The three women business leaders comprising the panel at Thursday evening’s Women Who Inspire event work in three very distinct fields—Naomi Fried works in healthcare, Flora Sah works in finance, and Deborah Theobald works in robotics.
But they do have one thing in common—each is the first to serve in her current position.
On Thursday evening in the Alumni Center, the three leaders discussed their career paths as innovators and shared insight into how innovation and technology are changing the business world.
“The digital transformation is happening now in healthcare,” said Fried, the first chief innovation officer at Boston Children’s Hospital. “People are starting to think about the next frontier and that is really increasing communication between clinicians and patients and leveraging the mobile devices we’ve all grown accustomed to.”
The event marked the start of the 2014-15 Women Who Inspire speaker series, which is designed to promote the advancement of women in science, sustainability, engineering, and technology. Carla Brodley, the newly appointed dean of the College of Computer and Information Science, moderated the 90-minute discussion.
“I think for both men and women, seeing women who inspire and hearing stories can really lead to insights into where you want to take your career and the path you’ll want to take to get there,” Brodley said in her opening remarks.
Theobald, the co-founder and CEO of Vecna Technologies, noted that she and her husband created the healthcare IT company in response to the realization that the kind of company she wanted to work for didn’t exist. Her research focuses on robotics and software development, and her company offers hardware, software, and IT services to clients across strategic industries.
When asked if businesswomen are more risk-adverse than businessmen, Theobald responded by explaining that women need to identify—and subsequently harness—the tools and information that will lend credence to their ideas and give them the confidence to move forward.
“I think the biggest thing we need to feel confident in is that our passion is worthwhile to pursue even if nothing comes of it,” she said. “People are not going not stop solving a problem that they solved incorrectly the first time.”
Sah, MS’95, noted that she has noticed an uptick in the number of female leaders in the financial industry, but added that there can always be more.
Sah, who created her position as senior vice president and COO of enterprise risk management at State Street in Boston, said that advocating the duel business-technology role puts her in a position to see multiple sides of State Street’s operations.
“This role has opened new doors for me,” Sah said. “It has allowed me to understand not only the technology infrastructure within the company, but also our business model. And I think being able to see both sides has given me that competitive edge.”
During a Q-and-A following the panel discussion, the experts were asked to suggest some strategies that other businesswomen can employ to make sure their innovative ideas are being heard in the workplace.
“It’s about saying what you want to say, believing you have a voice at the table, and being confident,” Fried said. “Over time the female voice gets heard.”