International Women's Day 2022 edition
To be or not to be, that is the question!
By Dr. Siddhartha Dutta
Practice Head, Healthcare, SG Analytics, India
& Top 75 Influencer in Global Femtech segment
Gender disparity in the society – let us address the elephant in the room
Hamlet Act III, scene I is so relevant when it comes to women and their success in Femtech. Does the society want to see them successful or want them to struggle some more or would still like to call the shots? It’s a relevant perspective that needs to be debated today especially in 2022 and on International Women’s Day.
Based on a published report 1 by Deerfield Management Company in April 2021, 48.5 per cent of companies (studied out of a total of 140 companies) had no female professionals on their board. The situation was equally discouraging in firms where it was just 20 per cent, female investment professionals. There are hurdles, and there is optimism. There are sparks but the fire is missing. There are few torchbearers, the rest are all followers.
“When it comes to female founders seeking investment, a lot of the early trailblazers in this space have managed to dismantle the taboos to reduce some of the awkwardness of these conversations. I’ve been pleasantly surprised by some of the conversations we have had with teams of male investors who are passionate advocates about trying to understand the space because they want to create change.”
Catherene Hendy, Co-founder, ELANZA Wellness
Source: Quoted from an article written by Caroline Berry in HealthTechWorld, UK
Lack of Information or Availability of Misinformation
When I started writing on Femtech, I was amazed to see the opportunity that the industry had forecasted in 2015. I tried to look at the numbers and market size in 2022. I am disappointed to state that two plus two doesn’t add up to four. It’s a highly fragmented market and yet there are companies who claim that the market size of this segment (femtech) to be USD22 Billion in 20202 and expected to reach USD 60 Billion by 2027. I wonder how they calculate such numbers when most of the app providers are operating locally, hygiene wipes sold in the USA are not available in Singapore or India or China. This market remains fragmented and shall remain so till next 5 years till there is data collation, databases of femtech products, globally. The only data provider was acquired by Deloitte sometime back and served the industry on only a few parameters. When I connected to key femtech entrepreneurs in the US in 2020 and 2021, most of them were running their private databases with customer details, perception analysis and demand-gap analysis but no one had any access to any global database nor did they share their private information with other businesswomen. A women femtech player in the US had no idea the demands of women in the UK or China? There is no published data estimating their demand, availability, usage.
Let us look at the parity top-down, since there was no specific data available on femtech. The following table quotes the percentage of women engaged in necessity driven entrepreneurship.
The Gap between Innovation and Commercialization
List of top 10 countries with Percentage Women engaged in entrepreneurship in 2020
Countries by Rank
Percentage of Women Engaged in Necessity Driven Entrepreneurship
Kingdome of Saudi Arabia
The United States
Source: Deccan Hearld, India, Dec 16, 2021
List of top 10 countries with most women innovators (based on patents filed) in 2020
The scenario doesn’t match up well. For e.g., the US ranks # 4 with 13.6% women entrepreneurs (overall) versus rank #7 in the list of patents filed by women innovators. There is a clear gap that shows that many innovations never get commercialized either because of funding, no handholding or pressure from bigger players in a similar segment. There are no studies in 2022, which can state how many women femtech players started with innovation or prototype and how many managed to commercialize their products or are selling their products successfully in their regional or global market.
Some Voices Are Hard to Search
I was recently talking to a good friend of mine who also happens to be an entrepreneur and calls herself a bra-engineer. She has a patented technology and has made some unique designs to support women with their body shapes (size and support issues) which are otherwise never addressed in the commercially available products (bra) in the American market. She is still struggling to get a good investment to commercialize the same. She has faced hurdles from big brands majorly dominated by men designers and product managers who are more interested in the sale of the company’s approved design than the body needs of different women.
“The developers and the tech world is very male-dominated. It affects things like Siri for example. Siri couldn’t recognise the word rape, so she didn’t understand she needed to call for help if a woman was being raped. The software gets developed by men, even some femme tech products for women get made by men and they get a lot of investment.”
Petronela SandulacheFo, under & CEO, CorDiFio Health
Source: Quoted from an article written by Caroline Berry in HealthTechWorld, the UK
There is another story from Latin America, where the lady entrepreneur is working on Endometriosis as a central theme. We share a funny relationship. She only speaks Portuguese, and I don’t understand a word. We have even pitched together for funding to investors with this collaboration and presented her work. She is still seeking good investments in 2022 and I know she will make it big someday. Endometriosis is a concern across globe and many women suffer but how many come out and talk about it? Can awareness workshops help? Yes definitely. From a commercial point of view, it would also mean that pharmaceutical companies and CROs will get targeted groups for their study on women with endometriosis (new cases). Is there light at the end of the tunnel, I am sure there is but where are the funding partners?
I am currently working on a survey that studies the mental health in women during the pandemic and in this regard, I reached out to politicians, actors, researchers, lawyers, educationists, students, working professionals and homemakers. Though everybody whom I had approached seemed to be excited about the entire idea, only a few really participated. I am not sure if I was the reason or women's health that held the participants back. But if women and men don’t talk about it then who will? This also made me believe that we live in two societies, one that speaks high about female health and technology, promotes femtech and speaks about taking this forward, quotes market sizes in Billions and then there is this other society that tries to pull back the first one or stops them by keeping quiet or not supporting. To be or not to be successful is the question in 2022? I leave this article open-ended for readers to debate and talk about the solution to this problem, bringing out the unheard voices to the forefront.
I have come across friends from Europe, the US and India who have shared their inhibitions when it comes to topics such as tampons, menstruation, and periods. I have heard stories where men of the house have changed channels every time a female health and hygiene product advertisement were shown on the telly. You will be surprised to know that female menstrual pads are sold in pharmacies wrapped in black reused plastic packets to avoid attention in India. There is hesitation and society doesn’t want to admit it. Imagine the plight of entrepreneurs who are working hard to bring their products out in the market. I have checked many such company websites and found very few images of men in them. I don’t know if it is shame or a trust issue? Or the scare that they might become more visible using femtech.
As I have always reiterated that ‘femtech’ can only be successful if it is inclusive. The society comprising of men and women together must support these initiatives to create successful women entrepreneurs. International Womens’ Day is March 8th and there will be lot of voices around female health, fem-tech and more. Please hear them if you have not heard already and support them in ways you can. I guess we all grew up hearing that behind every successful man there is a woman. I wonder where all the motivating people behind the women in femtech have gone in 2022?
“A woman with a voice is, by definition, a strong woman. But the search to find that voice can be remarkably difficult”
Melinda Gates, Gates Foundation, USA
[Please note that the views presented in this article are my own and doesn’t represent any company or body or any organization and are based on my interactions with many women entrepreneurs during 2020 and 2021]