It was a forthright conversation with a friend of mine, a breast cancer survivor, that first drew my attention to the pressing need for gendered innovations in healthcare. When she mentioned that breast cancer caused her great anguish, I presumed she was referring to the ordeal of fighting cancer. She was in fact addressing a larger unaddressed truth. The painful memory that triggered her emotions was the regular mammogram examination which, she confided, unsettled the dignity of her womanhood.

Her profound angst, in turn, shook the very foundation of my thought process. Ever since, I have been consumed by the essence and significance of gendered innovations which, as aptly stated by Stanford University, employs methods of sex, gender, and intersectional analysis to create new knowledge. Talking on behalf of my fraternity, I feel this new knowledge should be a global priority if we want to make healthcare products and services, particularly medical devices and services, more purposeful, equitable, and gender-balanced.

I recall a very interesting case of a seven-year-old girl who raised pertinent questions before the makers of an immensely popular video game: “Why do I need to pose as a man to play this game?” In almost every industry, whether textiles, cosmetics, or even automobiles, the brains at work are mostly men. Product design can remain fixated on a man’s comfort, be it the seatbelt of a car, personal protective gear, or temperature control systems, owing to gendered design thinking. Consequently, little thought is spared for accommodating a woman’s needs and preferences. It is high time a woman’s perspective is made integral to creation and innovation, rather than having a man think on her behalf. We must institutionalise the concept of empathy design which considers the end-user’s physical, aspirational, and emotional needs, not ghastly assumptions of what works and what does not. When you make empathy design and gender-balanced crosstalk integral to product design, manufacture, and service ideologies and methodologies, you create enduring value beyond monetary rewards.

As the decision-maker for designing and delivering fellowship programs in my organisation, I was initially puzzled to find a few married women recruits profusely thanking me for the opportunity. While I saw no room for gratitude in these merit-based recruitments, I could sense a larger truth at play: the blatant assumption that married women with or without kids fail to do justice to their stated roles.

Performance is not a gender issue; it is a competence issue that can be found lacking across both genders when they lack commitment or conviction. Gender inclusivity and women empowerment are integral to health, not just in device design but across clinical, research, or administrative spheres. Talking of my domain, I have found the perspectives of women surgeons to be a fine blend of art and science. They bring a new dimension to cure and care that many of their male counterparts tend to overlook, knowingly or unknowingly. I call it surgical intuition beyond the surgical incision.

Gender equilibrium – whether in academia, industry, business, or markets – can only happen in the realm of conscious capitalism which alone can facilitate the much-needed fusion of ‘service’ and ‘services’. The divide between these diametrically opposite philosophical approaches is more profound than what the difference in singularity and plurality implies. While ‘service’ implies seva, ‘services’ could be fixated solely on the billing counter. They will fuse best, if and only if grassroot education explodes the misconceptions centred around gender and help fix the prejudices that often mar the sanctity of creativity and innovation. This fundamental pedagogy will help make the design more holistic and inclusive. Gendered innovation does not imply creating only-men and only-woman teams, it is about institutionalising a balanced empathy design that respects the yin and yang elements.

The writer is Regional Director – Head & Neck Surgical Oncology and Robotic Surgery, Associate Dean – Academics, HCG Cancer

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