The saying “this is a man’s world” has never felt more apt than when taking a closer look at the Femtech industry today.
Femtech – the technology-driven products and services designed to support and enhance women’s health and wellbeing – is often misunderstood. In fact, the term ‘Femtech’ is most commonly associated with menstrual tracking devices, contraception and reproduction, which is hardly surprising given we live in a world built around male data. But Femtech is so much more than that. It’s about anything geared towards improving female health and happiness.
To set the record straight, the Women in Wearables team recently (virtually) hosted the 2020 Femtech Forum, aimed at showcasing some of the new and innovative companies harnessing the power of technology to help us make more informed decisions about our health, regardless of gender.
One of the sessions during the day really stood out to me. It was a panel on the medical research data gap. The session served as an important reminder of the intersection between women’s health and technology, something that many organisations still forget to think about when designing products meant for both genders.
The panellists called out two major issues:
- Women are significantly underrepresented in medical trials. Throughout history, women have been underrepresented in medical trials. In 1977, a policy was passed in the US limiting the number of women of childbearing age allowed to take part in clinical trials for fear of causing birth defects. It wasn’t until 1993 that this was rescinded and the US National Institute of Health mandated that women be included in clinical trials. As a result, data on the effects of certain medicines on women is often limited.
- Many clinical trials don’t account for age, ethnicity or socioeconomic income. Data scientist Helen Guillaume from WILD AI called out that when it comes to medical trials that do include women, many forget to target everyone else. This only widens the data gap, meaning there are individuals taking medication that could be of the wrong concentration for their body size, background or gender and, in many instances, in which the side effects are not known or fully understood.
What does this mean?
Guillaume said: “You can solve any problem with data, but when it comes to women, it’s too complicated.” But is it really too complicated, or is it that we don’t have enough data on women and the effort hasn’t been made to gather it? The panellists in this session all agreed that digital health is going to play a big role in bridging the current gender and racial gap in medical research and the general consensus was that, with the right backing, the future can be a bright one.
They presented two key changes that need to take place in order to make that happen:
- We need more female VCs. There’s a real stigma attached to women’s health, with some investors considering the market too niche. Dr Brittany Barreto from Femtech Focus put it nicely. She said that often in Femtech, five upfront slides are needed first just to explain, for example, what the menopause is, as opposed to one slide for a gender-neutral health condition like cancer. More work therefore needs to be done to ensure VC boards are representative of both genders. After all, according to Frost and Sullivan, the Femtech industry is set to be worth around $50 billion by 2025.
- We need smarter partnerships. Digital health companies and pharma companies need to partner smartly. These partnerships can be important in the collection of necessary data, providing that privacy agreements are made with the end user. Strategic partnerships can be crucial in using data for good, plugging the data gap and delivering better outcomes for the end user/patient in the longer term. However, we have a long way to go to build trust with women, so that they have the confidence that they’re giving their data away for good use, not for sales.
It’s an exciting time for Femtech and it’s certainly a space to keep a close eye on. Women are continuing to help women, focused on normalising, and hopefully finally solving, women’s health issues. The Femtech start-up space is going to be an interesting one to watch over the coming year, as an industry moving at a pretty rapid speed. Now it’s time to ensure women have a seat at the table.