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Women Who Tech Are Dangerous: Portraits and Stories in the Age of #metoo

All portraits and interviews by John Davidson

johndavidson-photography.com

Kristen Valdes

Kristen Valdes

 
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Kristen Valdes

Job Title: Founder and CEO of b.well Connected Health

Company website: http://www.icanbwell.com

Years working in the tech industry: 22

On the b.well Connected Health mission:

Our mission is to reduce the prevalence of avoidable chronic disease and make healthcare simple, personal and affordable.

In today’s digital world consumers expect an Amazon-like experience where they have choice, transparency, convenience and a great customer experience. In healthcare, the experience for consumers is anything but.

b.well provides consumers the one thing they don’t have; a single location to manage all of their healthcare in one location, for life. B.well takes the frustration out of healthcare by collecting, aggregating, and organizing all clinical, financial, wearable, and genetic information for a consumer and their families from all stakeholders touching their health experience.

We then leverage a consumer’s own data to create a truly personalized health experience. We help families understand what options they have in healthcare and help simplify the overly complex insurance and benefits landscape so that they know what is covered, who is covered and cost options.

Consumers are overwhelmed with portals, apps, and changing benefits, b.well aims to simplify health while providing the security of having control of your own health data and who it is shared with.

Beginnings — a career in health care:

I’ve spent my entire health care career focusing on the underserved populations in our country. First fighting fraud aimed at the Medicare population and then building a health plan designed to serve seniors suffering from one or more chronic conditions. I helped build programs that made a meaningful difference in people’s lives by making quality health care more accessible and affordable and improved the health status and outcomes of the oldest, sickest members of our country. I was proud to be part of a team that made such a considerable impact. Then I experienced the health care system as a consumer and I realized quickly that I hadn’t accomplished nearly enough.

On how personal misfortune and incredible persistence led to the formation of a healthcare company:

I have three amazing children. My middle child was born with a significant auto-immune disorder. Even as a health care “expert”, it took me seven years to advocate for her to get her appropriately diagnosed. After an avoidable near-fatal incident, I was the person who found her diagnosis. By day I was a health plan executive and by night I was an excel lab plotting mom.

Throughout our seven-year journey we experienced countless miss-diagnoses, repeat invasive procedures, specialists that discounted what I was telling them and assigned a diagnosis based solely on family history. I waited months to get in to see specialist after specialist. Worse, I was made to feel like the mom who was trying to find something wrong with an otherwise perfectly healthy child. By the time the diagnosis was finally given my daughter was hospitalized with a potentially life-threatening complication from a medication contraindicated to the disease no one would formally give her. Even after this event it took over a year for a physician to confirm that the disease I had been telling them my daughter had was actually what I was fighting. I wish I could say that I was abnormal or an outlier case but I have talked to too many of you with your own healthcare stories to believe that this isn’t common.

As consumers, caregivers, and patients, we deserve the right to advocate for ourselves and our families and have access to our own health data.

On what b.well means — locally and globally:

I launched b.well as a way to help people navigate the overly complex and fragmented health care system and empower them to be able to advocate for themselves and for those whom they love. I named the company b.well after my Bailey who I have called “b” her entire life as a way to remind me daily who we are advocating for.

With b.well I have the ability to see all of Bailey’s health records in one place, I can easily price shop her drugs and schedule her appointments and I can share her data with all of her doctors and avoid painful repeat procedures and misdiagnosis. I am #EmpowerdToBWell.

At b.well we foster an open, inclusive work-culture and are working to create as diverse a team as possible. In the healthcare and technology fields this is not easily achieved as these industries have been predominantly male and seasoned executives have mostly come from similar walks of life.

In praise of others — on female mentors:

I have been fortunate to have been mentored by several very influential women in healthcare and technology including my mother, a senior executive at companies such as Thomson Reuters, Truven and IBM Watson who has twice testified before the Senate Finance Committee as an expert on Fraud, Waste and Abuse.

I was also mentored early in my career by Linda Daily who offered me the opportunity to stand up programs on Federal contracts for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid services and took the time to teach me at the most granular level about healthcare claims data and policy.

I then had the opportunity to work with Laura Ciavola, a senior executive at XLHealth (acquired by United Healthcare in 2012) who mentored me on how to scale operations and technology in a high growth stage company.

These three women provided me the knowledge and the skills to be successful in each of my roles. Most importantly, they gave me the freedom to take what they taught me and use my own creativity to build and execute programs on my own.

On skirting gender bias in career advancement:

Unlike many women in executive roles I have not been passed over for advancement in my career based on my gender. I have been fortunate to have worked for high level executive women throughout most of my career which is rare.

There are a lot of gender barriers that exist in startups, in healthcare, and in technology. The statistics on female founders in technology are staggering.

Awkward questions — on gender barriers in tech and healthcare:

There are a lot of gender barriers that exist in startups, in healthcare, and in technology. The statistics on female founders in technology are staggering. I am quite often the only female pitching to a room full of investors or am asked questions that my male counterparts would not get asked such as “what does your husband do”?

On the challenges of fundraising as a woman founder:

I have definitely come across several male VCs and angel investors that were gender biased and inappropriate. I remember one high net worth angel who asked me what my husband did for a living and when I told him that my husband, whose job is much harder than any job I could possibly hold, was a stay at home father to our three children he remarked “wow, your husband must have balls of steel. It really doesn’t bother him that you are out here starting a business?” I clearly did not take funding from this individual.

On the challenges, as a CEO, of creating an open, inclusive work culture:

At b.well we foster an open, inclusive work-culture and are working to create as diverse a team as possible. In the healthcare and technology fields this is not easily achieved as these industries have been predominantly male and seasoned executives have mostly come from similar walks of life. I see great change happening here and as a platform designed for all people we work really hard to have the voices and experiences from all over represented.

We believe it is important to live by the model we are working to empower others with. At b.well we focus on health first and remind our team to make the time for sleep, exercise, time off and regular physician visits.

On whether the work climate for women, and the opportunity for career advancement, has changed during her years in the tech industry:

I believe there is progress being made but at a much slower pace than we would like to see. My mother broke the glass ceiling when I was still a child and I remember how frequently I was told how incredible and rare she was. She has some stories to tell for sure and I am grateful that I do not have nearly as many and certainly not as significant as hers. This is generational progress. We need to speed it up to the point where we level the playing field at all levels of an organization on pay and advancement opportunities and have just as many female founded companies as male. I’d like to see us level the playing field across all demographics and not just gender!

On optimism that a moment is at hand in which significant change is taking place to change work culture and career opportunities for women:

Absolutely! The movements around MeToo and TimesUp are very strong signals that things are changing and prove there is enough momentum and social pressure to make real change for women.

On reasons why change is happening now:

The adoption of social media makes it much easier for groups to come together to support their causes and to share their stories. It is much easier to find people “like me” to relate to as more information is publicly available and shared. Creation of a movement is faster and much more powerful than it used to be.

On what women can do to contribute towards lasting change:

The simple answer is no tolerance.

 
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