#HealthITChicks Spotlight Interview: Kat Kuzmeskas (@kkuzmesk)

This month’s spotlight shines on Kat Kuzmeskas (@kkuzmesk), founder and CEO of SimlyVital Health and host of this month’s #healthITchicks tweet chat on November 15 at 1pm ET. Kat originally hails from Texas, but a move several years ago to the Northeast has turned her into a big fan of New England. Kat and her husband, a director of technology and systems for a local school district, married in 2012 after meeting several years before while serving as Teach for American corps members in Texas.

In addition to Teach for America, Kat considers Camp RYLA (Rotary Youth Leadership Award) – a leadership camp for rising seniors in the Dallas area – to be a charitable organization that is near and dear to her heart. “This camp becomes a life-long network of some of the most accomplished people I am lucky to know,” Kat explains.

She counts Telegram, Twitter and Facebook among her favorite social networks, and Spotify as her favorite app. “It gets me through all tough things including workouts and work days,” she says. Her musical tastes vary according to the task at hand. House and electronic/dance music are her go-to genres for meeting deadlines. And though she says the Nathaniel Rateliff and Kings Of Leon show – the last concert she saw –  was awesome, Metallica is still her favorite.

Spotlight Questions

What’s the biggest leap of faith you’ve taken during your career? How has that impacted where you are now?
The biggest leap of faith was leaving my full-time job at Yale New Haven on December 23, 2016 to launch my company, SimplyVital Health. Year one of a startup is the least glamorous, most challenging endeavor I have ever done. While we still have years of great work ahead of us, the fact that my team and I are pushing toward an ambitious goal in digital healthcare is energizing and encouraging. Although I work significantly more than I did working for someone else, the purpose behind and reward from my team’s and my work is far more gratifying.

When it comes to professional development, what has had the biggest impact on yours?
Because I seek professional development in many ways, impact has come from a variety of mediums. Those that have impacted me the most are organizations – Camp RYLA, the Posey Leadership Institute at Austin College, and Teach For America. Aside from the unparalleled leadership training I gained from participation, it is more the network and mentors that I continue to lean on for ongoing coaching and learning.

Next would be podcasts, of which my favorite are Tim Ferriss and Tony Robbins. Because my time is so limited, but professional development is essential for me to be at the top of my game, I find learning/listening in small chunks to be very effective.

Third, I do work with an executive coach. This type of focused and immediate learning allows me to calibrate to specific areas of growth and development that are top of mind.

What advice can you offer younger women looking to break into healthcare technology, or those looking to join the C-suite?
To answer this question, I chose to focus on tactical, actionable suggestions.

  • When you are interviewing for a job, come in with part of the tasks already completed (from the Tim Ferriss podcast). This is, of course conditional/dependent on the job you are applying for, but even taking a stab at what you think you might be doing goes a very, very long way, and shows your interest and dedication to supporting their goals. For example, I brought on an intern this fall. In the request were the three items the intern would work on during the semester. When we started to discuss them, she said, “Oh, yes, I already researched and found how to solve #2, and I would do it this way.” This was impressive and helpful; it demonstrated to me that she was excited about the role, but also resourceful enough to find answers autonomously.
  • Highlight your skills with tangible examples. If you are transitioning into a new role/space, bring in a portfolio of previous work and clearly state how your previous work is related to this job. When I interviewed at Yale New Haven, I had never done hospital strategic planning, but I did have fantastic training from Teach For America and projects from previous jobs. For my interview, I brought hard copies and a USB drive with PDFs of my work as examples of strategic planning and data analytics. We worked through some of them during the interview. It immediately demonstrated that I could draw connections from my previous work to meet the goals of the team I would eventually join.
  • Network, and focus on quality. Relationships and warm connections are how all deals are done, from jobs to investments. As is the case in many other examples, quality over quantity. Join a group or an association with many leaders who are where you want to be professionally. Become a committee member of the group/association and get really involved. Being very involved in one group/association is more effective than spreading yourself too thin.
  • To move up faster, be flexible and willing to jump around – from city to city, to organization to organization – and to work in a smaller company. Raises and promotions are actually quite structured if you stay within one organization, and even more so the larger the company. If you don’t mind a longer timeline and trajectory, then not moving around and working in a large company will be just fine. But, those I have read about and that I know who are interested in continually pushing for growth and leadership positions don’t like to move slowly. In this case, getting to the C-suite is a combination of 1-3 above, and extra, extra bonus if you are flexible with how you get there. It is easier and more common to jump titles/roles from one company to the other, than from within the same company.

What gender workplace topics have resonated with you over the last year?
Two topics that resonate the most are parental leave and te wage gap – but parental leave for me, personally, might be different than for others. For me, one of the strategic reasons I wanted to start my own company is, because of my personality, I know I would work through my maternity leave anyway – might as well be working for myself at this point. I do wish paternity leave was equal to maternity leave, as this will directly affect our family.

The wage gap is just obvious and infuriating. Some argue that it is because of maternity leave that there is a wage gap – no, sir. The gap starts at the beginning – from women not negotiating as hard as men do for hiring packages to unknown/unchecked hiring and salary biases.

What are you looking forward to chatting about during the #healthITchicks tweet chat November 15?

  • What are some things you do to demonstrate that you are equal to or more qualified than your male colleagues that you don’t think they need to do?

My reason for this question is that I find myself dressing up for every pitch and conference despite the standard “entrepreneurial uniform” of jeans and a sweatshirt/T-shirt. I feel that I have to dress up to be taken seriously.

  • What actions are you doing to close the gender gap? (not exclusive to workplace)

I was at an investor event in Vegas last month (CoinAgenda) and a very intoxicated, very wealthy investor was making advances at me and touched my butt – true story. (I told my husband and he was furious). With the crowd around me, I put the investor in his place and said that type of behavior is unacceptable, making darn sure that everyone around us was quite aware of what he did. Unfortunately, speaking out against something like this as I did can negatively affect investment coming in to our company. I felt that in this case it was worth it.

  • What positive actions have you seen your male colleagues and friends do to support closing the gender gap?

This is a very important topic because there may be some men that want to help, speak out, and be actionable but may not know how. (Many ambiverts will fit into this category!) Let’s give them some examples and ideas.

  • What do you think can be done to start women on the tech track earlier?
  • Which women in the tech industry have most inspired you and why? (related or unrelated to push for gender equality)

Join me and Kat Kuzmeskas (@kkuzmesk) for the #healthITchicks tweet chat on Wednesday, November 15 at 1pm ET. You can also connect with us on LinkedIn via the #healthITchicks group

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