According to Harvard Business Review study The Power of the Purse: Engaging Women Decision Makers for Healthy Outcomes, 59% of women are making healthcare decisions for others, and that statistic rises to 94% among working mothers with kids under 18. Yet female decision makers are woefully underrepresented in the senior management of healthcare companies—only 4% of healthcare CEOs were women.
Entrepreneur Lisa Serwin believes that a lack of women leadership is bad for the industry. “If you think of patients in healthcare systems as consumers, as your customers, to not have the majority of your customer pool represented at your executive table is a huge loss,” she explains. “It’s a huge miss in the healthcare industry.” That’s why she founded C- Sweetener, a non-profit online platform based in San Francisco that matches vetted mentors in the healthcare industry with female mentees aspiring to break into the C-Suite. Serwin, who has held multiple C-Suite positions says, “We really just want to change the conversation. We wanted to stop talking and start doing.”
Serwin’s co-founder, Lisa Suennen, venture capitalist and managing director of GE Ventures, realized the need for a platform like C-Sweetener from her inbox brimming with mentorship requests. As part of her Aspen Institute Fellowship, she decided to create a space with Serwin to help women advance their careers.
C- Sweetener aims to take chance out of the process of finding a mentor. “Mentoring has traditionally been very one-on-one, and a little haphazard,” Serwin explains. “Maybe you meet somebody, you have a connection or a chemistry, you cultivate them to be in your personal network. In a larger corporation, you often get assigned a mentor or partnered with somebody that may not have been someone you would have chosen on your own.”
C- Sweetener aims to change that. The platform uses an algorithm to similar to match.com’s that works to predict compatibility between mentor and mentee. It considers category, area-expertise, what sector of healthcare the mentor or mentee is in, functional expertise, goals and objectives, as well as a personality match. Matches are created without any human intervention and returned to the mentee as a ranked list.
Serwin says one of the strengths of the site is that it enables users to connect with healthcare innovators that may have otherwise been unavailable to them. C- Sweetener allows for connections across the US and across different sectors of healthcare such as biotech, health IT, digital health, pharma, and more. “In pharma, it may seem like there is no reason, but really there is every reason to talk to people in biotech in digital health, health system operators,” says Serwin. “Having access to those folks who you wouldn’t have had otherwise can only help; it never hurts.”
Both Serwin and Suennen agreed that men needed to be included as mentors in order to help women rise to executive positions. “Men need to be part of this with their input and guidance,” Serwin believes. “Men not only need to be a part of the conversation, they need to be part of the solution. There are many wonderful male mentors and we wanted to make sure we were including them in the company.”
Serwin emphasizes that creating C- Sweetener as a 501c3 was essential because of her and Suennen’s passion for helping women in their careers. “This is really about mission, it’s not about money,” she says. “Lisa and I are doing this as a labor of love.”
Leah D’Sa is a Junior studying Writing, Literature, and Publishing at Emerson College. She is currently a copyeditor for the school newspaper the Berkeley Beacon as well as Poetry Editor for the literary magazine the Emerson Review. She is looking to begin her career with health technology writing as she seeks to combine her lifelong love of writing and science.
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