Women will be the first adopters of neurotechnology — here’s why

Emilė Radytė
9 min readJul 17, 2023

To your surprise and mine, women lining up to get the newest neurotech for their everyday needs didn’t seem to strike most of the people I initially pitched Samphire Neuroscience (my FemTech startup) to as so obvious a no-brainer as I would have thought.

Some of the women who tested Samphire’s first prototype (right) and didn’t think it was crazy.

Now, almost two years into the process of building, testing, and pitching our neuromodulatory headband (via Samphire) to potential users — women, doctors, and investors alike, I’ve formulated a compelling hypothesis. I believe that women represent the most promising target market, and women’s health, the most promising domain for neurotechnology to become mainstream. As we move forward, only time and user experiences will tell if the hypothesis holds up, but for the moment, my rationale is summarised in the following three reasons:

  1. There is a gap in health care solutions available for women-specific needs, and that gap is more likely to be filled by neurotechnology than traditional (pharmacological/hormonal) approaches as technology becomes more democratised and accessible.
  2. Women love technology, especially when it comes to enhancing themselves. There are many examples of high-tech products that have found a niche in mainstream women-dominated markets, like laser hair removal, laser skin resurfacing, advanced hair care (AirWrap, anyone?).
  3. For better or worse, women’s imperfect-ness has been consistently stigmatised in society regardless of their roles (whether as mothers, bosses or partners), so women are open to paying premiums for mental and physical improvements as an investment that will pay-off.

Sharing some context on each of the above points below, but just a reminder that this discussion is:

a) a personal opinion;

b) not restricting the word ‘women’ only to people assigned female at birth or identifying as women, but to people who fit the 3 criteria outlined below, some of them common in other clinically neglected demographic groups, but most of them shared by women of affluent status in developed societies — I’ll expand on this in a later entry;

c) not supposed to give a sense that all neurotechnology is sparkly and new — I’ll expand on neurotechnology being more common than you’d think already in a later entry as well.

1. Filling the Gap in Women’s Healthcare with Neurotechnology

I have previously written on the gender-pain gap and the fact that there’s a lot of complexity and nuance to it. However, in its most simple form, it merely states that research and treatments available to predominantly –or only– female conditions have been neglected when compared to the attention and funding afforded to topics that predominantly or fully affect men.

Taking this a step further, solutions presented to common women’s health needs, including anything from premenstrual syndrome and menstrual pain symptoms to contraception, post-partum care and migraines have been frustratingly generic, often adapted from other treatments even prior to being tested on female samples in the first place. This, more often than not, has left women with a range of side effects, compromising their health, careers and quality of life, and even then — not always providing the symptom relief they deserve.

Historically, most options available to women mirrored those available across healthcare, such as an extreme focus on pharmacological interventions (which are excellent for some, but often don’t work for people with any more complex co-morbidities, an increasingly dominant population), but when they did deviate, they tended to be more — rather than less — technologically advanced. An example of this are hormonal IUDs and implants, already mainstream in contraception, but with no real comparable equivalent for men (ironically, couldn’t stop myself from drawing attention to the fact that one of the best targeted women’s health complaints is that of contraception, where the relevance to men is almost overshadowing the female need).

People say “Necessity is the mother of invention.” But necessity, or in this case, a persistent gap in healthcare, could also be the mother of acceptance. When conventional solutions fall short, people are far more likely to be open to innovative approaches. This is where I see neurotechnology slotting in.

Neurotechnology offers the potential for personalised treatment of a variety of conditions, especially chronic ones, where the benefit/risk assessment of longer-term and/or invasive solutions becomes positive; and chronic conditions disproportionately affect women. Imagine being able to monitor, manage, and even alleviate symptoms of conditions like PMS, menstrual pain, migraines or menopausal hot flashes, which afflict women throughout their lives.

In the case of women’s health, the time for waiting seems to be over. The promise of neurotechnology, with its potential to fill these gaps and offer effective, personalized solutions, is just too compelling. Time and development of solutions for women will tell, of course, but I, for one, am betting that this gap will be filled with creative and novel, brain-based solutions.

In August 2021, I sat in the lobby of the Saïd Business School in Oxford with a brain stimulation device consisting of two bright yellow electrodes connected via two long wires to a brick with electronics in it, and a couple of scientific papers printed on my lap. Feeling a bit awkward, I approached a couple of women sitting in the café and asked them (with some more intro) if they were interested in trying a brain stimulation device for managing their PMS and menstrual pain symptoms. Over the next 6 hours, 20 women had tried the device for 20 minutes each, most of them trying it out after walking past other women trying this crazy-looking device (see illustration of some of these first brilliant women below); their only complaint — make it pretty– stuck with me as we set out to build Samphire. The most striking aspect of the whole experience, however, was that women approached rather than avoided us after seeing how crazy the device looked from afar — they were interested in what the new technology was, and that was the first time I knew that women have not been heard enough in tech.

Some of the women who approached us testing a brain stimulation device for PMS and menstrual pain asking to try it in the first wave.

