Irma Rastegayeva, Co-Founder & Chief Digital Storyteller, eViRa Health

Irma Rastegayeva, a renowned social media strategist and storytelling coach, bridges health, technology, and patient advocacy. Celebrated among the Top 30 Women in Tech and 50 Most Influential Voices in Healthcare, she’s a respected HealthTech and DigitalHealth influencer. Irma’s rich career, from software engineering to leadership at Google, and her passionate patient advocacy, fuel her mission to improve healthcare. As eViRa Health’s Chief Digital Storyteller and a mentor at TEDxBoston, she empowers startups and shapes narratives, fostering collaboration and community engagement in HealthTech. Irma’s storytelling prowess impacts healthcare innovation and improvement. Connect with her transformative journey at www.eViRa.Health.

Recently, in an exclusive interview with CXO Outlook Magazine, Irma shared her professional trajectory, insights on the critical challenges that are impeding the growth and distribution of AI in the healthcare industry, significant career milestones, future plans, words of wisdom, and much more. The following excerpts are taken from the interview.

Hi, Irma. Please tell us a little bit about your current role and responsibilities as Co-Founder & Chief Digital Storyteller at eViRa Health.

As the Chief Digital Storyteller at eViRa Health, I occupy a unique niche where my deep-rooted passion for healthcare innovation, technology, patient advocacy, and community building converge. My role transcends traditional marketing boundaries, blending the art of storytelling with the precision of digital and social strategy to illuminate the transformative power of health tech.

Drawing from over two decades of experience in software engineering, technical management, my tenure at Google and nearly 12 years with TEDxBoston, I bring a rich tapestry of technical expertise, idea-sharing and community engagement to the realm of digital storytelling. This foundation allows me to demystify complex technological concepts, making them accessible and engaging for a diverse audience that ranges from industry leaders and healthcare and technology experts to patients, entrepreneurs, and the general public.

My personal journey as a cancer survivor and a long-standing patient advocate infuses my work with empathy, authenticity, and a patient-centric perspective. These experiences coupled with the work of building the TEDxBoston culture of curiosity and collaboration, have honed my ability to craft narratives that resonate on a deeply human level, highlighting the impact of health tech on real lives and real healthcare challenges.

At eViRa Health, I leverage this unique blend of skills and insights to create compelling digital content that educates, inspires, and mobilizes. Whether it’s through social media campaigns, multimedia content, or novel digital experiences, my goal is to foster a deeper understanding of health tech’s potential and drive meaningful engagement with the innovations shaping the future of healthcare.

In essence, my role as Chief Digital Storyteller is to bridge the gap between technology and humanity, using the power of narrative to spotlight breakthroughs in health tech and amplify the voices of those at the forefront of this exciting field. It’s about creating a dialogue that not only informs but also empowers, engages, and inspires action towards a healthier, more technologically empowered future.

You are also a coach & mentor individuals & teams on delivering winning pitches at innovation competitions, help them deconstruct & rebuild their presentation decks to secure vital funding & partnerships. Can you please brief us about the consulting services provided by you?

I see my role as a coach and mentor to the innovators as an “innovation catalyst”. It’s a partnership where I embark on a journey with entrepreneurs to bring their groundbreaking innovations and solutions to the forefront. Through personalized mentoring, I help these visionaries refine their ideas, align their visions with market needs, and articulate their value propositions with clarity and conviction.

The cornerstone of my impact lies in assisting entrepreneurs in crafting winning pitches, including for innovation competitions. This process involves a deep dive into the essence of their innovations, distilling complex concepts into compelling narratives that resonate with investors, partners, and stakeholders. By focusing on the unique strengths and potential of each innovation, I guide entrepreneurs in highlighting the critical aspects that set their ventures apart.

Leveraging my extensive background in digital storytelling and health tech, I employ strategic storytelling techniques to ensure that each pitch not only informs but also engages and inspires. This approach amplifies the emotional and practical appeal of the innovations, making a lasting impression on the audience.

Beyond the pitch, my mentorship extends to fostering effective stakeholder engagement strategies. I work with entrepreneurs to identify key influencers, potential partners, and supportive communities, building a network that will champion their cause and facilitate the growth of their ventures.

