When Martha Shadan joined Rotation Medical in 2013 as president & CEO, she already had more than 30 years of experience as a business leader in a variety of organizations. Prior to joining Rotation Medical, which was acquired by Smith & Nephew in December 2017, Shadan was president of the trauma division at Zimmer and VP/general manager of vascular therapies and VP/general manager of biosurgery and sports surgery at Covidien.
MDO: What first drew you to medtech? When did you first know you wanted to be in the industry?
Shadan: My undergraduate and master’s education was in biology and I wanted to be able to use that education in my career. I started in the life sciences in lab diagnostics and tools. The transition from lab tools to medical devices was not planned, but resulted from being in the right place at the right time. I was offered a position at Covidien which launched me into the medical device industry. I discovered a strong affinity for medical devices and can’t see myself working in any other industry.
MDO: What are some of the barriers women face in today’s medtech world, if any?
Shadan: The Wall Street Journal published an article that cited a landmark study of 118 companies and nearly 30,000 employees about what is holding women back. They reported that some of the reasons holding women back include:
- They don’t see resources being put in place
- Hesitate to seek high level positions due to lack of P&L experience
- Don’t believe they would have senior staff to advocate for them
I think we have some of the same challenges that women face in other historically male-dominated industries such as high tech. There tend to be few women who hold senior roles in the companies where I have worked and even fewer women in senior operating roles.
As an industry we need to create opportunities for women in roles that matter to the company’s bottom line.
Women may have less access to the network that fosters senior roles. In my experience, men tend to sponsor other men for senior roles and will champion their career advancement. There are always exceptions to this, of course.
In my experience, women tend to be more hesitant applying for positions unless they feel they have 100% of the requirements. Men, on the other hand, tend to apply for the same job with only 70% of the requirements.
Women need to advocate more strongly for themselves, routinely network, seek out those that can sponsor and mentor them and actively drive their own careers. I believe that if we do these things, the barriers will not seem as insurmountable.
MDO: Describe your biggest leadership challenge. How did you conquer it or resolve it, or what was the outcome?
Shadan: There have been two situations in my career where the organizational dynamics were similar. Both organizations had a disproportionate number of its employees with 10-years-plus tenure and there were few women in any director role or above and no women in operating roles. In both cases, my mandate was to take a slow- to moderate-growth business and find a way to accelerate growth. Neither organization was considered to be innovative, most new products were more iterative than truly differentiated.
To create the organizational and cultural changes I felt were required, I first needed to establish trust between myself and management. I held frequent meetings where I actively sought management’s opinion, met one-on-one with each department leader on a weekly basis and followed up with frequent emails on progress. This was challenging for me because I like to move fast, but in these organizations, I knew that change was not readily embraced and I needed to bring the organization along.
We also created brainstorming opportunities to help encourage different thinking and empower management to explore solutions that otherwise they may not have pursued. It was critical to ensure I was inclusive in decision-making and give management a platform to voice their reservations and ideas. Ultimately, when we made organizational changes, many of the managers supported the new direction. In the cases where there were managers who were not on board, I needed to make some tough decisions. The important thing was to make these decisions in a timely way. Creating a culture that embraces change and fosters innovative thinking takes time. In both organizations, we needed to start saying ‘no’ to some things to provide focus on the things that mattered.
Building trust, including management and others in decision making and fostering a culture where it was expected and encouraged to think differently resulted in our ability to execute on key initiatives with improved time lines.
MDO: Talk about your leadership skills. What is the most important lesson have you learned that has guided you in your career?
Shadan: I learned early in my career that being a good leader does not mean that I need to have all the answers, but I do need to be able to ask the right questions and have the ability to listen very carefully. More often than not, the answers reside within the organization. Sometimes it just takes asking that pointed question to crystalize the real issues. Early in my career, I felt enormous, self-imposed pressure to be the one with the answers. If you want your team to embrace the plan, whatever it may be, and be accountable, they need to feel ownership for the ideas/solutions.
I also believe that engaging employees at every level is critical to creating an open and engaged culture. When I worked in very large organizations, I regularly held skip level lunch meetings with all levels of employees to get their input and perspectives on a variety of topics.
MDO: In your opinion, what more can be done to promote greater participation of young women in the medtech industry today?
Shadan: There are a number of things that we can do to promote greater participation of young women in the medtech industry. We can create on-campus forums for college students to help educate them on the benefits of working in the industry. We can use social media to create awareness and interest in the industry. We need to reach them where they are likely to get their information. So, Twitter, Facebook and other platforms could be effective. We could create “industry days” and invite college students and others to local businesses to hear from these organizations on the benefits of working at these businesses. These are just a few ideas, but there are certainly many others.
MDO: What career advice would you give to your younger self?
Shadan: Don’t take yourself so seriously. Embrace your mistakes for what they are and don’t exaggerate their importance in the scheme of things. Laugh at yourself more often. It is okay. And most importantly, be genuine and don’t try to act like a man. Embrace our gender differences and celebrate them rather than try to subjugate them.
MDO: Why is it important for companies to be more inclusive and have more women in charge?
Shadan: There is a strong business case and improved organizational engagement that support the reasons why a more inclusive organization is better. In a recent study, Catalyst found significantly higher returns in Fortune 500 companies with more women at the top and on their boards of directors. Other published reports and research have shown that in a group of publicly traded companies, those with gender diversity in leadership experienced higher return on equity, operating profit and stock price. Why is this? Why does a company’s bottom line improve when there are more women in leadership positions? I believe it is not about which gender can lead better, it is really a diversity issue. I believe that organizations make better decisions, they have greater innovation and creativity and higher employee engagement when there is gender diversity in leadership.