Lessons From Leaders: Highlights of Women Leading Industry
March is Women’s History month, a month dedicated to reflect on and celebrate the often-overlooked contributions of women to history, culture and society. The month-long celebration grew out of a weeklong celebration organized by a California school district in 1978 and soon began to spread to other communities and organizations across the country.
In 1980, President Jimmy Carter issued the first presidential proclamation declaring the week of March 8 as National Women’s History Week. The U.S. Congress followed suit the next year, passing a resolution establishing a national celebration. Six years later, in 1987 the National Women’s History Project successfully petitioned Congress to expand the event to the entire month of March.
The accomplishments of women leaders throughout Greater Baltimore are too many to begin to list and acknowledge in this newsletter. Instead, EAGB highlights three very amazing women who have carved out successful career pathways in industries often viewed as male-dominated, industries that have benefitted immensely from the skills and attributes of women leaders over the years.
Dr. Linda Singh has excelled in senior leadership positions for over thirty years of public and private sector experience ranging from public health to defense to state government. As the founder and CEO of Kaleidoscope Affect, Dr. Singh’s applies the skills and attributes that have been the foundation of her success to providing leadership and strategic advisory services to a variety of clients.
Her career path has required her to manage multiple responsibilities in male-dominated work environments, such as her position as Major General in the Maryland National Guard. As an Adjutant General and a Cabinet Secretary she was responsible for the Maryland Military Department, working with senior level officials at ministerial and ambassador levels in Estonia and Bosnia and developing country strategies under the Department of Defense State Partnership Program. Dr. Singh juggled her responsibilities in the National Guard with her position as a Managing Director in the Health and Public Service North America Operating Unit of Accenture where she served for 21 years.
Dr. Singh has managed multiple demanding professions alongside her private life as a wife and mother. As a woman advancing in multiple overlapping careers, Dr. Singh observed that she had to work harder and do more so that she would not be viewed by her male colleagues as having any shortcomings.
“I felt that I always had to be at the very top of my game all of the time, but also as a woman I feel I had a better understanding of the importance of the interactions and cross-pollination that comes from working within a team framework,” said Dr. Singh. “I also believe that women executives are often more open to ways to support talent development and employment growth, two areas that have been prevalent with many of my consulting clients at Kaleidoscope and my previous stint as Interim Director of TEDCO.”
Dr. Singh continues to consult with TEDCO and is working with the organization to launch a women entrepreneurship leadership program.
Karyn Schell became President of DP Solutions in 2018, having joined the company in 2007 after leaving a career in manufacturing. The company was founded fifty years ago as an IT company providing corporations with technology solutions to improve business operations. As technology continued to evolve and expand with advances in hardware and software, DP solutions also evolved and expanded the services it could provide its clientele.
Ms. Schell, as President, must ensure that the company’s seventy employees maintain a corporate culture of personal and customized service to their clients while overseeing the constant need to keep abreast of new developments in technology, shifting markets and opportunities for expansion.
Schell started her career in the technology industry right out of college. She attributes her early success in the traditionally male-dominated field to developing a confidence to succeed despite being amongst the female minority. Schell’s manager at the time was a strong mentor who valued her skills and desire to grow those skills within the company. “He ignored gender as a qualifier in assessing his employees and understood that choosing ‘the best person for the job’ was paramount,” said Ms. Schell.
This basic tenet is one that has carried over to Ms. Schell’s transition into the IT industry, first as a project manager and distributions applications specialist responsible for selling and implementing IBM-hardware based distribution centers, then as the company’s operations manager, a position that included understanding the importance of the customer experience. While the IT industry has also historically been a male dominated arena, Ms. Schell believes that this is changing as more and more females are being encouraged to enter STEM careers from a young age.
“I think that women seeing other women taking on successful roles in technology and in leadership will help them realize that there is a place for them in this industry,” Ms. Schell continued. “By having more females in technology, we will also start to normalize and remove any stigma about women in tech careers.”
Her advice to women in the workplace is to be self-confident and self-aware, to understand your strengths and your aspirations, to constantly challenge yourself and not be afraid to ask questions and to seek out mentors, male and female, who can support you through your journey.
Sonavi Labs recently took home first prize at the 14th annual SXSW Pitch in the “Health, Wearables & Wellbeing” category, a marquee event at the SXSW Conference (learn more: https://sonavilabs.com/news_events/sonavi-labs-honored-at-14th-annual-sxsw-pitch/). Sonavi, and Feelix, the world’s smartest stethoscope, are the brainchild of CEO Ellington West who co-founded the company with Ian McLane.
Sonavi, established in 2017 to commercialize technology developed at Johns Hopkins University, is a global telehealth company focused on decreasing morbidity and mortality from respiratory diseases by harnessing advanced, proprietary acoustic technology coupled with artificial intelligence software. With five patents and VC funding, Sonavi Lab’s FDA-approved, inaugural product line, Feelix, is the first digital stethoscope that uses real-time data to detect and grade the severity of abnormalities in lung and body sounds.
As a Black woman entrepreneur in the med-tech space, Ms. West has raised more than $6.5M for Sonavi, an accomplishment that few Black women have come close to achieving. “A 2020 study found that only 93 Black women raised more than $1M in venture capital,” said Ms. West, “a number that was triple the number in 2018.” (Refer to this Fortune.com article for more information: https://fortune.com/2020/12/02/black-women-female-founders-venture-capital-funding-vc-2020-project-diane/).
In her role as a female, Black CEO of a startup med-tech company that must continue to raise capital in order to advance its research and move products to market, Ms. West commented that she and her team must over-prepare for every meeting and every pitch. This is of particular importance to Sonavi in order to build support from researchers, medical professionals and other caregivers and the consumer/patient themselves.
“Sonavi’s goal with Feelix is to apply the technology to delivering real-time immediate healthcare to all populations with chronic respiratory diseases, including marginalized communities with limited access to on-site health care facilities, stated Ms. West. “Women as nurturers and caregivers bring a particular awareness of the uniqueness of every patient’s needs as well as their situational challenges,” she continued. “Feelix and med-tech in general can bridge the divide between the technology, the medical system and the infrastructure necessary to provide the access required to improve health outcomes for everyone regardless of their socioeconomic status.”
Her advice to women, particularly Black and Latinx entrepreneurs, is to surround themselves with successful women mentors who will not permit any excuses and provide the support needed particularly early in their career to avoid what Ms. West described as, “the imposter syndrome, the belief that you don’t belong in this space, that you have not earned the right to be in this space.” She concludes that understanding your strengths, identifying your goals and having the confidence to push forward no matter the challenges are key to constantly reach and exceed your goals.