Combating bias in healthcare: An interview with Ashlee Wisdom

Senior Design Strategist
Strategy Director

Smart Design is proud to partner with female entrepreneurs who are transforming women’s healthcare through innovation and design. Today, we feature Ashlee Wisdom, CEO of Health in her Hue, a digital platform that connects Black women and women of color to culturally competent and sensitive healthcare providers, and offers health information and content that aligns with their lived experiences.

Ashlee’s path began with a personal experience that exposed the stark realities of healthcare disparities faced by women of color. But her vision extended beyond personal experience. Fueled by data highlighting the disproportionate health burden on these communities, she embarked on a mission to bridge the gap in care. Ashlee’s journey exemplifies the transformative power of in-depth research and thorough understanding of the target audience – a common value that Smart Design also shares. Read on to see how lives can be changed through design!

How did Health in her Hue get started?

Ashlee: While I was in grad school, getting my masters in Public Health, I worked at an academic medical center. I had to satisfy an internship requirement and had to change departments and was warned about the high turnover when it came to Black faculty members and staff. And when I started there, I realized it was actually even worse than I had anticipated. It just kind of opened my eyes to how institutional racism really works, and how insidious it is. I was dealing with microaggressions and racism and it was impacting my health. In parallel, for class, I was reading papers and seeing the data on how Black women and women of color had the worst health outcomes. So I was grappling with both these experiences and it was making me angry and I thought I should try to figure out a way to address it and turn it into something beneficial. I wanted to make women of color and particularly Black women, more aware and intentional about choosing their healthcare providers and I wasn’t finding any digital health solutions already meeting this need.

Why do you think it’s taken so long for these services, designed to serve the unique healthcare needs of women of color?

Ashlee: There is all this data and people do a lot of research about these issues that are impacting marginalized communities or underserved people. But that’s kind of where it stopped. It’s like, we know that there’s a problem, but we don’t actually care enough to solve it. And then women of color just become these data points. The second thing is the lack of investment because people don’t care enough about a solution or think that there are not enough women of color who are actually going to engage with solutions, it’s not a big enough opportunity.

“A doctor who is a woman of color like me is more likely to be cognizant of that and tailor my care appropriately.”

Based on a Smart Design 2024 health survey

What were some of the challenges you faced in bringing Health in her Hue to market?

Ashlee: Helping people understand that the solutions to the challenges women of color and Black women face in healthcare don’t always have to be seen as charity. All businesses start because there is a problem. Someone came up with the solution and found a way to monetize it. Solving a problem for people of color is not charity work, it could be a viable business opportunity. So I had to think, how do I articulate this as a business opportunity, how do I speak to investors and explain this problem in a way that will resonate with them and get them to care enough to support this?

I had very little funding to start with, I was using my personal funds and I had to be very scrappy for the initial product of Health in her Hue and build a concept to prove that there was enough demand for it. And then the funding came. But funding for female funders is hard in general, and it’s another feat for women of color, but I’ve been able to navigate that so far.

Are there any statistics about women’s health that have surprised you or kept you motivated?

Ashlee: One statistic that stood out from a report I read from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation was that one in five Black people report avoiding going to the doctor because of their fear of experiencing discrimination. This has stuck with me because it’s just sad to know that besides the other existing barriers like health insurance and being able to take time off from work, there are people who actually avoid going to the doctor because they don’t want to have to deal with bias or being disrespected or dismissed. That’s disheartening because we should be engaging with healthcare more preventatively, it’s actually beneficial to us, but I understand why you might avoid it if you think you will have a negative experience. So that’s one that really bothers me, and keeps me motivated to keep building this company.

1 in 5 Black people report avoiding going to the doctor because of their fear of experiencing discrimination.

According to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation

Are there unique ways in which you run your company?

Ashlee: I definitely lean and encourage my team to lean a lot into empathy. And we focus a lot on listening to what our community is telling us, people who follow us on social media who are on the platform, and pay attention to what they’re saying they need and what support they’re looking for, to inform how we’re building our product. I think a lot of times people are like “I want to build this feature, I want to do this” because this is the new trend. But it may not be actually what the end user really wants and needs.

I'm noticing more digital health companies recognizing the value and power of building a community.
Ashlee Wisdom
CEO of Health in her Hue

Are there any trends you’ve been noticing in the FemTech space in the past few years?

Ashlee: I’m noticing more digital health companies trying to build a community around their platform and recognizing the value and power of building a community. People don’t just need care, they also want to have support, like when you’re not in the doctor’s office, or you just get a new diagnosis. There’s so much you can learn from other women who have either had that diagnosis, gone through whatever experience you may be going through. And that’s super valuable. It’s great for your users and it creates brand loyalty.

I’m also excited to see more partnerships among women-led FemTech companies because the healthcare system has always been so siloed. As innovators and people building this space, it makes a lot more sense, and it’s much more powerful when we collaborate and partner versus kind of doing things in isolation.

What’s one of the best pieces of advice you’ve ever received?

Ashlee: One of my mentors, before I even became a founder, said to me “your purpose will always be tied to community.” And when I was trying to figure out what to do professionally, that quote really stayed with me and has manifested now in the work that I’m doing, I took it to heart.

What can healthcare companies do to be more mindful and equitable for traditionally marginalized people?

Ashlee: Fundamentally, I believe that all healthcare providers, including digital health solutions, have the capacity to be culturally responsive. And what that means is just really understanding that you have a diverse patient or member base and that not everyone has the same needs. Some people have very specific needs, based on historical and social things. So just being more intentional about understanding that it’s not a one-size-fits-all, and that you should really understand the specific needs of each patient so that you’re better able to serve them in the way that will be most effective for them.

What’s next for Health in her Hue?

Ashlee: We’re actually building a new product that we hope will be a really helpful and beneficial resource for women, specifically women of color, to culturally-responsive answers to reproductive health questions. I’m a huge fan of social media but it gets really concerning when anyone can just take their phone and posture as if they’re an expert. So we’re building a product where women can come specifically for help and get answers from doctors and other healthcare clinicians to address their concerns.

Let’s design a smarter world together