Creating a More Inclusive Hackathon Experience: Why #WomeninHealthIT Should Join

There is no question -- breaking into the tech field is still difficult for women and people of color. These are among the least-hired groups at top tech companies, in part because there are so few in the industry.

But it’s a trend worth changing. Research shows that companies with diverse teams that are led inclusively perform better than those with more homogenous teams. Diverse teams are more likely to improve market share and have success in new markets; they demonstrate stronger collaboration and better retention

Diversity drives the innovation that’s so crucial to keeping up in today’s constantly changing digital world.

In our mission to improve health through the best use of information and technology, HIMSS is committed to engaging and empowering women and others underrepresented in our industryHIMSS Women in Health IT Roundtable hosts monthly webinars, has an eNews, and microsite featuring female leaders from across the industry who share their expertise and insights to equip and empower other women.  HIMSS WHIT Roundtable, receptions and mentorship luncheons are an in-demand offering at HIMSS Global Conference.  We’ve taken a leadership role in the Women in Health Tech panel at the Cleveland Clinic Medical Innovation Summit. The session is part of the summit’s “Brass Tracks” series on Best Practices for Advancing Medical Innovation.

The Cleveland Clinic summit attracts women leaders from across the industry, inspires them with a vision of leadership, and provides them with professional development skills to help them lead from within their current role. We’re pleased to be invited to the table to support the amplification of women’s voices in healthcare information and technology.

Women as decision-makers in healthcare  

Strong organizations reflect their constituents, whether it’s a hospital system or physician practice. And in healthcare, women are key constituents.

  • Women make 80% of healthcare purchasing decisions, acting as a family’s “Chief Medical Officer”
  • Women are higher utilizers of healthcare than men
  • Women encourage children, husbands, and parents to seek healthcare and focus on wellness
  • When family members get sick, the first person they talk to is often “doctor mom”


Women clearly play a critical role in healthcare, but their influence can be impeded unless they’re in leadership roles. When they’re represented in the boardroom or C-suite, it adds valuable insights to key issues like patient engagement and tech innovation.

To ensure our initiatives are inclusive and diverse, we’re calling on women to join in on events like hackathons to ensure their valuable perspectives and contributions are incorporated as well.

How HIMSS Supports Innovation Through Hackathons

One of the most rewarding parts of my role at HIMSS is promoting and supporting initiatives around inclusion in tech, STEM and workforce development.

Before joining HIMSS, I was actively working to engage more women and other underrepresented people in tech and working with employers to fill their tech talent pipeline.  I understand that healthcare is the most in-demand job in the US and that software developers are the second-most in demand, but I was still surprised to learn of HIMSS’s shared vision.

Hackathons are a recurring theme in my work as director at HIMSS Innovation & Conference Center. We host or promote numerous hackathons, including the upcoming Cleveland Medical Hackathon on October 20-21 this year.

Strategically scheduled right before the Cleveland Clinic Medical Innovation Summit, this hackathon is a two-day marathon of caffeine, cookies, camaraderie – all premised on a commitment to improving the healthcare experience. It’s an all-night problem-solving session where students and working professionals immerse themselves in a specific healthcare challenge – from infant mortality rates to end-of-life issues, the opioid crisis, the silver tsunami, or other pressing issues in our world.

Why do professionals in IT, healthcare, patient advocacy, startups, and government make time for hackathons? It’s for more than the perks of fun industry networking events.

Hackathons give organizations a way to try out new concepts outside of established business processes and to expose industry challenges to new audiences.

Innovation is unleashed when external developers come to the hackathon table with fresh ideas. Organizations that can too easily fall into the “just the way we do things around here” mentality. Hackathon events can drive change by giving employees permission to break established conventions and experiment with approaches that may not yet have broad buy-in.

What makes a great hackathon?

The best hackathons inspire and engage developers – some of the most valuable players in any organization.  They create a sense of community that goes beyond a particular issue or event. That sense of community delivers big rewards. And of course, having a diverse team of individuals helps ensures a more inclusive strategy.

Hackathons build group cohesion and trust, opening doors to new ways of thinking and a shared sense of purpose. When you build a cadre of believers who care about a company's technology, they are driven to improve and expand on existing technology. They’re the people who find and fix bugs or build software that bridges third-party products to your own applications.

Sponsoring a hackathon brings value to any organization – especially when it creates a positive association with meaningful causes, whether it’s advancing the inclusion of women and people of color in the tech industry, or battling the digital divide in low-income, urban neighborhoods.   

A hackathon is a party with a purpose. It's a celebration of innovation, teamwork, competition and creativity – and of course, cookies and other treats to keep your brain fueled!

However, if  a hackathon isn’t diverse -- how can we ensure our perspective is truly inclusive?

Hackathons and inclusion in tech are avenues that HIMSS continues to promote and support – because they lead to positive change and innovation in the digital health.  That’s why we’re encouraging more women to join us this year at the Cleveland Medical Hackathon on October 20-21.