Perhaps the most profound impact of my mentorship is the empowerment and confidence it instills in the entrepreneurs. By providing a supportive environment, constructive feedback, and continuous encouragement, I help them overcome doubts and challenges, fostering a mindset geared towards innovation and resilience.

In your opinion, what are the critical challenges impeding the growth and distribution of AI in the healthcare industry?

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is undoubtedly one of the most powerful and exciting technological developments of our era, able to analyze vast amounts of data, uncovering patterns and insights that can lead to groundbreaking discoveries. Harnessing its power in healthcare is especially exciting, but this industry presents several unique challenges to growth and adoption of AI:

Data Privacy and Security 

One of the foremost challenges is ensuring the privacy and security of patient data. The healthcare industry is bound by strict regulations like HIPAA in the United States and GDPR in the European Union, which necessitate robust data protection measures. Balancing the innovative potential of AI with the imperative to protect sensitive health information is a delicate task.

Ethical and Bias Concerns 

AI systems are only as unbiased as the data they are trained on. There’s a significant challenge in ensuring that AI algorithms in healthcare are developed and trained on diverse datasets to avoid perpetuating existing biases, which could lead to unequal care outcomes among different patient populations.

Integration with Existing Systems 

Healthcare systems often rely on legacy technologies that are not readily compatible with the latest AI solutions. The challenge lies in integrating AI seamlessly into existing healthcare infrastructures without disrupting clinical workflows or requiring extensive system overhauls.

Regulatory Hurdles 

The regulatory landscape for AI in healthcare is complex and evolving. Navigating this terrain, obtaining approvals, and ensuring compliance with both local and international standards can significantly slow down the adoption and distribution of AI innovations.

Clinical Adoption and Trust 

Gaining the trust of healthcare professionals and ensuring the clinical adoption of AI tools is a significant hurdle. Clinicians need to be confident in the reliability, accuracy, and clinical relevance of AI applications, which requires transparent validation studies and continuous education.

Patient Acceptance and Literacy 

Ensuring patient acceptance and understanding of AI-driven healthcare interventions is crucial. Patients need to be educated about the benefits and limitations of AI in healthcare to alleviate concerns and encourage adoption.

Interdisciplinary Collaboration 

Developing effective AI solutions for healthcare requires a deep understanding of both technology and clinical practice. Fostering collaboration between technologists, clinicians, and patients to co-create solutions that address real clinical needs is essential but challenging.

Scalability and Customization 

AI solutions often need to be customized for specific healthcare settings, patient populations, or diseases, which can impede large-scale distribution. Finding a balance between customization and scalability is a key challenge.

Despite the numerous challenges for AI’s wide adoption in the healthcare industry, its ability to learn and improve over time offers endless possibilities for enhancing efficiency, personalizing experiences and care, and solving complex problems that have long challenged humanity. I personally view these challenges not just as obstacles but as opportunities for innovation, collaboration, and education to drive the responsible and equitable growth of AI in healthcare.

Are you currently satisfied with the status quo regarding women in tech? What specific changes do you think are needed to change the status quo?

While it’s important to acknowledge the strides we’ve made towards inclusivity and diversity in the tech industry, I believe we are far from reaching a satisfactory status quo regarding women in tech. My own professional journey, marked by transitions from software engineering to leadership roles in health tech and digital storytelling, has revealed both the potential and the persistent barriers women continue to face. To change the status quo, we need a multifaceted approach:

Education and Early Engagement

Cultivating interest and confidence in STEM fields must start early, with programs aimed at young girls to foster curiosity and dismantle stereotypes about gender roles in technology.

Mentorship and Sponsorship

Women in tech benefit immensely from mentorship and sponsorship, which can provide guidance, open doors, and offer support through the unique challenges they face. Establishing formal mentorship programs within organizations can help women navigate their careers and break into leadership roles.

Inclusive Work Cultures

Companies must actively work to create inclusive work environments that not only welcome diversity but also actively combat bias and discrimination. This includes everything from equitable hiring practices to supportive policies that accommodate the diverse needs of all employees.

Visibility and Representation

Increasing the visibility of women in tech, especially in leadership and high-impact roles, can inspire and encourage more women to pursue and persist in tech careers. This requires a concerted effort to highlight women’s achievements and contributions to the field.

