Celebrating International Women’s Day with Komodo’s Varanidae Team
In 2018, during the annual J.P. Morgan healthcare conference, headlines flashed the latest innovations from healthcare’s glitterati and biggest leaders. But another story emerged that year to reveal the industry’s glaring challenge with gender disparity: “Men named Michael outnumber female CEOs presenting at #JPM18.” Several news publications reported that men represented 94 percent of the 540 people in the spotlight for these influential corporate updates, and 77 percent of the speakers for JPM’s special sessions.
Three years later, while the healthcare and health tech industries have made progress toward gender equity and representation, there is still a striking disparity when it comes to women in leadership roles, and the pandemic has only exacerbated this gap. Studies show women have shouldered an unequal share of the burden of both childcare and job loss; women of color in particular have experienced major setbacks in employment and workplace advancement.
In the face of these challenges, community, allyship, and mentorship among women in traditionally male-dominated industries like healthcare and technology are more important than ever.
In recognition of International Women’s Day and Women’s History Month, Komodo is spotlighting members of our new group, Varanidae – a community of women and allies supporting each other personally and professionally. The conversation below offers an introduction to Varanidae, the value the team hopes to bring through its new mentorship program, and a taste of how community and connection have shaped these team members’ careers.
What does International Women’s Day mean do you?
If you never see yourself represented, it can be hard to imagine yourself in fields dominated by men. International Women’s Day reminds us that there is a path for women in leadership at all levels.
– Erin Walter (Client Services Director, Mavens)
How have role models shaped your experience in healthcare, and how does that shape your hopes for Komodo's Varanidae group?
During my very first job, I vividly remember attending a client presentation by one of the company’s top women and being in complete awe at her incredible knowledge. I was fortunate enough to work alongside her and several women who served as mentors early in my career, which became especially valuable later on as we all became working moms leading large teams at the organization. My hope is that Komodo’s Varanidae group allows people who wouldn’t have otherwise interacted to get to know each other, that it provides mutually rewarding mentorships, and that helps Dragons feel more engaged and excited about their work.
– Theresa Borgia, MBA (Vice President, Account Strategy, Komodo Health)
What are the origins of Varanidae? Can you tell us about the meaning behind the name?
Since the early days of Komodo, there has been a group called “KH Ladies.” We connected on a Slack channel to share interesting articles, personal experiences and insightful anecdotes, and to plan occasional get-togethers such as breakfasts during Komodo Week. It’s always been a wonderful place to get to know and support each other. As Komodo grew, an interest in developing a more structured but still meaningful group experience also grew. Varanidae was born out of the evolution of “KH Ladies” to become a more organized, inclusive, and mission-driven group. The name Varanidae was chosen after the family of lizards that Komodo Dragons belong to. It’s a riff on our beloved dragon theme, and also represents our group perfectly: a family made up of unique individuals coming together with a common foundation.
– Alona May, MHI, RN, BSN (Commercial Data Strategy, Komodo Health)
Why was a name change important to you?
Intersectionality was at the root of the conversation. How can we build an inclusive group with a gender-specific name that’s inherently exclusionary? Those who are gender-non-conforming, trans individuals, cisgender women, etc., are historically underrepresented in the workforce, and we wanted this group to be an opportunity for all marginalized groups – as well as allies – to build a network. Changing the name to Varanidae is a step in the direction of inclusivity and welcoming all types of people to the group!
– Lucy Bostwick (Senior Customer Success Associate, Komodo Health)
What are some examples of Varanidae’s programming so far?
Our first major initiative is the “Oh Sh*t, What Now?” speaker series, an opportunity to tell stories about challenges in our careers, celebrate how we faced those obstacles in the moment, and share what we learned from the experience. We hope this space creates room for vulnerability, advice, and deeper relationships between Dragons. We also launched a mentorship program to allow Dragons to expand their network within the company, create impactful relationships, and develop a circle of advisors for guidance.
