Dr. Graciela (Grace) Perez, GE HealthCare VP, Chief Digital Program Officer and Executive Lean Leader. At GEHC, Grace is responsible for the global digital program execution and driving a Lean and Agile mindset across the Science and Technology organization. Grace earned a Doctor of Science from the University of Massachusetts, a Master of Science from Harvard, a Master of Science from the University of Illinois, and a Bachelor of Science in Industrial and Systems Engineering from the Georgia Institute of Technology. She is certified as a Lean Six Sigma Master Black Belt, Professional Facilitator, and Agile Scrum Master.
Recently, in an exclusive interview with Digital First Magazine, Dr. Perez shared her professional trajectory, insights on diversity and inclusion in tech, key qualities required to become a successful leader, future plans, pearls of wisdom, and much more. The following excerpts are taken from the interview.
Grace, can you tell us about your professional background and areas of interest?
My professional background is deep rooted in continuous learning with an entrepreneurial mindset. I’m drawn to working in environments where I have a strong sense of purpose. At GE HealthCare, we see possibilities through innovation. We’re partnering with our customers to fulfill healthcare’s greatest potential through groundbreaking medical technology, intelligent devices, and care solutions. Better tools enabling better patient care. Together, we are not only building a healthier future but living our purpose to create a world where healthcare has no limits.
Prior to joining GE HealthCare in August 2021, my professional journey included leadership at Microsoft, Chevron, Amgen, GlaxoSmithKline, The United States Department of Labor, and IBM.
Innovation and the ability to transform is important to me. I have served as a transformation and change agent in over 59 countries across my career. Bringing diverse individuals and teams together is the secret sauce for innovation, and I actively invest personal time and energy beyond “my day job” to drive this. This drive has enabled me to serve as Chair of our Hispanic/Latino colleague resource group and serve as a Segment Leader for our Women in Tech network. I also serve on the Board of The WomenTech Network (WTN).
At GE HealthCare, I am responsible for strategic global digital portfolio and program management, and deployment of the GE HealthCare Business System (Lean) across the Science and Technology organization, with a focus on product, engineering, precision healthcare, R&D, and Artificial Intelligence/ Machine Learning (AI/ML). Overall, GEHC’s smart products and services generate shareholder value with about $18B in revenue, and more importantly enable critical capabilities for our patients, clinicians, and providers. It’s awesome to work for a company where there is a strong sense of purpose, knowing the products we develop build a healthier future for everyone.
You are a global ambassador, mentor, and Exec. Board Member at WomenTech Network. Can you please tell us about this network and your role in it?
WomenTech Network (WTN) was started by an amazing and inspiring woman, Anna Radulovski, and it is one of the world’s leading communities for women in tech with more than 8,000 Global Ambassadors representing 172 countries. 70,000 tech leaders have collaborated with the network to date in order to cultivate a diverse global network that reaches 3.5 million people. The annual conference is affordable for a global audience with over 500 virtual presentations.
In my personal time, I support WTN’s mission to empower women in tech through leadership development, professional growth, mentorship, and networking events. In 2022 and 2023, I proposed successful business cases for GE HealthCare (GEHC) to be a headline sponsor of the annual global WTN conference. This included a Women in Tech Summit hosted by our amazing GEHC team in Bangalore, India, and a Career Growth Day for 55 mid-career women in tech with active mentoring on career roadmaps by GEHC female executive leaders at our Waukesha, Wisconsin site. In addition, GEHC has sponsored 14 inspiring presentations at the global WTN conferences, with our female leaders sharing their experience and insights. We want to attract more women to the amazing tech opportunities in healthcare. This work could not have been accomplished without the support of all genders of colleagues at GEHC who believe in the power of bringing together women in tech to learn, inspire and grow.
Another area where I have worked in the past is mentoring and coaching Founders of tech start-ups. This is an area I recently put on hold, mainly due to my focus to support women in tech, and it is an area where I still have a lot of passion. The next generation of founders are incredibly inspiring, as they are solving problems to create a better world for all of us.
What are your thoughts on diversity and inclusion in tech? How important is it to have authentic conversations with leaders, professionals, and changemakers to create more acceptance across the globe?
I think having diversity and inclusion in tech is very important. According to a 2020 report by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the tech industry in the United States is predominantly comprised of the following breakdown of colleagues by race: White (62.8%), Asian (24.6%), Hispanic (6.8%), and Black (6.1%). Similar statistics show only 29% of all tech colleagues across organizations are women with less than 10% holding the most senior executive positions across tech companies globally. Equality data also shows women and underrepresented minorities receive less pay for the same work across the globe. Why do numbers matter? Inclusion of diverse experiences and expertise are important in the design of products that are used by all of us. A number of studies show that innovation increases with increased diversity, equality, and inclusion. Innovation in healthcare directly correlates with improved health outcomes for you and me.
