‘Never Doubt That You’ve Earned Your Seat at the Table’: A Conversation with 3 Women Leaders at Lyra Health

Mar 24, 2021

By The Lyra Team

In honor of Women’s History Month, we’re featuring three women who are driving three interconnected elements of Lyra Health: our clinical expertise and extensive provider network, innovative technology across the organization, and business leadership.

Connie Chen, MD, is the chief medical officer at Lyra, where she oversees clinical product and strategy, including the development of Lyra’s Blended Care Therapy programs. Jenny Gonsalves, our chief technology officer (CTO), leads all technology initiatives, including data, engineering, IT, and security. Chief revenue officer Elaine Yang manages several teams, including the commercial, legal, recruiting, and provider network operations.

What follows are key insights they’ve shared about their individual career journeys, and lessons for other women taking on leadership roles of their own. 

What woman has or continues to inspire you, and why?

Dr. Chen: My amazing grandmas who were fearless female leaders at a time when women had few opportunities and were expected to stay home in their home country (Taiwan). My maternal grandma was the first female anesthesiologist in Taiwan. My paternal grandma fled Communist China with nothing and started what later became a thriving national stationery business by reselling wares that had been thrown in the trash. When I started my prior company, there were a lot of hard moments, but thinking about the struggles my grandmother must have faced building a business from literally nothing (certainly no VC funding!) helped me persevere.

Gonsalves: Growing up, I had a natural affinity towards the sciences. Marie Curie was a hero to me because she was the only female scientist ever mentioned in any science books I read. More recently, watching Hidden Figures, the biopic about the journey of three African-American women “computers” at NASA, was awe-inspiring. The “bathroom scene” in particular moved me very deeply. Katherine Johnson (played by Taraji P. Henson) has to leave her desk for extended periods several times a day because she is forced to walk half a mile to use the “colored” bathroom. In the “bathroom scene,” Katherine returns to her desk from a bathroom break, soaking wet after running back in the rain. Her boss accuses her of unexplained absences from her desk for long periods of time implying that she’s slacking off work. In her profound response back, Katherine explains that she is not slacking, but has to use the “colored” bathroom which is so far away. This wholly surprises her boss who’s been oblivious to the situation. In the next scene, the boss proceeds to tear down the “colored” bathroom sign and decrees that all bathrooms are for everyone “preferably closer to your desk.” This scene moved me particularly because Katherine just assumed that it would be obvious to others that she has to use a faraway bathroom because that was the status quo at the time. It’s a reminder to all of us that though we may assume something should be obvious to others, it often isn’t because everyone is so caught up in their own worlds. If you don’t advocate for yourself, no one else really will.

Yang: As I think back over my career, the woman that continues to stand out as an inspiration to me is Dr. Sue Desmond-Hellmann. I first encountered Sue when she was the head of product development at Genentech and a member of the executive team (the only woman). My experience with Sue was mostly from a distance because our roles did not overlap at all, but a couple of things about Sue in particular inspired me. First, on a personal level, I remember the times when I had to give a presentation to Genentech’s executive committee. These meetings were very formal, and I was somewhat junior in the organization so was intimidated and nervous whenever I had to present. 

I remember how kind Sue was–she would smile and nod and make me feel like I was talking about the most important and interesting topic in the world. She paid attention and asked good questions. Her behavior made me realize how important these little signals and reactions are to others, and I’ve tried to model that behavior. On a broader level, Sue is wicked-smart and a superb communicator. She always demonstrated that she puts in the hard work to deliver excellence. Sue went on to serve as the chancellor of UCSF and then the CEO of the Gates Foundation. She was a member of the Facebook audit committee while I was there, so I was delighted to have the privilege of interacting with her again.

What advice would you give to other women who are in or aspiring to be in leadership roles?

Dr. Chen: 

  • Leadership isn’t about being perfect all the time or knowing all the answers. Take risks, trust your gut, put your nickel down on a starting point, and be ready to own the output. If the answer to a challenging problem was already known, you wouldn’t be asked to solve it.
  • Know what you are good at and not good at. You don’t have to be good at everything.
  • Believe in yourself and other women. Being a female leader is hard. If you don’t believe in yourself, no one else will.
  • Society tells women a lot of things–“You have to lean in more,” or “You should lean out.” Be guided by your values, be true to yourself, and don’t let others tell you what to do. Only you know what is right for yourself and your family. Remember, careers aren’t linear. It is OK to take a step back when you need to, but believe in yourself when the opportunity presents itself.
  • Have a clear sense of your personal values, manage your thinking traps, and squash that imposter syndrome. And if you can, work with a Lyra coach.

