#InterviewSeries @ Web Summit | Charlotte Summers
The #InterviewSeries is a collection of intimate discussions with people who identify as a woman or non-binary in the technical & digital spaces.
Back in November I took the #InterviewSeries to the Web Summit in Lisbon, I was fortunate enough to speak to some incredible women in technology and digital. In this edition, you'll learn about Charlotte Summers. Charlotte is a published clinical author and expert in digital health interventions and behavioural change/psychology. She is also Chief Operating Officer and the driving force behind Diabetes Digital Media Ltd based in the heart of England at the University of Warwick Science Park.
Charlotte and I in Lisbon.
How did it all start for you?
I am COO and co-founder of Diabetes Digital Media, which is a global community of people where they're coming together and discussing anything and everything to do with diabetes. It's a moderated forum but it's not censored, which has enabled us to develop this community and run something called, 'The low carb program', which helps those with type-2 diabetes improve and manage their health. We've created a digital solution that incorporates a lot of behavioural psychology. My background is in behavioural psychology and my partner has a background in artificial intelligence and machine learning. Combining the two different things has been really effective.
Wow, that's super fascinating. Did you study behavioural psychology at university?
Yes, I studied psychology. I was particularly interested in people's coping mechanism when they get diagnosed with a chronic condition. What is it that they do to cope with that diagnosis? That's what got me into this space. I've been working with Diabetes Digital Media for six years now. I enjoy looking at the data and understanding what people are doing and what's working for them ad then empowering them with the tools to actually make changes.
How do you use technology in your day-to-day life?
Within our organization we use things like Slack. And we have different teams that develop our organisation. We have marketing teams, nutritionists and food science teams. Then obviously we have the web development, apps development teams and they make sure everything is coordinated and kept in one place. I think that that's really critical.
"I think there are assumptions that are made and I think that's something that needs to be considered, but equally I think you can work it to your advantage and get into new positions and new places." Charlotte Summers on being a woman in tech
On that note, what have been the best learning resources for you, where do you look for to gain more insight and knowledge?
I think it's really important to keep an eye on what's going on in the industry. New products, new services, they're all being developed. The access to the people we have working for us is absolutely amazing. They are very innovative. They're always looking at new languages to be developing online. I think it's really important to be flexible and incorporate that flexibility within the development that we're doing within the company.
Amazing. As a woman in the industry and as a woman in leadership, do you think you've faced challenges that perhaps a man wouldn't face?
I think there's biases in every industry. I don't think they're necessarily restricted to us women. I wouldn't say that that is a massive point of inertia. I think there are assumptions that are made and I think that's something that needs to be considered, but equally I think you can work it to your advantage and get into new positions and new place
What have been the biggest challenges for you and how have you overcome them?
I think I've been really lucky with what I've been doing. I've had an amazing mentor that I worked with that had really facilitated my learning. I would definitely not say that I'm an expert in AI or have a huge understanding of digital languages and things like that, but I think the people that I've been working with have been really encouraging in terms of making sure that it doesn't become a hurdle to overcome. Just knowing the basics in order to navigate, I think is really important.
How do you manage burnout, what keeps you going day to day? I think it's a challenge everyone faces.
I think the thing that keeps me motivated to go into work everyday is the impact we're making. It's so motivating to go and see that what you're doing is actually making people's lives better. I think as a digital platform, you sometimes have that separation from the people who use it, so to actually hear the feedback from them and the fact that they're feeling empowered, they're feeling like they've got more confidence, that they've got more energy, is what keeps me going.
"As a digital platform, you sometimes have that separation from the people who use it, so to actually hear the feedback from them and the fact that they're feeling empowered, they're feeling like they've got more confidence, that they've got more energy, is what keeps me going" Charlotte Summers on what keeps her going
Do you want to talk a little bit more about the specifics of the program and what a user journey would actually look like?
The low carb programme was launched on November 14th, 2015. We have had over 375,000 people who have gone through the intervention since then. It was primarily tailored towards people with Type-2 diabetics, but it's now been personalised, because we've seen a huge proportion of people with pre-diabetes use it. Those that are overweight and obese are able to take control and prevent any chronic medical condition developing. We know that by bringing a population of people together, who are all on the same journey towards the same health goal, helps people to stay motivated.
We're just reviewing the two-year data at the moment. That's something really great as well. It's looking people aren't going back to their previous way of eating.This is actually a lifestyle change that they're making. It's also having a really positive impact on the people around them as well. We recently did a meetup and met some people who were going to join the programme. They brought their husbands or wives or children along. They were also really excited, because it has a knock on effect.
If someone has pre-diabetes or has Type-2 diabetes, how do they actually get into the programme?
You can go to lowcarbprogram.com and you can register and sign up for the program there. We're also working in a number of NHS, CTGs that are prescribing the platform to their patients. That's a really interesting concept, to try to write a digital prescription. Then we're also working through a number of global insurance companies as well. It could be that your insurance provider would pay for you to get access to the programme.
Brilliant, thanks! I imagine a lot of people that look at you find you a real inspiration. What would you advise them to do to get to a position like yours?
Just not to perceive any kind of limitations. Just because you don't have a particular skill, just because you're not an expert, doesn't mean that you can't pursue something. I think there are multiple opportunities to learn every single day and those opportunities should be embraced. Don't be your own blocker.