We have a long road to drive inclusion and diversity across tech. There have been improvements, and it’s important that these conversations are happening now. To create a work environment with diversity, equality, and inclusion, we need to directly acknowledge the challenge, and together, actively engage across all races and genders to create the best products and services to meets the needs of everyone. Associations, like WomenTech Network and The Female Quotient ™, and even our internal colleague resource groups across genders and races, help to start these conversations and provide opportunities to increase awareness and to take action. Globally, our people, products, communities, and businesses depend on it.
During a recent healthcare tech conference, GEHC sponsored The Equality Lounge ™ right in the middle of our GE HealthCare booth and Executive Leaders openly participated to drive authentic conversations (our CEO, Chief People Officer, Chief Diversity Equity, and Inclusion Officer, Chief Data and Digital Officers, as well as our partners and customers provided their insights). The entire day was devoted to presentations about diversity, equality, and inclusion (DEI) in healthcare and it was the most well attended day at our booth. 75% of healthcare employees at USA hospitals are female – they use our products. The increased interest in our booth, leveraging The Equality Lounge™ in partnership with The Female Quotient ™ and HIT (healthcare IT) Like a Girl ™, tells me our customers, partners, and employees care about it. Changemakers commented openly in social media, during the conference, stating how the GEHC booth was innovative “beyond the normal marketing of products” to bring forth meaningful conversations about healthcare tech and the importance of DEI. We are all part of the solution here and increasingly, our people, communities and customers demand greater representation across all genders and races because they know it leads to better products and services for all of us.
According to you, what are the traits that make a good leader?
A good leader listens and learns from their teams. They also elevate their colleagues around them and lean into everyone’s strengths to work as a solid team. I believe in servant leadership, where you prioritize your team and organization first, rather than focusing on a personal agenda that only serves the leader. And by “Leader”, I do not mean “Managers with direct reports”. We all lead in one way or another.
Sometimes I hear about the need for Leaders to “leave a legacy”. To me, Leadership is more about leaving the people you work with, the work environment, the community, and the business in a better place than when you arrived. This is hardest to do during periods of change and transformation, so focusing on what we can control during turbulent times, keeping our teams informed with transparency, putting in the effort to earn & sustain trust, openly sharing the human side of leadership, are really the ingredients that make a good leader. This, coupled with a growth mindset to continually learn and improve, is what transforms leaders from good to great.
What are your passions outside of work?
I like to climb tall mountains, cycle, create things, read, and spend time with God, family, friends, and dogs (pretty much family too!).
Where or whom do you seek motivation and inspiration from? How?
I’m an avid reader – it helps me learn how to listen with compassion – a lifelong pursuit. I read, learn, and have so many questions while reading, yet must sit with the information and continue to learn. Often the answer to the question comes a few pages later or during a conversation about the book with a friend. My favorite topics include neuroscience, biophysics, and data science. I am so fortunate to have an inspiring partner, good friends, and family with whom to engage in these topics, with my favorite hiking friend (and her Scottish Terrier, Braveheart) bringing an endless wealth of knowledge and inspiration during long hikes.
One of the most inspiring poets I have read is Maya Angelou. A kind friend introduced me to her when we were in grad school. Every time I read her poetry, depending on where I am in the moment, I learn something new through her hard-earned wisdom and the authentic, deep manner in which she writes.
Where do you see yourself in the next 5 years?
In the next 5 years it’s not so much where – rather how I see myself. I want to be able to feel like I am making a difference in the world around me, and personally growing to be a better person, partner, sister, aunt, daughter, friend, and animal lover at the same time.
What advice would you give to aspiring women professionals?
Rather than reaching for the stars, reach for the cosmos. By this I mean, my advice is to learn everything you can from everyone, and then stretch your sights to beyond what is possible. Sometimes our biggest obstacles become our greatest teachers.
This is why representation of diversity across our leadership is so important. If aspiring women professionals do not see women and underrepresented minorities in roles they aspire to, it is less likely they will be inspired to achieve those roles. We must break through gender and racial barriers by demonstrating what is possible for everyone in professional careers – especially in tech because the growth in this sector is phenomenal. We break barriers by ensuring our leaders represent the population and customers they serve. If only one population holds leadership roles, then only those “types” of people will be inspired to work towards those levels in the organization and they will tend to think alike. And, as I mentioned, this stifles innovation. So my advice, is: don’t be afraid to be “the first” or “only” in your organization. as you are likely inspiring a whole ladder of others to follow you to the top. Be the seed that results in a field of opportunity for you and others.
The other advice is to “be yourself, everyone else is taken”. I’ve made a lot of changes in my life to “fit in” and have come to realize in doing so, I diluted my strengths. I am team mate on the first female track and cross-country team at Georgia Tech. Before a team existed, I ran “exhibition”, without a team, with the male runners. I kept a piece of inspiration on my dorm room wall. It was a picture of a female running in a pack of people during a race. The quote stated, “if I wanted to run like a man, I’d slow down”. It is what helped me excel as a runner. The newly formed Female team also benefitted from having an awesome female coach who saw no limits in what we could achieve. I find we slow ourselves down when we compare ourselves to others. My humble advice is to stop trying to be anyone else but the uniquely strong, talented, and beautiful person that “you” are … and at the same time be inspired by others around you to be the best version of yourself.