Anne Cooper, our Chair and Clinical Director, set up the Minerva leadership development programme for women working in digital health following her own experiences of working in health informatics for two decades.  

As Minerva opens for applications for its 2023 cohort, Anne reflects on the specific ways that Minerva supports women – and why that support is still needed.  


I have told this story many times now. 

The day I formally started my career in digital health, I turned up for work to find myself in a massive open plan office full of men. I was the second woman in the room; the first was the PA to the director. At first, it was a bit discombobulating. I didn’t feel like I could be my loud and curious self. The room seemed to be full of men wearing headsets plugged into their computers and not a space where I could be my best self. 

I think times have changed; it certainly feels better. But is it really? 

A study by Deloitte in 2021 pointed to the fact that, although the numbers of women in tech were edging up, there was still a long way to go and there was a possibility that progress was stalling. The pandemic seemed to have a greater impact on women, who have often ended up juggling even more from their home workstation. 

I set up Minerva in 2019 and around 40 women have now been through the leadership programme. The stories I hear from them tell me that we still have some way to go. One participant was teased by her all-male team for attending a ‘feminist’ programme. She felt the need to joke along with her colleagues until the programme showed her how power plays out in the workplace. She no longer accepts that type of ‘banter’. Others have been expected to make the coffee in meetings despite their level of seniority or sense of what is fair. Some old ways of thinking haven’t gone away and the impact on women is greater than you might imagine. 

We are not frightened to tackle some difficult issues in the Minerva programme but we are also trying to give aspirant women a ‘leg up’, which is no more than they deserve. It’s a way of discovering how to value themselves in a workplace that sometimes seems stacked against them. I also understand that not all men fare well in the working cultures that the digital space creates but the data points to women being most affected, hence my drive to do something. 

Minerva is now open for applications for our 2023 cohort. We want applications from aspirant women who work in digital health in almost any role – they could be a programmer, programme manager or project manager. It’s aimed at women in the middle layers of organisations who might be seeking the confidence to drive on and step up to do more. We hope to work with the Shuri Network again to offer some funded places to those who are also potentially disadvantaged in other ways. 

The programme is strength-based which means it looks at ways to lever the inherent strengths that people already have, to work with what they are already good at rather than fixing deficits. If people can be their best selves, they are usually effective leaders. Minerva is packed with great speakers, networking opportunities and the ability to create a space where women are likely to thrive.  

Please share widely and encourage those women that you know who might benefit to seek funding and apply. 

Find out more about the Minerva programme and application process here.