Support for Work-Life Balance

Recognizing and accommodating the need for work-life balance is crucial, especially for women who often bear a disproportionate burden of caregiving responsibilities. Flexible work arrangements, parental leave, and childcare support are essential measures.

Community and Networking

Building strong networks and communities for women in tech can provide a sense of belonging, offer peer support, and facilitate professional growth. These communities can be powerful platforms for advocacy and change.

In my roles over the last 30 years, from software engineering, to mentoring at TEDxBoston and 11x, to IBM and Google, to being on boards and leading initiatives at eViRa Health, I’ve strived to embody and advocate for these changes. True satisfaction will come when women in tech no longer face systemic barriers to their participation and advancement, and when their contributions are recognized and valued on an equal footing with their male counterparts.

In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women in tech that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts? What would you suggest to address this?

Women in tech often navigate a landscape shaped by gender biases and systemic barriers that their male counterparts typically do not face. One of the most pervasive challenges is the underrepresentation in leadership and technical roles, which perpetuates a cycle of invisibility and undervaluation of women’s contributions. This is compounded by the prevalence of unconscious bias, which can influence everything from hiring practices to daily interactions, often leading to a lack of mentorship opportunities and professional growth for women.

Another significant challenge is the gender pay gap, where women in tech are frequently paid less than men for the same roles and responsibilities. This disparity not only affects their economic well-being but also reflects and reinforces the undervaluation of women’s skills and contributions.

Workplace culture in tech can also be unwelcoming or even hostile to women, characterized by a “bro culture” that marginalizes and alienates female employees. This environment can lead to feelings of isolation and “imposter syndrome”, further discouraging women from pursuing long-term careers in tech.

To address these challenges, it’s crucial to implement systemic changes at both organizational and industry levels:

Promote Diversity and Inclusion Initiatives

Companies should actively promote diversity and inclusion by implementing unbiased recruitment processes, creating inclusive workplace cultures, and ensuring equal opportunities for growth and leadership roles for women.

Transparent Pay Practices

Adopting transparent pay practices and regularly auditing compensation data can help identify and rectify pay disparities, ensuring women are fairly compensated for their work.

Foster Mentorship and Sponsorship

Establishing mentorship and sponsorship programs specifically for women can provide them with the guidance, support, and advocacy needed to navigate their careers and ascend to leadership positions.

Cultivate Inclusive Cultures

Organizations must work to dismantle “bro culture” and cultivate environments where all employees feel valued, respected, and included. This includes zero-tolerance policies for discrimination and harassment, as well as training programs to raise awareness about unconscious bias.

Support Work-Life Balance

Implementing policies that support work-life balance, such as flexible working hours, remote work options, and parental leave, can help retain women in tech by accommodating their needs outside of work.

Empower Women’s Voices

Encouraging and amplifying women’s voices in meetings, industry events, and decision-making processes can help challenge the status quo and ensure women’s perspectives and ideas are heard and valued.

In my various roles in the industry over the last three decades, I’ve witnessed firsthand the transformative impact of addressing these challenges head-on. By fostering environments that support and celebrate women’s achievements in tech, we can pave the way for a more equitable, innovative, and inclusive industry.

The meaning of leadership can change from one era to the other, how would you define the meaning of leadership today?

While the core attributes of leadership remain consistent through time, leadership today is increasingly defined by visionary purpose, adaptability, inclusivity, and the ability to inspire and drive change in a rapidly evolving global landscape. The essence of contemporary leadership encompasses several key dimensions:

Visionary and Purpose-Driven

Leaders today are expected to have a clear vision and a strong sense of purpose that transcends traditional business goals to include social responsibility, sustainability, and ethical considerations. They articulate a compelling future that aligns with broader societal values and motivates their teams to strive towards that vision.

Empathy and Emotional Intelligence

Modern leaders prioritize empathy and emotional intelligence, recognizing the importance of understanding and valuing the perspectives and lived experience of others. This approach fosters a supportive and inclusive work environment, encouraging diverse viewpoints and collaboration.

Adaptability and Resilience

In an era marked by rapid technological advancements and unforeseen challenges (like the COVID-19 pandemic), the ability to adapt and remain resilient is crucial. Today’s leaders navigate change with agility, learning from setbacks and pivoting strategies as needed.