– Audrey Jensen, (Experience Manager, Komodo Health)
What are your hopes for the Varanidae mentorship program?
I hope to use this program to connect with other like-minded individuals and figure out ways to tackle some of the issues we face at work every day – whether that’s impostor syndrome, a reluctance to ask for what we deserve, or a need to improve self-promotion and advocacy.
– Tabby Khan, MD, MPH (Senior Clinical Expert, Komodo Health)
Why is women’s leadership and mentorship important in today’s professional landscape?
Given the unique history, context, and challenges we have faced in the workplace, it is crucial to carve out spaces for inclusive mentorship programs that highlight and empower women. While we recognize the significant amount of progress that has been made, we know it’s essential to keep improving, spread awareness, and address new challenges as the world keeps changing. Right now, for instance, COVID’s remote work lifestyle has brought forth unique challenges for mothers in the workplace, as data shows that they are taking on the brunt of childcare during this time. New strategies will be needed to address this inequity and mitigate potential long-term impact for women in the workforce.
– Alona May, MHI, RN, BSN
Why does mentorship matter to you?
I’ve grown so much from the open communication, feedback, and inspiration I’ve found in my own mentors. For this reason, I try to offer my own support to anyone who reaches out to me – whether they are interested in the security industry specifically or found me through my alma mater or sorority affiliation and want to talk more broadly about their career goals and possible pathways.
– Nicole Smith (Head of Security, Komodo Health)
Why did you get involved in Varanidae’s mentorship program as a male ally?
I have personally benefited from wonderful mentors, and I see Varinidae’s new program as an opportunity for me to personally give back and support the growth and well-being of my fellow Dragons. It is a chance to enhance skill sets and knowledge – including my own– and foster and promote self-reflection for everyone involved.
– David Wunderlich (Director Product Strategy, Komodo Health)
What does equity in the workplace mean to you?
Equity in the workplace is core to how I lead my team at Mavens – which of course is now a Komodo Health company. As a queer person who grew up in the South without workplace protections, my number one responsibility to people on my team is that they feel safe and secure to be themselves, empowered to make decisions, and confident enough to try new things knowing I’ll have their back. Treating everyone fairly and with respect is the baseline, and we strive to go above and beyond this every day. At Mavens, I have had the privilege of working with some of the brightest, most talented women I have ever met, women who have helped me become the leader and person I am today. I strive to do the same for others; my goal is for everyone who works on my team or interacts with us to feel encouraged, empowered, and supported.
– Erin Walter
How do you think companies like Komodo can help advance gender equity in the technology industry?
When it comes to tackling gender diversity, we want our actions to not only support the development of participating Dragons but also translate into marked improvements at both team and manager levels. The gender gap, industry-wide, has worsened during the pandemic. We know that more diversity is critical to successfully and inclusively transform the health-tech industry and reduce the burden of disease.
– Audrey Guazzone (Director of Customer Success, Komodo Health)
Where do you see room for growth at Komodo when it comes to gender diversity and inclusion?
I am proud of the direct and intentional discussions we have had as an organization around diversity, inclusion, and pay equity – conversations which have certainly led to more transparency around where we are now and how we can improve. I believe that by continuing to diversify our recruitment team and the interview panels, we keep improving the diversification of our candidate pipelines.
– Nicole Smith
How can the entire health-tech industry encourage more women to bring their talents to the important challenges we face?
I have seen far more women in tech-focused careers in recent years with the introduction of programs like Girls Who Code and STEM-focused programs for girls in school. While this is heartening, we still have a long way to go, especially in leadership roles. I believe that an increase in awareness is the first step; women have been shown to have improved outcomes in times of crisis, are rated as more effective leaders, and have higher employee engagement scores. If we provide the opportunities for women leaders through roles, mentorships, and opportunities for growth, the industry can improve each of these metrics and keep moving toward reduced disease burden worldwide.
– Erin Walter