Rajal Patni is Co-founder and CFO of DigitalHealth.London Accelerator alumnus Lavanya Plus. Rajal, alongside Chairman Rohit Patni and CEO Vivek Patni founded Lavanya three years ago with the aim of improving social care outcomes using digital technology. In this blog, Rajal shares her experiences of being a BAME woman in the health tech sector…

Last month was a stark reminder of the deep inequalities and bias that exist across our society. The shocking events have shone a light on the need for cultural change and to address discrimination and injustice. Every business sector has to look inwards and self-critic, including health and social care where we know that BAME staff communities consistently report worse experiences and are greatly under-represented in senior positions (Kingsfund.press). Here are some background statistics:

As of March 2019, over 1.2 million people were employed by the NHS of which 4 out of 5 (79.2%) were White (including White ethnic minorities), and 1 in 5 (20.7%) were from all other ethnic groups. The statistics showed that 9 out of 10 people employed by the NHS were working in non-medical roles, and that 18.4% of those in non-medial roles were from BAME groups. Additionally, only 7% of those in a “very” senior role were from BAME backgrounds (ethnicity-facts-figures.service.gov.uk).

This starkly highlights the need to place this topic at the forefront of review and change discussions, the need to improve the inclusion and diversity mix and the need to improve the under-representation of the BAME community within the health sector.

My personal challenges

Through my career I have always worked in a male dominated environment; been the lone women ranger and have often been made to feel that my opinions/recommendations have not been worthy of attention. At board level I have, as I know many others have, been left intimidated by entering into a “boys club” environment, whilst also experiencing discrimination and assumption that, as an Indian women in this sector, I am not the owner and decision maker of my own business.

My strength has been in putting this assumption right as soon as I encounter it, not letting any form of discrimination affect me and instead speaking up and making myself visible with a clear, determined confidence. The lack of support mechanisms for BAME working females and role models plays a key part in the challenges faced in todays’ society.

But the health and social care landscape is changing – diversity and inclusion is emerging!

Positively, despite facing these challenges, I decided four years ago to take the big step from working in a corporate company to becoming a business owner and entrepreneur in the health and care sector, where I can make more of an impact on so many lives. One of the proudest decisions of my life!

The power of BAME women in the sector continues to grow with the help of great networks such as STEMettes, a social enterprise to inspire and support young women into STEM;  Mosaic Network – Princes Trust who inspire young people from deprived communities to realise their potential through the power of positive, relatable role models; and Shuri Network the first NHS and Care network supporting BAME women in digital health. In addition, programmes such as the DigitalHealth.London Accelerator continue to invest in promoting the awareness of challenges faced within the BAME communities in the sector, and have been hugely supportive in nurturing my own business ideas.

From the perspective of a BAME entrepreneur, diversity change has been slow but is happening. We need to accelerate participation and support leaders in this space to make improvements at each point of their journey. Lack of diversity in the sector should never discourage but instead encourage BAME, female founders to enter the system to realise this change. We must continue to inspire confidence, nurture strength and work with supportive networks that promote young, diverse entrepreneurs. So be encouraged to join the sector and be a part of the change!