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‘Being Swedish, I know that quotation works’ – Joanne Ledunger [Interview]

Article-‘Being Swedish, I know that quotation works’ – Joanne Ledunger [Interview]

© Vitafoods Insights Women in Nutrition interview with Joanne Ledunger
Joanna Ledunger is CEO and founder of Healthy Longer, a Switzerland-based startup that makes personalised neuro-nutrient recommendations based on artificial intelligence (AI) to analyse mental health symptoms and neuro-biomarker data taken from dried urine samples.

A Swedish citizen, Ledunger received an MBA from the University of Warwick in 2003 and completed a Certificate of Advanced Studies in genetics and genomics from Stanford University School of Medicine in 2019.

For years she worked in multinational companies in the field of software development before moving onto risk analytics and then founding her own company, Healthy Longer.

It has been a wonderful journey,” she says.

Looking through the lens of gender parity and equal opportunities, what has been your experience as a woman in the nutraceutical industry?

"I think that it's very important to have gender perspective because otherwise we overlook things that might not be so obvious. I strongly believe that almost no-one discriminates against anyone on purpose but we [have] our biases and we should be aware of them.

“We also should be aware that whenever we take efforts to make sure that 50% of the society can thrive and develop in all industries, meaning women, we have to make sure we have women represented in decisive bodies [...] for example in venture funds, in committees, in juries - it's very important that women are represented.

“Then we actually [ensure] that there will be female candidates, there will be women seen and chosen and suddenly we will have much more equal representation of women getting funding, being promoted.

What strategy should be taken to achieve this? Should we rely on companies to do it voluntarily or are mandatory quotas required?

"Being Swedish, I know that quotation works. And I know that the argument against quotation is, 'we don't want [it] because we want people to get promoted, get chosen on the basis of their competence.'

“Unfortunately, we have informal quotation already: we have the situation where people are chosen unconsciously, not because of their competence but actually because of their gender. I think that it's not realistic to expect that the system that exists with biases, will rein [in] itself. So, I promote equal quotation.”

Have you ever felt yourself come up against a glass ceiling or similar situation and, if so, how did you deal with it?

"There are big geographical differences. I do not experience that nowadays in the Nordics because we passed that stage a long time ago. I do experience that in the DACH [Germany, Austria, Switzerland] region, which is simply more conservative. It's developing in the right direction but there is still a lot to be done. [...] I think I am a little bit spoilt with women being strongly represented in the Nordic region!"

Do you have one piece of advice for budding female entrepreneurs?

"Be observant of the signs and react to signs of being treated differently due to gender. Do not be afraid to take that up. Because, as I said, most people do that unconsciously, so speak up. Say that you would like to have your ideas respected and your voice heard, and you will maybe experience something different. Don't be afraid to talk about that. It doesn't make you into a feminist, it just makes you another human being who wants equal rights.

"I would like to encourage women to follow their ambitions and not to be afraid of any potential obstacles. They are absolutely possible to overcome, all [women] need to do is speak up more often."

Within the nutraceutical industry, are there certain areas that are more welcoming to women in terms of offering equal opportunities?

"My impression is that the funding sector - so VCs - are still not looking at genders equally. So, unfortunately, we have a situation where 30% of entrepreneurs are women but only 2% of them receive funding. That is a very clear message. And actually, when the ideas are given an equal chance, like with crowdfunding, 65% of the funding goes to women. That is definitely one of the sectors that I would point out that needs female colleagues."