“Women in leadership is not a social agenda; it is a strategic agenda, crucial to all organizations. ” - Caroline Kanaan

22/03/2022 | Caroline Kanaan

Healthcare is a universal right, especially for children. Proper medical care has myriad implications for wider well-being and lifting people out of poverty, which begins in childhood. This is why Dr. Caroline Kanaan, a medical doctor with a degree in Pediatrics and Pediatrics Emergency Medicine from São Paulo, Brazil, has dedicated her career to children’s health.

Currently, she works as a physician in the emergency and telemedicine departments at Hospital Israelita Albert Einstein, São Paulo, Brazil. She is entering a transitional phase in her career, where she is studying Healthcare Innovation as a  Global Faculty in Training at Stanford Byers Center for Biodesign. With this education, she hopes to achieve a broader impact on pediatric healthcare through technology and promoting equal opportunities.

To supplement this goal, Caroline participated in the Santander Open Academy Women | Emerging Leaders - LSE. This scholarship, launched by Banco Santander, is run in partnership with the prestigious London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE), and aimed at 125 women seeking to develop negotiation and communication skills to accelerate their careers into management positions. As one of the 125 women who participated in the last edition, Dr. Caroline Kanaan was able to benefit from coaching and networking opportunities with a diverse group of empowered women from around the world.

We interview Dr. Caroline Kanaan, who discusses the implications of promoting equal opportunities in healthcare innovation and how this experience with Santander Open Academy enhanced her skills and brought the significant benefits of having more women in leadership positions.

In addition to your work as a physician, you are the co-founder of Epitalk. Could you explain to us how the idea of Epitalk came about and what its aim is?

During college, I discovered I had epilepsy. However, I have transformed the disease into an opportunity to grow and help other patients in a similar condition. Of course, I have to do different things to maintain my health, but I try not to emphasize it. 

Although epilepsy is the most common chronic neurologic disease globally, there are gaps in epilepsy care. A journey as a patient is full of fear, doubts, and pain. To solve this problem and aim for integrative care for epilepsy patients, my partner Flavia Hokama and I started an Instagram page, Epitalk, to share reliable peer-review content, empower patients and engage them in their health. In one year, we organically gained more than 2,500 followers with an 11% engagement rate. We are currently working on a solution to follow-up patients with medical devices.

You are also an Advisory Member for social and health protection actions for children and teenagers in developing countries. Why do you think these actions are important?

All children have the right to healthcare, education, and other forms of social protection that shield them from the lifelong consequences of poverty and exclusion. Evidence demonstrates that social security can increase girls’ primary and secondary education participation in middle-income countries, supporting their learning. Investing in girls’ education protects and promotes their rights, gives financial independence, builds their agency as leaders today, and strengthens the future of women’s leadership tomorrow. I am very proud to be a volunteer and give a voice to those kids.

In this respect, do you believe that your industry is committed to gender equality or does it remain a barrier to conducting equitable research?

During childhood, people tend to say girls are bossy when they speak up and take charge, but boys are called leaders for behaving in the same way. This fact plays  a role in why women are significantly less likely to pursue leadership opportunities than men. Although most pediatricians are women, they tend not to be in leadership positions. 

However, the need for more female leaders has never been greater, and there is a never-ending catalog of data to support this claim. Studies have shown that companies that embrace gender diversity are significantly more profitable and sustainable. The hospital where I work is committed to changing this scenario, whereas this is not a reality in other fields.

From a patient perspective, biological and socio-cultural relations shape health outcomes. The different biology of women and men has an evident impact on health and some diseases present differently in males and females. Unfortunately, healthcare studies are mainly conducted on male patients. Considering the health equity perspective is essential to improving women’s health and doing so is crucial to closing the gender gap in research.


According to this, do you believe that leadership affects innovation?

In my opinion, a leader has to use the past to help the company’s success while creating a forward-focused culture that allows for innovation and technology enhancements. Innovation drivers productivity, competitive advantage, and enterprise value eliciting open, two-way communication that leads to better results and engagement. A capabilities-based leadership model empowers employees to make things happen through innovation while remaining highly principled and focused.

Transformational leaders, irrespective of gender, see employee development as an essential component to achieving the company's goals, helping them embrace uncertainty and approach challenges with creativity and enthusiasm. Although it requires a thoughtful and empathetic character, it also demands decisive actions in an entrepreneurial vision; this is not easy to blend.

You were one of the 125 women who participated in the Santander Open Academy Women | Emerging Leaders - LSE. What has it meant for you to be a member of a community of empowered women?

Being chosen among more than 4,000 applications was a milestone in my career. I am thankful for the opportunity to have taken a course at The London School of Economics, surrounded by an amazing and diverse group of women. We learned negotiation and leadership aiming at the same objective: to encourage women into leadership positions. Although tremendous strides have been made in this regard, there is still a fundamental lack. Women in leadership is not a social agenda; it is a strategic agenda, crucial to all organizations.

And now, what are your next challenges and how do you face them?

I am currently moving into the innovation and technology field, and it has been a big challenge. I will continue caring for patients, however, from a different perspective. Brazil is the largest economy in Latin America and an unequal country at the same time. Addressing unmet needs through innovation and technology will reduce inequalities, especially in healthcare. I feel energized to be turning over a new leaf,  but also a little anxious. These emotions may be confusing for someone who has always been centered, but I am allowing myself to feel these feelings, recognize them and name them to grow. 

If, like Dr Caroline Kanaan, you want to be more influential in your professional environment and accelerate your career towards leadership positions, this is your opportunity: sign up for the Santander Open Academy Women | Emerging Leaders 2022 - LSE and develop your potential as a leader.

(At the moment the Santander Santander Open Academy Women | Emerging Leaders 2022 - LSE has reached its end, but we encourage you to take a look at the Santander Open Academy to find the training that best suits you and give a boost to your professional career. Seize the chance to develop your knowledge and skills!)

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Caroline Kanaan, pediatrician

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