Mandira Singh: athenahealth’s disrupter-in-chief talks innovation, inspiration, entrepreneurship, mentoring and gender bias

Describes the cloud-based EHR company’s culture as encouraging experimenting without fear of failing.
By Bernie Monegain
07:32 AM

Even within a company that welcomes disruption in the pursuit of helping healthcare solve the many challenges the industry faces today, Mandira Singh stands out as an articulate champion for solving problems by shaking up the status quo.

Her title is Director of Corporate Development and More Disruption Please, the company’s network of entrepreneurs, investors, clinicians, innovators and industry experts working to disturb where things stand. The MDP initiative has grown from a team of four people when Singh joined the company in 2013 to a 30-member unit that works with 120 partners today.

Singh runs the program, which includes the MDP Network and the athena Marketplace and Accelerator.

Before she joined the Boston-based health IT company in 2013, Singh worked at Essex Woodlands, a growth equity and venture capital firm focused on healthcare. There, she invested across sub-sectors of healthcare, spending most of her time on services and IT investments. Singh, who majored in economics at Vassar College, and then went on to the Stanford Graduate School of Business for an MBA, started her career at J.P. Morgan, where she worked in the North America Healthcare Coverage Group and then the Private Equity Co-Investing group in New York.

Those may seem like great credentials, but lacking was a background in technology.

“When I started, my technical background was probably not up to snuff  – and it took a lot of learning from the awesome teachers at athena for me to get up to speed to where I am today,” she said. “And, I’m still constantly learning.”

Launch and learn is a big part of the Athena culture, she added. “Really what More Disruption Please, was – we launched it, and then we’ve been learning ever since and tweaking the program.”

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She appreciates the piece of the company culture that encourages experimentation without fear of failing.

“It’s part of what keeps it really exciting, she said. “I feel like I’m constantly learning and growing here as a result of the culture.”

Singh also values the mission-driven aspect of healthcare.

“I think what’s really cool about working in healthcare and health IT is that there is a mission, and it’s bigger than our company It’s an industry-wide mission,” she said.

Mentoring

Singh has had many mentors – both male and female – over the course of her career.

“I really think it’s made a dramatic difference in my career,” she said. “I find mentorship can be most effective when it’s organic and where you find that your ideas, your personalities align with somebody else,” she said. As she sees it, formal programs that pair mentors and mentees are not as effective.

Singh mentors others every chance she has, she said, by taking a genuine interest in their careers.

Gender bias

Asked if she had ever experienced gender inequality, she responds, “Of course, I have.  I think everyone has.” She points out there are both conscious and unconscious bias in the workplace.

“I don’t honestly feel I’ve been consciously discriminated against because I’m a woman,” she said.

As example of unconscious bias, she recalls a time she was an intern at an investment bank that also had a male intern. The boss wanted to spend some one-on-one time with each of them.

“He took my counterpart out for golf – assuming I did not play golf – and took me out for lunch,” Singh said.

“Now, that may not seem like a big difference, but a golf game takes considerably longer than a lunch,” she pointed out.  “So from an exposure or depth of relationship standpoint, not only did he assume I didn’t play golf. But beyond that, there was a gender bias there and the outcome was unfortunately I did not get as much exposure as my counterpart did.

“Did it matter in the long run? No, she said. “I’m sure he never considered me being female or male in that decision, but I’m pretty sure it had something to do with it.”

Singh, the disrupter, describes herself as an aficionado of wine and a foodie who enjoys cooking. She is passionate about hiking.

“I like to spend as much time outside as possible,” she said.

Where does she derive her day-to-day inspiration?

“It’s the innovators that I get to spend time with almost everyday,” she said. “It’s just amazing to me the things that people find, the way they are able to craft a solution, the willpower and perseverance to fight the uphill battle to have their vision and their idea succeed. I think it’s inspirational.”