Welcome to Coulter Partners Global (English)

08 March 2024

D, E & I: VIEWS FROM LEADERSHIP SERIES - Yael Gruenbaum-Cohen, Partner at aMoon and Founder of WE@HealthTech

In the latest installment of our Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Leadership series, we spoke to Dr. Yael Gruenbaum-Cohen, Partner at aMoon, a global Health Tech and Life Sciences investment fund and Founder of WE@HealthTech, a programme for female leadership talent in Health Tech.

…Optimism is the faith that leads to achievement…
Dr. Yael Gruenbaum-Cohen
Partner at aMoon and Founder of WE@HealthTech

Coulter Partners: The relationship between diversity (in all its forms) and positive company performance is clear. Over the course of your career, founding and working alongside multiple medtech, health tech and biotech companies, where have you seen this played out with success?

Dr. Yael Gruenbaum-Cohen: My own experiences and a world of research consistently show that diverse and inclusive workplaces contribute in a positive manner to company performance. In my experience within biotech, health tech and medtech, we are seeing that diverse teams are more creative together, contributing different perspectives. They work differently in the world of innovation, where we see different opinions and different problem solving methods come together.

If we specifically look at female leaders, we see that the world of empathetic female leadership is very strong, particularly when it comes to talent retention and talented attraction.

Nowadays we're seeing that corporate reputation is also being driven by diversity and inclusion, and companies are very proud to share how diverse they are, showcasing their ‘first and best place for females to work in’ type of accolades.

And we're also seeing CEOs like Yvonne Greenstreet from Alnylam and Reshma Kewalramani at Vertex, pave the way, showing professional excellence by a female leader.

CP: It's a very interesting point, but sometimes I feel why are we still shouting from the rooftops about female leaders. It should be a norm and yet we have a separate stage designated to celebrating women in leadership. I guess that the acknowledgement is a positive step but shouldn’t this be a given in current times?

Yael: We should celebrate every great leader, male or female, and really be careful about this topic. At aMoon I have male partners that push equality and are more feministic than I am. The reason we celebrate women is because the numbers are simply different. For many years the percentage of female leaders remained in the single digits.[1] There was a further drop during Covid and now the numbers are starting to come back up a bit, but being a female leader remains complicated in many ways.

There is a saying in Hebrew that a person is close to themselves. So if you are a woman you may bring in someone like you but if the majority are men, they will most likely bring in someone like them. Not because they're bad or wrong, but because that is the way people choose.

Women are also thought to be more risk averse, and that's one of the problems that we see in the leadership.

Finally, we celebrate because navigating your house, your home and work is difficult whether you're a male or a female, but when you're a mother, there is a different set of instincts at play and you pay a price for choosing to pursue a very senior role.

CP: You mentioned that you've noticed that female leaders bring an element of empathy. Have you seen that play out positively at the Board or C-Suite level?

Yael: I think it's crucial to avoid generalizations about any gender. There is evidence though, which suggests that empathy tends to be a strength commonly associated with female leaders. It’s our ability to connect to others, to build relationships, to look at different types of work networks and understand them differently, to understand root causes of conflicts and to promote employee wellbeing. In my opinion this all comes more naturally to women.

CP: Please share your motivations for founding WE@HealthTech. Why, in your opinion, does the HealthTech industry in the Middle East region face such an inherent gender diversity problem?

Yael: The US and Europe are not hugely successful in implementing female leadership into top positions, but in Israel and the broader Middle East, the numbers are even lower. We have brilliant potential for female leaders and I think from what I'm seeing around me, there is a lot of openness to bringing them forward.

To become a leader, I think you need someone to truly and honestly believe in you, and the most important person that needs to believe in you is yourself. And sometimes the issue is how you perceive yourself: even when everyone tells you that you're wonderful, you don’t believe it, and you develop “imposter syndrome”.

If everyone told you today you could lead the world you might think they are exaggerating. “I’m good at what I do but …” But most of the strong women around me can lead the world, we just need to believe in ourselves. So that was my first motivation for starting WE@HealthTech ... belief.

The second reason relates to what someone once told me: that you are the average of the five people who surround you.

So when you have people around you who are like-minded and all talented in phenomenal ways, and when you get accepted to an elite programme that sets a very high bar for acceptance, then you look left and right, and understand that these are your equivalents. You find yourself around powerful women and you begin to perceive yourself as powerful. You become at least the average if not more, and also start pulling others up along the way.

The third part of my motivation for founding WE@HealthTech was that I was very fortunate throughout my career in a very gender-biased investor world. Although the environment was predominantly male, I was lucky to have excellent managerial guidance from all genders, and I wanted to give back.

