DxD Event Showcases the Power of Mentoring for Women

A screen capture from the second DxD Speed Mentoring Event.

Forty people from health technology companies, most of whom had never met, came together for a virtual speed mentoring event  designed to introduce women in the industry to the benefits of mentoring. The participants included 20 junior and mid-level women and 20 senior industry executives of both genders from across the health technology ecosystem. It was the second speed mentoring event organized by Diversity by Doing (DxD) Healthtech, an industry-wide initiative formed to raise awareness of inequity and help individuals take action to create a more just and inclusive environment.

DxD developed the speed mentoring program in response to an industry survey the group conducted to explore gender in leadership representation and perceptions of workplace equality. “One of the key findings of the survey was that women with mentors scored significantly higher on questions around job satisfaction and an inclusive environment than women without mentors,” said Mike Regan, chief innovation officer at Fogarty Innovation and one of the founding members of DxD. “Other studies confirm that mentoring helps women rise and succeed in the workplace, and positively impacts recruiting, retention, promotion, and business growth.” Based on this, DxD has been creating mentorship opportunities for women in health technology.

The events combine a series of short keynote presentations on topics related to mentoring and career development with break-out sessions that pair one mentee and one mentor in a private Zoom room for a focused conversation. Over 90 minutes, the participants hear three keynotes and have three different one-on-one pairings.

Keynote presenters at the October event were Michael Penn, MD, PhD, founder and managing director of Health Equity Ventures; Laurie Halloran, CEO of Halloran Consulting Group, Inc., and Stacy Enxing Seng, an independent director and venture partner at Lightstone Ventures.

The Neuroscience of Mentoring
Penn discussed the neuroscience of mentoring, or how to harness the power of the brain to “get out of our own way” and be able to benefit from the guidance. “If you are part of a stereotyped group, and you believe you shouldn’t be held back by that stereotype, you can overcome it with intention and repetition,” said Penn.

According to Penn, stressful, intimidating interactions with mentors or colleagues hold individuals back because they trigger a biological, built-in fight-or-flight response that shuts down higher functioning. As an example, Penn, who is a summa cum laude graduate of the private, historically black Morehouse College, described a time that he was interviewing for medical school and was asked why he didn’t go to a more rigorous undergraduate institution. “I froze and my brain just shut down,” he recalled. “And that response put a lot of distance between me and the interviewer.”

Citing the book Whistling Vivaldi, Penn explained that when people are subject to a negative stereotype (e.g., women are bad at math) in an endeavor they are undertaking, they underperform in a way that confirms the stereotype. “It’s a similar biological response,” said Penn. “The prospect of that stereotype being true scares you and that impairs your ability to function.” 

Speaker Michael Penn discusses transforming uncomfortable interactions.

To counter this, Penn described techniques that individuals can use to consciously transform uncomfortable interactions and tap into the part of the brain responsible for executive functioning. “Our thoughts can change our reality,” said Penn. With practice and repetition, Penn believes this shift can become more automatic. “It comes down to the capacity of the brain to change and learn,” he said. “We have to manage a lot of biology to be able to make connections to mentors and benefit even from interactions that are uncomfortable.”

A Structured Approach
The second keynote presenter, Laurie Halloran, offered practical advice on how a structured approach can help mentees maximize the value and benefit of mentoring interactions. To start, she recommended that mentees spend time thinking about their career aspirations and desired path. “Your career isn’t a ladder,” she said. “Not everyone wants to climb straight up. Some people want to take a hike and see the view along the way.”

To help evaluate options, she suggested mentees meet one-on-one with leaders they admire. “Sit down with those people,” she advised. “Buy them a coffee and explore what their days are like. Ask what they’re doing that they love and that you might love, and find out the journey they took to get to where they are.”

The next step is for individuals to identify the specific area in which they want to develop by assessing strengths, goals, and gaps. To this end she recommended the book Discover Your CliftonStrengths. Once that is clear, “Pick an individual in your circle and request an opportunity to learn from them and start working together to build on your strengths and to better understand the areas in which you seek to grow,” she said. Halloran noted most people will need many mentors over the course of their careers, so it isn’t necessary to try to find one person who provides growth insights in every aspect of one’s life or career. She concluded, “Remember, as you seek to grow you don’t have to be good at everything. Successful leaders surround themselves with people who have strengths where they don’t, but this requires that you know your strengths and identify where you need others to succeed.”

Career Tips
The final keynote speaker, Stacy Enxing Seng, shared a number of tips from her own career journey. From a broad business perspective, Seng suggested approaching work with an attitude of curiosity and confidence. She noted that hard work usually carries the day, with people at the top outworking their peers. “To achieve at an accelerated pace, you have to work hard for it,” she said. Seng also reminded participants to ask questions, seek council on important issues, and be willing to accept even difficult feedback.

Seng also shared specific tips for mentees, including:

  • Be Clear: Make time upfront to get to know each other and set up ground rules and how you want to work together. Recognize that this is a mentee-driven, mentor-guided partnership. 
  • Be Bold:  Mentorship is generally in the vault, so take the opportunity to ask the real questions and speak to what is really on your mind.
  • Be Open: to “mentoring moments.”  Personal growth and advice can come from everywhere! So don’t wait for formal mentorship to come to you. Be sure to seek your own informal network and be open to the everyday chances to learn and grow.
  • Be Collaborative:  Share your insights and learnings with others. Always remember you don’t have to be the leader to be a leader. 

The keynote presentations, as well as the individual sessions, clearly resonated with the mentees. “You never know how these events will go and how people will connect,” said mentee Elizabeth Overstreet. “But I was completely engaged from the beginning to the end. I appreciated how each person shared their experiences and learnings. Sometimes when you hear something from someone else, it can help you see a situation in a completely different light.”

Added mentee Ashley Elinson, “I thought the event was exceptional, both the mentors who gave talks as well as the 1:1 breakout sessions. Each mentor provided great food for thought – not by providing ‘the answer,’ but in the insightful questions they asked and left for future consideration.”

The speed mentoring events are not intended to pair mentees and mentors for long-term mentoring relationship. Instead, the goal is for the mentees to leave with a better sense of how to develop relationships with mentors and what mentors can do for them. “However, the connections made during the event are meaningful. In fact, one mentee who participated in our inaugural event is now in a new job because of the contacts she made,” said Annette Ewanich, a leader of DxD at Stanford Biodesign and one of the program organizers.

DxD plans to organize speed mentoring events on a quarterly basis. To sign up to participate as a mentor or a mentee, fill out this form. 


All quotations are from interviews conducted by the authors unless otherwise cited.