Dr Sarah Wamala Andersson, Grit Board Member and Professor of Health and Welfare Technology at Mälardalen University, Sweden
Please tell us a little about yourself and your role as Professor of Health and Welfare Technology at Mälardalen University, Sweden?
I am deeply grateful that I have had the opportunity to live many lives in different continents, working in a wide range of sectors with various roles and engaging with different people from different parts of the world.
This has contributed greatly to my growth both personally and professionally. I am able see the world with a much broad perspective and I believe that everything is possible if there are good intentions based on unconditional love and doing good.
My mission as a professor is to conduct multidisciplinary research that generates robust real-world evidence on effectiveness of digital solutions including artificial intelligence (AI) in health and welfare systems and make lives better.
I founded and lead the PREVIVE research group. Together with driven scientists we conduct research and education related to policies, reimbursement and business models, evidence to demonstrate value and effectiveness of digital health and welfare technologies and AI-based solutions.
I am passionate about cross-sectoral research collaborations, global issues, equity, ethics, usability, inclusive AI-solutions, and engaging children, girls and women in digital transformation ton drive the change sustainably. I read widely about philosophy and spirituality.
For example, I published Shift your mind and make yourself great again to motivate people to empower themselves. I find collaborations with the Grit relevant, meaningful and important. By working together, we can effectively drive the change with digital transformation include girls and women.
What does diversity, equity and inclusion mean to you and why is it so important?
I grew up in a small village in Uganda with two women (my mother and grandmother) and seven siblings. I know what it means to have less or lack financial resources and not having powerful social networks. This limits a lot of potential which could be used to create value.
Every human should have access to the basic resources and best possible life chances with access to adequate resources and opportunities. This is so important to ensure that every person can reach one´s full potential and contribute to the world with one´s unique talents.
Diversity refers to the variety of differences among individuals and groups (by race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, religion, age, abilities, and other characteristics), and it recognizes that everyone brings unique perspectives, experiences, and strengths to the table.
Every human is unique and have unique talents, so by working together as humans we can do better and add more value. Equity refers to ensuring that everyone has access to the same opportunities, resources, and rewards, regardless of their background.
Inclusion refers to creating a sense of belonging, where everyone feels valued, respected, and supported. By taking into account diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI), fairness and social justice can be promoted by ensuring that everyone has equal opportunities and is treated with respect and dignity.
DEI is about creating a culture of respect, fairness, and inclusivity that values the differences of individuals and promotes their full participation and engagement.
DEI not only benefit individuals but also helps organizations and communities to be more innovative and creative by leveraging the unique perspectives and experiences of diverse individuals. All in all, DEI contributes to better outcomes.
How can women’s digital health technologies improve gender equity?
Women’s DHTs have the potential to improve gender equity by increasing access to healthcare, increasing awareness, better monitoring of health, improving health outcomes (including mental health), and providing personalized healthcare.
These technologies can also increase awareness about women’s health issues and provide mental health support, which can lead to better health outcomes not only for women but also their families.
However, girls and women should be engaged in DHTs development and implementation as active players. Additionally, Ethics, equity especially in AI-based solutions need to be given attention.
What are the current challenges?
Gender and DHTs face several challenges, including:
- Gender Bias: DHTS may have inherent gender bias, such as being designed primarily by and for male users and may not consider the unique needs and preferences of women. This can lead to a lack of appropriate treatment options and inaccurate diagnoses.
- Representation in Technology Development: Women are often underrepresented as technology developers and investors, which can lead to a lack of diversity in the perspectives and experiences that inform digital health technology design.
- Access and Affordability: Women in low- and middle-income countries may face challenges accessing DHTs due to access, affordability, limited internet access, and cultural barriers. As a result, women in these regions may not receive adequate healthcare.
- Data Collection: Digital health technologies rely heavily on data collection, and if gender is not considered in the data collection process, the data generated may be biased and not accurately represent women’s health issues.
- Privacy and Security: Women’s privacy and security can be compromised when using digital health technologies. Women may be at risk of being tracked or having their data used against them.
Why are not all women represented in digital health technologies?
There are several reasons why not all women are represented in digital health technologies. Many of them reflect the historical gender bias and cultural aspects.
- Gender bias in data collection: Historically, medical research and data collection have primarily focused on male subjects, which can result in biased and incomplete data that doesn’t reflect women’s health needs.
- Lack of diversity in the technology-related education and workforce: Women are underrepresented in the tech education and industry, which can lead to products and services that don’t consider women’s unique health needs.
- Socioeconomic factors: Women from low-income or marginalized communities may not have access to DHTs due to financial constraints, lack of internet access, or limited knowledge of how to access and use technology.
- Stigma and cultural barriers: Some cultures may stigmatize certain health issues that affect women (such as menopausal related health), making it difficult to discuss them openly. This can result in a lack of awareness and resources to address these issues using DHTs.
- Design bias: The design of DHTs may not take into account the unique needs and preferences of women, resulting in products and services that are less effective or appealing to women.
As a Grit advisory board member, could you share your advise that have served you well throughout your career?
- Enhance your self-leadership. This is the ability to lead oneself towards achieving personal and professional goals. It involves taking responsibility for your own behavior, thoughts, and emotions, and using self-motivation, self-discipline, and self-awareness to manage your own performance and development. It also involves developing a positive attitude, self-confidence, and a growth mindset, as well as being proactive, resilient, and adaptable.
- Be clear about your life vision, based on your unique you and personal values. What do you want to accomplish with your life? What is important to you? How do you want to spend your time on this planet? How can you use your unique strengths and qualities to contribute to the world?
- Find strengths and peace within yourself. Trust yourself and your inner instincts. Work smart and be strategic in your approach. Communicate your ideas and opinions effectively, both verbally and in writing. Utilize the social media to your benefit. Be confident, assertive, and articulate in your communication. Don’t be afraid to speak up and ask for what you want, whether it’s a promotion, a raise, or a new project. Be your own advocate, champion and cheer leader.
- Build a strong network that help you to grow and use your strengths and help you navigate the industry, provide advice, and support you in your career. This could be a network of professional contacts, mentors and sponsors.
- Invest in yourself and learn to be curious. Continuously develop your skills and knowledge to stay relevant in the ever-changing job market. Contact new people in the industry, attend workshops, training, and conferences to learn new skills and gain new perspectives.
- Practice gratitude and build resilience: Expect setbacks and failures along the way, but don’t let them discourage you. Find gratitude and identify hidden blessings in the hardships and keep moving forward and growing. Become unstoppable!
Any final thoughts?
Initiatives as GRIT are needed and important as they highlight the importance of increasing representation of women in the development and design of DHTs to ensure that these products and services meet the needs of all individuals, regardless of gender. Additionally, GRIT provides a unique opportunity to connect women in the industry from different regions and sectors.