Maybe one of the best things I did was joining the 8400 Health Network[2], a biotech leadership network in Israel. When I was talking about how I see the gender problem in Israel the idea was flagged and echoed by three amazing colleagues of mine: Dr. Irit Yaniv, co-founder of Almeda Ventures, a real star and a stellar investor; Ms. Dorit Sokolov, Managing Partner at Heala Ventures, and Ms. Ronit Harpaz, who is a serial entrepreneur who is now leading her second company, Endoron Medical, into clinical trials. Coming together with the three of them was one of the luckiest moments in my life. I met friends for life and women who were willing to step out of their comfort zone to build a programme together – a programme that takes mid-managerial women and pushes them up together. We built an annual programme that ends with these women joining a community. We have just finished the fourth cohort with over 100 phenomenal female managers and will soon be recruiting for the fifth.

Based on a lot of prior reading and research, we believed women could be promoted faster and become stronger executives by being surrounded by other strong women. It was almost like a social experiment.

We are astonished by the outcome: we’ve seen that 34% of the women in the programme were promoted within two years. Twenty percent are moving to more business roles, which usually is the way up the ladder to the C-suite level. We are also seeing that they are pulling each other into different roles. They're bringing each other to sit with them around the table. They're going to each other for advice. Those that are working in funds are bringing in others from the community, sometimes as CEO of the companies they're building. And when someone is wondering if she can or cannot be something, she receives encouragement and support from the group. I think sometimes when you see that so many people believe that you can, then you do.

CP: Is this a formal mentorship programme of sorts?

Yael: It’s not a mentorship program, which usually works one on one with someone very senior that mentors you. I was mentored a few times and what I felt throughout was that “I will never become him/ her”. The idea of WE@HealthTech is to teach you the basis of progressing from good to great and how you become your best. We challenge our members on what makes the mindset of a C-level leader; where do you draw the line between thinking about yourself and your life, and then thinking about the success of the company. We teach financial skills, negotiation, how to be good peers to each other and everything that we think a C-level executive needs to know. And I think that's the basis of it. Most of us don't need all the skills at once, but we need to be reminded that we don't always have those skills and that we need to develop them.

CP: Building diverse leadership teams and creating supportive workplace cultures can often be viewed as a lower priority for younger companies who may face a breadth of commercial hurdles, funding challenges, investor challenges, possibly trying to scale the company from a two-person founder team; why is it so important in your view, to “get this right early on”? How does aMoon ensure that its portfolio companies address sound D, E & I practices, including during times of economic or geo-political uncertainty?

Yael: So first, we truly believe in the economic value of diversity. Diversity in Israel and the Middle East isn't just diversity in male or female. It's making sure that Arab founders, especially Arab female founders, have all the tools they need to be set up for success and as part of WE@HealthTech, we do help them be a part of this potential future leadership.

We have been lucky to have wonderful female founders in our portfolio, and when a female founder approaches and pitches to me, I don’t consider who she is now, but who I believe she can be in a few years.

I think we are very fortunate, in these sad times that the Middle East is going through, to be in a world of impact, in a world where innovation, creativity, talent attraction and risk are inherent. We are building a better future through life science and at aMoon everything is about that – accelerating the cure and bringing the right people to the table. But it's not easy when the numbers are lower. When you look for an experienced CEO in Israel, there are less experienced women than men. Fact.

CP: I know a significant proportion of your portfolio is in the US. Do you find that perspectives differ in the way company founders or the senior leadership team of your US investments respond to prioritizing D, E & I ?

Yael: I think in the US it’s still more natural, but Israel is quickly catching up and when I look at our recent portfolio placements I'm really proud – brilliant women, more diversity, interesting new opinions around the table, all being added to companies as drivers of success. These wonderful people, who want to join the great tech enabled science are helping driving our portfolio companies.

[1] https://www.pewresearch.org/social-trends/fact-sheet/the-data-on-women-leaders/


[2] 8400 Health Network: https://www.8400thn.org/

Dr. Yael Gruenbaum-Cohen
With 15 years of experience in the Healthcare space, Yaels' professional journey as a HealthTech investor is underlined by a patient-centric drive for success. Committed to advancing Israel’s HealthTech growth engine, she believes that through strategic investments we are able to transform and improve the lives of patients. As General manager of Medison Ventures, she has carried out multiple licensing deals, led scouting initiatives for over 15 companies – collaborating with academia and the biotech industry – and led series A investments (and onwards) focused primarily on orphan drugs and genetic diseases. Yael co-founded Andlit Therapeutics – a biotech company developing an ASO treatment for Neurodevelopmental Disorders and WE@HealthTech – a collaboration with 8400 to build-up female leadership talent in HealthTech – Yael serves on the Boards of several biotech companies.


A new version of Coulter Partners is available.