Minerva is a leadership development programme for women in digital healthcare.  

It is specifically designed to tackle the inequalities and challenges faced by women in tech – and to harness the unique strengths of female leaders.  

For International Women’s Day 2024, we spoke to Minerva founder, Anne Cooper, and three Minerva students to see why the programme is needed and how it is supporting future women leaders in digital healthcare.  


 Representing women in digital healthcare 

Anne Cooper created Minerva to tackle the equalities she saw women face in her two decades of working in health informatics.  

Unfortunately, despite many advances in recent years, women still have fewer roles and poorer representation in the tech sector than their male colleagues.  

Women make up less than a third of the world’s workforce in technology-related fields, according to The World Bank, and hold just 5% of leadership roles. They are also more vulnerable to workforce reductions, with research by the WomenTech Network showing that 69.2% of tech job losses in 2022 were born by female employees.  

Women in tech experience the industry differently to men. A WomenTech Network survey found that women are subject to regular microaggressions at work, including being spoken over at meetings, being asked to supply the food, and being pigeonholed by cliche. The LinkedIn comments on the survey are pretty bleak 

But we are making some progress.  

The NHS has a growing cohort of women leaders who are pushing the boundaries of female representation as well as driving forward digital healthcare innovations. Check out our interviews with Claire Buchner and Leanne Ashmead, plus Laura Rooney from Health Innovation Manchester, for inspiring stories of women leading their fields.  


Developing the strengths of women leaders 

Minerva is a strengths-based programme that helps women to identify their own abilities and build confidence is shaping their unique leadership style.   

Anne Cooper founded Minerva in 2019 to tackle the challenges she saw women in healthcare facing every day – challenges that are still very prevalent in our industry.  

“The stories I hear from the women who participate in Minerva tell me that we still have some way to go to achieve gender parity in digital healthcare.  

“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.” 


Building confidence and self-awareness 

Minerva helps women to identify and recognise the obstacles they face in the workplace and supports them to develop the confidence to overcome them.  

For International Women’s Day 2024, we caught up with three Minerva students to find out how Minerva helped them to understand the challenges they face and develop digital healthcare leadership skills.  


Heather Pollard, Advanced IT Systems Developer, My Medical Record, University Hospital Southampton NHS Foundation Trust 

“I wanted to be involved in the Minerva programme to build a network with others working in digital healthcare. I was keen to hear about how others have navigated their careers and the different routes that have led others to where they are today. 

“It was great to meet such a diverse group of women working across a variety of companies and disciplines. It’s been really inspiring to hear so many stories of bravery and resilience, from both the coaches and the other attendees. The course covers a breadth of different topics surrounding leadership and the coaches have been flexible with allowing us space to explore issues as they’ve come up on the day. I’m also really grateful to have the opportunity to access a career coach, which has been helpful in talking things through and pushing me to look at the big picture. 

“Above all else, I really benefitted from having regular dedicated time outside of the day-to-day to focus on my career. The Minerva coaches reiterate the importance of self-reflection and having at least a day a month dedicated to reflecting on anything, from how to build resilience to building presence, is invaluable. I have no doubt these practises will serve me well going forward, and I’m putting together a set of activities that I can use to build on self-reflection in the future.  

“I hope that we as a group can maintain and grow the network we’re building, so we can continue to support each other throughout our careers.” 


Shamsiya Puthanamukkath, Digital Nurse Practitioner, North West London Virtual Hospital  

“Meeting Anne Cooper and participating in the Minerva programme was an important turning point in my life.  

“This programme enabled me to discover inherent skills and helped me to utilise them not only for professional development but for personal growth. Minerva puts an emphasis on women’s empowerment, and it created an opportunity for valuable networking with influential women.” 


Nicola Lowe, Delivery Manager, Ethical Healthcare Consulting 

“Spending most of my career in the NHS meant I was predominantly in a workspace where women outnumbered men. This was until I moved into the IT department, where I swiftly found myself to be the only woman in most meetings. Then as my career progressed, I saw that almost all senior leadership team roles were filled by men. 

“Women, and for me, particularly women in tech, have so much to offer. I’d love to see a more equal split, and for women to have the confidence to aim for a senior role, or to lead an all-male team. 

“What drives this passion ever more is the fact I have three daughters, and I want them to feel free to pursue any career they wish, without worry of being ‘the only woman in the meeting’. 

“Minerva has been absolutely enlightening. I’ve learned so much about the way I work, the environment I need to not only succeed, but to thrive. The sessions gave me a greater understanding of people I encounter in my day-to-day work, why they behave the way they do, and how different workstyles can complement each other, rather than clash. It’s amazing how short periods of self-reflection can absolutely change your mindset, and I’m enjoying taking those bits of time to focus on myself, my work, and my future. 

“I can already feel how my self-assuredness has blossomed, and I look forward to building on this as Minerva continues to empower me with the skills and knowledge of its coaches and speakers. 

 “On top of all this, I’m part of a cohort of wonderful women. We’re all completely different, but I so look forward to coming together for the sessions and chatting in between. I hope we’ll all stay in touch once we are ‘Minerva Graduates’.” 


Find out more about the Minerva programme here.