Orange Silicon Valley’s latest event in our ongoing Women in Tech series tackled challenges in FemTech, asking a panel of experts to assess what’s working and where startups focused on women are already finding success. Everyone on stage appeared to agree that more engagement among women — as investors, founders, and customers — will mean better outcomes in the sector going forward.
The May 7 event highlighted obstacles that FemTech currently faces. Among them: Although FemTech relies on female consumers to purchase products, males still dominate the industry. Women at the event were encouraged to participate in the FemTech industry, not only because they can, but also because doing so can empower them to better understand their own needs and promote more women in tech.
“I am proud to host this event because I believe in inclusion and diversity,” said Orange Silicon Valley CEO Mireille Helou in her opening remarks. “Orange thinks inclusion is important, and we’ve been promoting women at all levels for many years.”
Helou stated that 33% of the women at Orange hold executive positions and 31% are managers, but women hold a significantly smaller share of IT roles at Orange, at only 24%. She asserted that there is evidence at Orange that women can excel in large corporations and technology companies, even though there is still work to be done to fix the gender divide.
Orange and Orange Silicon Valley have both taken steps to get more women working in STEM- and technology-related careers, as well as to implement programs for women to become involved in these fields. Orange created a program where women can shadow tech workers, as well as technical classes where 100% of the students are female. Additionally, Orange recently launched a program in France called “Women Start,” which works to unlock business and networking opportunities for women startup founders.
The three featured speakers at the event — Fatima Perez, Nitasha Syed, and Vanessa Larco — all participate in different areas of the FemTech space, and they provided unique perspectives and insights from their experiences. Each speaker felt personally connected to the FemTech industry, and they all called for incorporating more women within the ecosystem.
Perez works as a Marketing and Business Developer at Qurasense, a FemTech startup that aims to revolutionize healthcare for all women. Quarsense conducts research on female patients with diabetes by measuring different bio markers through menstrual samples. Following the analysis, scientists will display the test results on the Quarsense app and provide each patient with personalized health insights. The company wants to provide a quick way to access medical records that are easy to understand.
Syed is the founder at Unboxd, an online platform that works to break down the stereotypes associated with women in STEM. Syed believes the media portrays STEM workers to be nerdy, anti-social, and unpopular, which in turn negatively impacts the number of women who chose to pursue careers in that work space, even if they are passionate about math and science. The company’s mission is to change the narrative of STEM women in the media by publishing inspirational stories and interviews of women who work in STEM.
Larco is a partner at New Enterprises Associates, a global venture capital firm investing in technology and healthcare. She said she was drawn to investing in the FemTech industry after the birth of her first child. Confusion during her pregnancy and not knowing what to expect led her to realize there needed to be more educational products available to women on this topic.
Syed acted as a moderator, posing questions to Larco and Perez as well as the rest of the audience. She encouraged full engagement and for people to contribute input at any point during the discussion. This aligned with the Women in Tech program’s initial goal, which was to promote a space where women would feel empowered to ask questions and share their experiences from the tech world.
“I think FemTech covers a range of categories. It promotes products relating to mental health, which is important but often overlooked, anything that helps to make a women physically healthy, and really any kind of product that helps solve a problem that women face,” Larco explained at the beginning of the discussion.
Similar to other fields related to women and technology, FemTech has more men than women participants. Males have developed most of the FemTech products released — even for health-related needs — and the speakers felt this was an issue.
“You’d think this would be an area dominated by females, but it simply isn’t,” said Syed. “I think this is strange because the men creating FemTech products can’t relate to or understand female issues as well as a women founder could. I highly encourage more women to participate in this space.”
There were many complaints from the audience about how tampons and other feminine care products have either increased in price or were taken out of some stores entirely. According to Syed, this would obviously have been a “male’s decision.” Women’s involvement is necessary in the FemTech space to provide products that are practical, affordable, and work to advance the health of all women. The audience did not believe men were unsympathetic to this situation, but rather, did not understand how important it is to have options for all women, regardless of color, income, social class, or any other defining features.
Larco believes there are forms of discrimination against women in the FemTech industry that should be combated. “As an investor, I see a lot of FemTech companies with women founders not receive any funding, particularly in the later stages of the startup. My hypothesis for this is that women who create FemTech products are mainly preaching to male investors, who are so far detached from the product that they don’t quite understand the need for it.”
“One challenge in the FemTech space is explaining how your product will be expanded into a platform of sorts, and figuring out a way to justify a large evaluation,” Larco stated.
FemTech is a seemingly hard space to enter when the products can only resonate with only half the population. Larco identifies how it is harder for men to realize how necessary women’s health products are, since men do not go through the same experiences.
Perez identifies similar issues in the marketing space for FemTech products. Since her company bases its research off of blood samples and menstruation, Facebook has banned many of their marketing campaigns. According to Perez, many of the Quarasense ads were blocked on Facebook for “inappropriate content.”
“This is frustrating because our main advertising platform is Facebook,” said Perez. “The marketing team has had to test ways to get around this. Recently we’ve uploaded videos instead of pictures, because Facebook won’t scroll through the entire video to check for content they deem appropriate. Facebook doesn’t want to see anything related to mensuration. Recently, anything related to women’s health has been banned, and this is exactly how you end up with under education in the health field.”
Syed pointed out that it seems ridiculous to promote Viagra ads on Facebook while simultaneously considering female blood to be too “taboo.”
“We need to stop looking at women’s health and sex education as something bad,” Syed said. “The population needs to know about these issues. Sex education is actually being withdrawn from the middle school curriculum, which is unsafe. We shouldn’t stop educating women on what is going on inside their bodies.”
At the end of the event, Syed, Perez, and Larco encouraged more women to become involved in not just FemTech, but STEM in general. The audience was shocked to learn that there are more men participating in a field that caters only towards women, which only further highlights the gender divide that extends across the tech industry.