Continuous Learning and Innovation

With the pace of change in technology and industry, continuous learning is vital. Leaders are perpetual learners, staying abreast of new trends, technologies, and methodologies, and they cultivate this mindset within their organizations.

Transparency and Integrity

Trust is foundational, and leaders build it through transparency, integrity, and consistency in their actions and decisions. Ethical leadership and accountability are paramount in building and maintaining stakeholder trust.

Global and Cultural Awareness

Given the interconnectedness of today’s world, leaders must possess a global outlook and cultural sensitivity, understanding the nuances of operating in a multicultural and international environment.

What are you particularly proud of in your career?

In reflecting on my career, what fills me with the most pride is the meaningful impact I’ve been able to make at the intersection of health, technology, and patient advocacy. Transitioning from a technical role at a global tech giant to founding eViRa Health, I’ve channeled my passion for technology and personal experience as a cancer survivor into empowering patients and advancing healthcare innovation.

I am particularly proud of how I’ve leveraged storytelling and digital media to demystify complex health tech concepts, making them accessible and engaging to a broad audience. This work not only amplifies important health tech innovations but also fosters a deeper understanding and appreciation of the potential technology holds to transform healthcare for the better.

My role in mentoring and coaching, especially through platforms like TEDxBoston, where I’ve helped hundreds of speakers share their groundbreaking ideas, is another highlight of my career. Witnessing these individuals engage with and inspire global audiences reaffirms my belief in the power of storytelling, shared knowledge and collective innovation.

Lastly, I take pride in the community I’ve built and engaged with through my work. From patients and healthcare professionals to tech innovators and fellow patient advocates, the connections I’ve fostered have not only enriched my professional journey, but have also contributed to a larger dialogue about the future of healthcare.

In essence, I am most proud of bridging the worlds of technology and healthcare in a way that resonates with and benefits a diverse range of stakeholders, driving forward a vision of more accessible, effective, and compassionate healthcare.

What advice would you give to women who want to enter the tech industry?

For women aspiring to enter the tech industry, my first piece of advice is to embrace your unique perspective and strengths. The tech world thrives on innovation, and diverse viewpoints are the fuel for groundbreaking ideas. Your experiences, insights, and skills—whether technical or not—add invaluable dimensions to the industry.

Additionally, I would suggest the following:

Cultivate a Learning Mindset

The tech field is ever evolving, with new technologies, methodologies, and best practices emerging constantly. Embrace continuous learning, whether through formal education, online courses, workshops, or self-study. This not only keeps your skills relevant but also boosts your adaptability and resilience in a dynamic industry.

Seek Mentorship and Community

Find mentors who can offer guidance, support, and insights based on their own journeys in tech. Additionally, engage with communities, both online and offline, such as tech meetups, forums, professional networks, and social media. These communities can provide support, advice, and opportunities for collaboration and networking.

Build Your Personal Brand

Develop a strong personal brand that reflects your skills, interests, and professional values. This can be through contributing to open-source projects, blogging about your tech interests, speaking at industry events, or engaging on professional social media platforms like LinkedIn and Twitter/X. Your personal brand will make you more visible and attractive to potential employers or collaborators.

Advocate for Yourself

Learn to effectively communicate your achievements, advocate for your ideas, and negotiate for what you deserve, whether it’s in terms of salary, project opportunities, or professional development. Don’t shy away from showcasing your successes and ambitions.

Embrace Failure as a Learning Opportunity

The tech industry involves trial and error, and failure is often part of the process. Embrace these moments as opportunities to learn and grow rather than setbacks. Resilience in the face of challenges is a key trait in successful tech professionals, and we as women need to be even more so.

Focus on Problem-Solving

Tech is ultimately about solving problems. Hone your ability to think critically and creatively to find solutions. This skill is highly valued and can set you apart in your tech career.

Prioritize Work-Life Balance

The tech industry can be demanding, so it’s important to set boundaries and prioritize your well-being. A balanced life supports sustained productivity and creativity.

Remember, your journey in tech is uniquely yours. There will be challenges, but with determination, resilience, and a supportive network, you can carve out a fulfilling and impactful career in the tech industry.

Content Disclaimer

Related Articles