stigmatised, and their needs (particularly in the realms of natal and sexual wellness) are not adequately addressed, in contrast to the resources available to white women..

With this in mind, the potential of  FemTech to combat these inequities is evident, yet innovation is stifled by yet more barriers. While 70% of FemTech companies are co-founded by women, only 12% of executive positions in these companies and venture capital firms are held by women. This discrepancy restricts the growth of businesses that could address issues such as reproductive health, menstrual cycle management, fertility, menopause, and sexual wellness. The state of play is even worse for women of colour, who in 2020 were awarded a mere 0.64% of health technology funding. This gap reflects not just financial inequality but deep-rooted biases that thwart the development of innovative FemTech.

Solutions, Solutions, and More Solutions

The investment  landscape isn’t changing fast, so what can be done to kickstart this change and ensure it’s sustainable, inclusive, and long-lasting?

  1. Increasing Access to Funding

 

Education and advocacy are key to changing attitudes. By highlighting the tangible impacts and ROI of inclusive FemTech solutions—such as mobile health apps leading to breakthroughs in the way we diagnose, understand and treat cancer—we can shift the narrative. By doing this, we’re able to broaden the discussion to stress the societal and health advancements these innovations facilitate beyond the bottom line. By presenting a clear picture of both the financial visibility and the wider, tangible impact for the women these businesses serve, investors are more inclined to see FemTech’s value: a profitable venture and a catalyst for positive health outcomes. 

Equally,, initiatives like the ‘FemTech Fund‘ play a pivotal role, especially when you factor in that the FemTech Fund is funded by a firm known for its diverse portfolio. These programmes are designed to mitigate the funding gap by offering capital, mentorship, and essential resources to FemTech startups that concentrate on the less served aspects of women’s health. 

  1. Promoting Diversity in Leadership

 

FemTech companies must be leaders in promoting diversity, not only in their leadership but throughout their entire product lifecycle. For example, Clue’s active efforts to include transgender and nonbinary perspectives in their platform  not only enriches the app’s user experience but also sets a precedent for inclusivity all the way to research and product design. Leadership diversity must be intentional, with programmes designed to elevate underrepresented voices to decision-making roles in the development, research and feedback phases, to ensure they are genuinely tailored to meet the needs of women from all ethnicities, religions and gender identities. Lip service won’t cut it.

  1. Strengthening Community and Support

 

The perception of an oversaturated FemTech market makes it look like the mission has been achieved – but it hasn’t, and even less so for stigmatised and under researched conditions. FemTech hubs and accelerators need to prioritise the promotion of startups tackling less visible or stigmatised issues such as vaginal prolapse, STIs and treatment of sexual health (and pleasure, in cultures where this is stigmatised), providing them with the resources and platform to succeed. 

Building a supportive FemTech community is also crucial not only for aiding founders but also for extending its impact beyond the industry. This involves engaging with the public, investors and stakeholders to challenge health taboos and enhance awareness through education of the public. The real value of networking and mentorship lies in its ability to link FemTech’s innovations with broader societal and policy discussions to effect lasting change.

Moving Forward with Purpose

FemTech’s journey towards inclusivity faces hurdles like investment biases and leadership disparities, particularly affecting women from marginalised backgrounds. In response, initiatives such as mentorship programmes to support women entrepreneurs, creating funding opportunities specifically for startups that champion underrepresented groups, and fostering collaborations with organisations committed to diversity and inclusion, support FemTech’s growth and its vital role in enhancing healthcare outcomes for women globally. Despite challenges, FemTech’s growth highlights the sector’s crucial role in addressing women’s varied health needs – and that it’s succeeding. 

True progress also requires inclusivity at every stage of product development and fostering collaborations that extend beyond the FemTech community. This approach ensures solutions are genuinely reflective of all women’s needs, from cultural sensitivities to lesser-known health conditions, all the while championing the voices of all women. Ultimately, the crux of FemTech lies in its commitment to a future where it truly  caters to every woman’s health, to offering real value and support.

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