Gonsalves: You don’t have to be in a leadership role to lead! Seize opportunities to make a difference, no matter how small. Take initiatives. Solve problems that matter. Leadership titles and promotions are just side effects of already leading.

Yang: First, I would urge people to pick apart why they want to be in a leadership role, and to really understand what it means. Some people’s true interests are more aligned with an individual contributor role, and these are as important to a company’s success as leadership roles. Leadership is not at all the only path to influence, success, and fulfillment. So my first piece of advice is to examine the details of the role of manager or leader. Break down how days are spent, what is difficult about it, what is satisfying, and identify the core skills for a successful leader. 

Once these pieces are well understood, develop a tangible and actionable plan for developing experience and training in the critical skills. Find opportunities to gain experience by volunteering to manage a complicated project that involves motivating others to accomplish a common objective. Read books about people who have been leaders, and seek to understand what they went through in their journey. But most importantly, recognize that in being a leader, your primary responsibility is to ensure your team members understand the vision and objectives of your department, and have the right guidance and tools to achieve them. That’s a lot to carry, and I can say that the primary matters that have really kept me up at night are those related to people issues. I think the only differentiator I would make for women is to never doubt that you have earned your seat at the table.

What brought you to Lyra?

Dr. Chen: I was born in a family of physicians with many a “lady doctor”’ (my parents and over 20 aunts, uncles, and cousins are all physicians)! I have always believed that improving access and quality in health care (in whatever small way I could, given our United States health care system) would be my life’s work. Prior to joining Lyra, I co-founded a company with a similar tech-enabled service delivery model focused on chronic physical illness. I was drawn to Lyra due to the immense, underserved opportunity to transform access and quality in mental health as well as the opportunity to work with other amazing female leaders (and Lyra co-founder and Chief Executive Officer David Ebersman).

Gonsalves: Lyra reached out to me at a point in my life when, while I was intellectually fulfilled in my role and career, I was seeking something more meaningful, with greater impact in the world. I joined Lyra because it was a unique opportunity to do exactly this–bring my passion for technology and apply it to an area that is so important, yet technologically underserved.

Yang: I started my career in health care (Baxter Healthcare and Genentech), but then took a spin into social media when I joined Facebook, and spent almost six years there. My time at Facebook was challenging, fun, and rewarding, but the business of advertising did not really interest me. When David left Facebook to start a company intending to solve the complicated and important problems in delivering effective mental health care, I had to figure out how to become a part of that. It is so good to be back in the business of helping people feel better, and being at the delivery end of health care has been especially rewarding for me.

Where can we find you on a Saturday morning at 10 a.m.?

Dr. Chen: Hiking with my husband and daughters.

Gonsalves: Foraging for provisions at Costco! 🙂 Ok fine… that’s closer to 11 a.m. 🙂

Yang: If I am feeling motivated and energized, you will find me on the Peloton taking a Power Zone cycling class. If I am feeling lazy, you will find me in a chair with a book. It could go either way.

ABOUT THE LEADERS

Connie Chen, MD, is Lyra’s chief medical officer (CMO) and leads product, clinical operations, and research at Lyra. Prior to joining Lyra, she was the co-founder and Chief Medical Officer at Vida Health. She is aboard certified internal medicine physician. After graduating from the UCSF School of Medicine, she completed her residency at Stanford and has an AB in economics from Harvard College.

Jenny Gonsalves is Lyra’s chief technology officer (CTO) and leads all Lyra technology initiatives, including data, engineering, IT, and security. She excels at using technology to build highly scalable and innovative products with delightful user experiences. Along with technology, Jenny’s passion lies in growing people and teams to tackle challenges with creative solutions. Prior to Lyra, Jenny spent over 16 years as an engineer and a leader building large-scale CRM platforms. She holds a CS degree from University of Toronto.

Elaine Yang is Lyra’s chief revenue officer (CRO) and manages several teams, including the commercial, legal, recruiting, and provider network operations. She brings extensive experience in scaling the business operations of companies that had significant growth. Prior to Lyra she built and managed finance and audit teams at Genentech before joining Facebook where she established the internal audit function that was tasked with assessing risk as it transitioned to a public company. She holds a BA in Political Science from the University of Redlands.

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