For the second year in a row, Erin Karam, Prepared Health’s chief technology officer, has been named one of Becker’s Hospital Review’s top Female Health IT Leaders. Karam heads the strategic and technical direction for the company’s Dina network, leading a product team of nine, including engineering and data science. She talks about the importance of recognizing and mentoring women, and how her earlier career at IBM helped shape how she leads.
Are lists like the Becker’s Female Health IT Leaders meaningful?
Yes. I think lists like these are valuable in two ways. First, they are a great way to recognize, promote and connect outstanding women. Secondly, they show women coming up in the field examples of different career paths available. When you look through the list, you see the diversity of experiences each of us bring to the industry.
You began your career in 2001 as a consultant for IBM, building enterprise software for Fortune 500 companies. Did you work with a lot of women?
In almost a decade with IBM, I came across few women engineers and even fewer women in leadership roles to look up to. I navigated my way on a difficult path in a male-dominated field. In the end, I made big leaps in advancing my career with the key mentorship of a partner and project manager. These two women helped shape my career and taught me an incredible amount. Both were women I looked up to, but it took many years to build the credibility and relationships that allowed me to get there.
Why is mentorship still so important?
At the start of their careers, women don’t always see or know the path up for them, so it’s important to illuminate potential pathways for advancement. It’s critical to keep women in the field and keep them engaged. That means providing a supportive workplace, an environment where they have flexibility, and where they can find their voice in a room full of men. There are key transition moments in a career, when you’re ready for the next big, important jump. Unfortunately for women, that often coincides with a personal time of transition–you may be getting married or starting a family–and those two things historically have been at odds. A supportive work environment, and a network of peers and mentors, are critical during this time. The great thing is that today, more than ever, with the right support, we’re able to carve our own unique paths.
You joined Prepared Health as CTO in 2015. How do you lead?
My perspective used to be one of pure merit – where great work should speak for itself. However, as I have grown, I realize the promotion, support and recognition of women in technology is critical to keep them in the field. Women think and operate differently than men. Often women aren’t self-promoters, and they might negotiate differently than men. Culturally educating our team of these differences is critical to cultivating the personal and professional growth from our young women in the field.
At Prepared Health we value diversity – of all kinds. It is my vision to produce a supportive environment where all are comfortable bringing their best selves to work… and are able to have a little fun along the way.