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Finding Your Warriors: Female Leaders in Healthcare IT

March 27, 2018

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Think Research is committed to supporting leaders, both established and emerging, in the healthcare IT space. In honour of International Women’s Day on March 8, one of our senior leaders recently attended the HIMSS (Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society), where a range of leadership events and panel discussions focused on the topic of leadership.

Brynne Eaton-Auva’a, our Vice President of Business Development, sat down with us after the HIMSS event to discuss her experience, and more largely, her journey as a leader in healthcare IT. With a warm and captivating energy, Brynne carries herself with grace and poise, and we’re honoured to have had a chance to share her leadership story.

What was your experience like at HIMSS?

It was, as always, an incredible event. I’ve attended in previous years, and when I returned this year, I was really pleased to see a growth and interest in female leadership in healthcare IT. There were a range of informational and networking sessions, one of which was the #WomeninHIT meetup event, which was a ‘matchmaking’ event, where attendees were divided into groups, based on their profiles. It was one of HIMSS’ most popular events, and leaders came together to exchange stories, learn from each others’ experience and share tips on navigating the health IT industry.

Can you tell us a bit more about your journey as a leader?

I joined Think Research during its startup phase, and I’ve been very grateful for the endless opportunities I’ve been given to learn and grow. I started in a junior role, in a different department, then moved from Client Success to Business Development and Product Management, where I currently lead partnerships and related strategy. Every day, I get the chance to work with partners who have deep experience in the healthcare sector, which is very rewarding.

Which experience(s) do you feel most shaped you as a leader?

Photo credit: Elaine Freedman

My most influential leadership experience has to be during my time with the Pacific Voyagers, a group of Pacific Islanders from different nations, who banded together for a 2 year project: to sail 20,000 miles, as one crew, across the Pacific Ocean. This voyage was one of the hardest things I’ve done, the ocean is a force to be respected. We used the stars for navigation and sailed using a traditional Polynesian canoe (the “Vaka”).

The Pacific Voyagers’ mission was to drive change: to bring awareness to the need for preservation of the Pacific, to renew commitments to healthy ecosystems, and to honour the Pacific Islanders’ ancestral tradition of seafaring and exploration.

To say it was an epic voyage would be an understatement! The lessons I learned there, while working with a twelve-man crew, have had an immense influence on me. Like healthcare IT, the world of sailing and voyaging has typically been male-dominated. The growing diversity amongst our crew enriched the voyage with different perspectives. We even had the opportunity to pull together an all-female crew for a few legs of the journey. It was during this Pacific voyage that I learned how to overcome various obstacles, including weather-related challenges, project management and crew dynamics. There were examples of incredible leaders, who quickly became lifetime mentors of mine. You can hear more about this life-changing voyage in this TEDxYouth talk I presented several years back.

Photo credit: Conservation International

Can you tell us more about your mentor?

Zita Martel…some call her ‘Queen of the Longboats’, and she truly is a force to be reckoned with. As Samoa’s first female longboat racing skipper and captain, she challenged the status quo by participating in a traditionally male-dominated sport (‘fautasi’). She’s also an entrepreneur, French consul, and Polynesian explorer. I worked with her in Samoa and she taught me priceless lessons. She carries herself with such grace and wisdom, and has been a continual source of inspiration for me and many others. One of the most powerful lessons she taught me is to “find the brave warriors” in your life, and do everything you can to learn from them.

Do you have any advice to emerging leaders in healthcare IT?

First off, I am thankful and humbled by this interview opportunity, but I’m still an emerging leader, and am always looking for learning and improvement (it’s a lifelong process!) However, there are a few pieces of advice that have helped me along the way:

The first is to recognize that bias exists in our world and we’re all responsible for addressing that bias. From recent studies, it’s fairly clear that women still make less money and typically have a difficult time getting promoted, as compared to male colleagues. I used to spend too much time taking things personally and putting blame on individual people, but realized that this we need to collectively need to acknowledge this issue in order to overcome it. I’ve found it helpful to acknowledge this fact, as it helps to ground you, and to remove the tendency to personalize (“finger-pointing”) that often be counter-productive.

My second piece of advice is to always keep learning and seek out examples of great leadership. Search for mentors who possess the qualities you want to develop in yourself, and who can lead by example and share their wisdom with you. And if you’re a woman, your role model doesn’t have to be a woman.

My last piece of advice? Being a leader isn’t just about you and putting your ‘flag in the ground’ so to speak. True leadership is not about taking credit or creating fame; it’s about believing wholeheartedly in your ideas and standing behind the authenticity and merit of those ideas. Focus on putting your ideas ahead of yourself; have confidence that your ideas should stand for themselves.

We’ve heard rumblings about a brand new Think Research initiative, hosted by Think Research: #SHECHANGED. Can you tell us more about it?

We’d also like to invite you to participate in a brand new Think Research initiative on March 28: #SHECHANGED brings together women who are transforming innovation and healthcare. March 28 marks our first annual #SHECHANGED event, hosted by Amy Molyneux, an inventor, entrepreneur, software developer and founder of Meta, an artificial intelligence company that’s transforming how scientific knowledge is experienced and consumed. We look forward to seeing you! Event details here.

We’re honoured to have such inspiring leaders in our Think Research team. Stay tuned for more lessons on healthcare IT leadership from the team at Think Research.

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