How the Rise of "Femtech" relates to Women´s Empowerment

© DWIH Tokyo

The term ‘Femtech’ was coined in 2016 and the sector that subsequently emerged is now booming in Japan, Germany, and all over the world. Femtech products have helped addressing women’s largely overlooked physical needs by breaking with taboos such as menstruation, menopause or infertility. But how is Femtech contributing to women’s empowerment and gender equality? Are Femtech innovations restricted to women`s health? And who are the protagonists in the Femtech industry?

That is what the panel discussion ‘Femtech – Empowerment through Innovation?’, organized jointly by DWIH Tokyo (German Centre for Research and Innovation Tokyo) and JDZB Berlin (Japanese-German Center Berlin) on March 24, 2022, set out to examine. The panel brought experts from science and industry together, with distinguished researchers from the field of gendered innovations as well as founders and CEOs of Femtech companies. With over 170 registrations, the event piqued the interest of a wide audience.

Web Talk "Femtech – Empowerment through Innovation?”

Web Talk

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Not only did the panelists touch on various topics relevant to Femtech, such as female entrepreneurship, gendered innovation, and women in tech, but the debate went a step further, examining the reasons behind the lack of female representation and role models in tech. The speakers, moreover, discussed female leadership and persisting gender biases, as well as the steps needed to get women into decision-making positions to create more opportunities for future generations of women.

Femtech entrepreneurship in Germany and Japan

Femtech entrepreneurs Peggy Reichelt, CEO and Co-Founder of XbyX Women in Balance, and Dr. Amina Sugimoto, CEO and Co-Founder of fermata inc., kicked off the session by outlining what the founding processes of their companies looked like for them as female entrepreneurs in a mostly male-dominated sector.

In Japan, there is growing interest among IPO and big companies to start Femtech projects on their own or to implement Femtech services at their companies. This has pushed the government to look at the existing laws. With that said, I think there is huge potential regarding Femtech in Japan.
Dr. Amina Sugimoto (CEO & Co-Founder, fermata inc.)

 

The Japanese startup “fermata.inc” features a marketplace for Femtech products Japan and Asia while the German startup XbyX Women supports midlife women with their journey through menopause and aging healthy.

The early years of Femtech in Germany mainly focused on reproductive Femtech, as that was thought to be the biggest market. Now, underrepresented markets are on the rise and niche markets are emerging. But everything that rather concerns women in their 40s, 50s and beyond – this second half of life is still underserved.
Peggy Reichelt (CEO & Co-Founder, XbyX Women in Balance)


Female underrepresentation and data biases

Looking at gender biases in the medical field, Dr. med. Carina Vorisek, Research Fellow at the Berlin Institute of Health at Charité, explained that female viewpoints are insufficiently considered due to the low number of women in leadership and decision-making positions. Their underrepresentation extends through many areas, including clinical trials, and perpetuates the lingering data bias as well as the overall lack of diverse data pools.

A recent study looked at all COVID-19 studies registered at clinicaltrials.gov and found that only 18% of those studies considered gender differences in their analysis. This is shocking as COVID-19 is the most recent disease that has impacted the entire world’s population. So, the awareness might be growing, but we are still lacking the data.
Dr. med. Carina Vorisek (Research Fellow, Core Facility Digital Medicine and Interoperability, Berlin Institute of Health @Charité)

Asked about gender biases in innovation, Prof. Dr. Nicola Marsden from the Heilbronn University of Applied Sciences, agreed that the default within tech companies was still predominantly male and that their products consequently continued to reinforce pre-existing stereotypes.

In tech, there is an attempt to ‘fix’ the women so that they fit in. They are being told that they need to present themselves in a certain way to be successful. An important part of gendered innovations is to say: We’re not fixing the women; we’re gonna fix the numbers, the data, the knowledge, and the institutions.
Prof. Dr. Nicola Marsden (Professor, Heilbronn University of Applied Sciences / Deputy Chairwoman, Competence Center Technology-Diversity-Equal Opportunities)

Picking up on the topic of data bias, Dr. Miyoko O. Watanabe, Deputy Executive Officer at the Japan Science and Technology Agency (JST), pointed to the low number of female researchers in Japan. With a mere increase of 7% in 20 years, she suggested that more hard scientific data regarding the merit of female participation should be introduced to people in leadership positions.

The economic value of patents that were developed by mixed-gender teams is 50% higher than the value of patents developed by male-only teams. Consequently, we could increase economic value simply by taking on more female researchers, without having to increase any budgets.
Dr. Miyoko O. Watanabe (Deputy Executive Director, Japan Science and Technology Agency/JST; Director, Office for Diversity and Inclusion, JST)


Challenging the status quo and empowering a new generation

In the discussion chaired by Dr. Laura Blecken, program manager of DWIH Tokyo, the panelists further explored the question of how to nurture a new generation of confident women who own their expertise and can contribute to a more diverse workplace – not only as innovators, but also at legal or governmental levels. Getting women into decision-making positions calls for a more supportive educational environment for young girls to identify their potential and foster their strengths and talents. These structures subsequently need to be expanded into higher-level institutions and, applied successfully, could create a more diverse leadership and cultivate more innovative work environments.

Striving for true inclusivity

The end of the session reiterated that Femtech should aspire to develop products that consider the needs of people from all ages, ethnicities, socio-economic backgrounds and gender identities. Hopefully, the panelists unanimously agreed, the existence of Femtech products will eventually turn into the norm rather than the exception and there will be no more need for labeling them.

Report: Rachel Martin (Intern at DAAD / DWIH Tokyo)

Updated on: April 19, 2022