2. Women love technology

Two of my favourite examples of women loving technology that most men would probably consider to be crazy/too invasive and yet that most people will encounter every day through their interactions with women are laser hair removal and gel nail polish (and we’re not even discussing the UV face masks or Japanese hydrogen facial therapies). In both of these cases, technologies that were invasive and unfamiliar gained mainstream popularity with women based purely on scientific reasoning (first) and group-think (second). To women, these types of innovative technologies are not just about the novelty, but the promise of time-saving, comfort, and superior results compared to traditional methods. And when these methods deliver, women buy — and recommend– them.

For instance, laser hair removal, post its FDA approval in the mid-90s, quickly became the go-to hair removal solution, riding on the endorsement and acceptance of women. The tech, perceived as an upgrade from labor-intensive methods like shaving or waxing, soon gained popularity. The evidence is in the numbers: In 2019 alone, over a million treatments were performed in the US, with women making up 92% of the clientele. That’s a substantial investment in terms of money, time, and trust from women in technology.

Similarly, the gel nail revolution started with initial apprehensions about UV exposure and an ‘unnatural’ process, and over time, the allure of durable, chip-free nails won women over. Predictions suggest the global nail care market will hit $11.6 billion by 2027, dominated by gel-based products — a testament to women’s openness to embrace, invest in, and popularise technology that works for “problems” that may be disproportionately female.

In that same vein, it is probably right to say that the baseline number of innovative tech items an average woman in a developed economy engages with is higher than a man. Then, it may not seem that far a stretch at all, and in fact — maybe an expectation, that a woman who has undergone laser hair removal, gets gel nails done, uses Natural Cycles for contraception and does her hair before work with a Dyson after using a matcha frother for her morning cuppa, while using all the regular technology that men do at work, probably will use neurotech wearables for controlling her mood and pain at work every month, likely after a recommendation from a friend.

From where I stand, for women, transitioning from external enhancements to internal wellbeing feels like the natural progression. Based on history, it seems a safe bet women are more than ready to embark on this journey and try something new that works, even (and maybe even more so) if that’s neurotechnology.

3. Investing in themselves has historically paid off for women

Now, this paragraph is a bit problematic, which I’m saying not to avoid criticism or to get away with it easily but, because of my anthropological training, I felt the need to be true to the language that women that I’ve interviewed or spoken casually to about the work that Samphire does over the last two years have used to describe how they think, feel and act with regards to spending money on themselves, and on the categories of spending on themselves.

In general, a trend that unfortunately still seems to permeate the way women think of themselves is that tacit norms around appearance, behaviour, propriety and effort govern career, social and romantic options. Women, having masterfully navigated these tacit norms, understand the subtle game of investing into high-leverage behaviours better than most.

At the same time, there is a co-incidence of women’s increasing economic, social and political power, driven by increased female workforce participation and a rise (even if still meagre) in women in executive and board positions. These women are proactively investing in their health, beauty, and overall wellness, as evidenced by the rise in luxury brands and the fact that things like thermo fractional facials exist. However, I’m making a simple point that it would be remiss to say that this is merely about aesthetics or feeling good — these investments are intimately tied to professional advancements. By the way, the Economist did multiple series showing that is actually (and unfortunately) the case, feel free to explore here.

One of our early testers, reading a book on entrepreneurship as she tries the predecessor to Samphire’s FireBand.

Similarly to how being ‘pretty’ or ‘taking care of herself’ have been rewarded in women’s careers, so have their characteristics of being in control, thinking logically and not being swayed by emotions. However, while this is a whole topic to be tackled separately, here is where neurotechnology can provide women with a method to not be un-emotional or think logically all the time — but rather, like with any other technology they seem to have embraced, to give them the sense of control over nature.

As an innovative field, neurotechnology can provide tools to enhance cognitive functions, manage stress, and boost mental wellness. It essentially serves as a cerebral ‘beauty treatment,’ and women, as adept forward-thinkers keen to control their destinies in anything from contraception to board room seats, are quick to recognize its immense value.

By embracing neurotech for mental wellness, women not only prioritize their health but also amplify productivity, bolster efficiency, and build resilience against workplace stressors. Moreover, their commitment to personal growth and wellness cultivates professional respect and trust. Women understand that, in a society where their perceived imperfections are consistently stigmatized — irrespective of their roles as mothers, bosses, or partners — these mental and physical improvements are not just welcome but essential. They are ready to pay the premium for this investment, seeing its promise of personal and professional payoffs.

It’s no wonder, then, that after encountering all this I came to believe that women will be the early adopters of neurotechnology. This investment, promising both personal and professional returns, is too enticing to overlook. As we navigate this promising future, I’m therefore confident that women will not just be a part of the narrative, but will be its forefront, writing what neurotechnology that is part of everyday life looks like.

--

--

Emilė Radytė

Neuroscientist trained in Harvard and Oxford. Co-founder & CEO @Samphire Neuroscience. Women's health, psychiatry innovation and neurodiversity advocate.