Here are four ways to look out for the women at your company. Photo via Getty Images

Fresh from the nation celebrating Mother’s Day last weekend weekend, recognizing the valuable role women play in raising their families, it is also an appropriate time to reflect upon the struggles women continue to face in a post-pandemic workplace. Women are juggling remote/hybrid schedules along with schooling dilemmas and a decline in childcare options, expediting burnout and fueling the “Great Resignation,” which continues to be a concern as the number of quits in March reached a record high of 4.5 million.

According to a recent Deloitte report, Women @ Work 2022: A Global Outlook, over 50% of women plan to quit their jobs in the next two years due to burnout. In addition, 53% of women say their stress levels are higher than they were a year ago; 46% say they feel burned out; nearly half rated their mental health as poor or very poor; only 43% feel comfortable talking about mental health challenges in the workplace; and 47% rated work-life balance as poor or extremely poor.

These are alarming statistics, but the challenges are not insurmountable as employers work to attract and retain top talent. Below are four ways savvy leaders can support women and working parents in the workplace.

Promote work-life balance

With many employees feeling burned out and exhausted from an extended period of working longer hours and handling schooling/caregiving responsibilities, it is crucial for leaders to promote work-life balance to help alleviate further repercussions and restore equilibrium. While encouraging employees to use allotted paid time off (PTO) and paid volunteer hours are significant ways, there are smaller steps that can add up to big differences in achieving work-life balance. Leaders should encourage employees to step away from their screens by taking daily breaks, enjoying lunch hours, starting/ending the workday on time and refraining from after-hours emails. Leaders should also set an example by practicing what they preach to attain work-life balance. Finding opportunities to unplug via PTO, volunteering and brief amounts of time each day can help employees feel refreshed and focused when they do return to their screens. When employees have work-life balance, it can give them a new perspective and make their jobs feel more rewarding as they pursue their careers.

Support career growth

One of the most important ways to support employees is to offer professional development programs that support career growth and lead to advancement opportunities within the company. Leaders should work with employees to define a career path that supports their career goals and aspirations and identify the best tools/resources required to accomplish their objectives. Professional development programs should offer a variety of resources that align with individual/business objectives, such as on-the-job training, supervisory instruction, formal mentoring programs, instructor-led courses, online learning and conferences to help employees learn in a well-rounded manner that supports varying learning styles. In addition, employers can further demonstrate their support for the growth and educational needs of employees by offering tuition reimbursement programs. When employees have a chance to expand their skill sets and continue to learn/grow, they are more engaged and connected to the company and less likely to seek opportunities elsewhere.

Boost well-being efforts

As employee mental health/wellness has moved to the forefront at many companies, leaders are boosting their efforts to improve, expand or change aspects of their employee well-being programs to address the needs and expectations of the workforce. While generous PTO programs, paid volunteer time, EAPs, mindfulness programs and meditation apps are a solid start, companies should go further by taking a more holistic approach to well-being by weaving it into the company’s DNA. Well-being should be a consideration in all aspects of business operations – from branding and productivity to performance and purpose – facilitating endless opportunities to view the business through a health and wellness lens. In addition, employers that realize many factors influence employees’ lives and their overall health, such as purpose/career, social, financial, physical, community and mental/emotional are displaying their commitment to employee wellness and positioning their companies for long-term success.

Offer relevant perks

The stress related to financial concerns can lead to employee burnout and mental health issues, so leaders should identify ways to help ease some of the monetary burden. Although some expenses may decrease in a remote/hybrid work environment, others might increase in areas such as home/office equipment purchases, office supplies, higher utility bills and child/elder care expenses, causing additional employee stress. When employers offer relevant perks to offset some of these costs, including company-sponsored discounts, gift cards for office supply companies, partial reimbursement for internet service, assistance with child/elder care expenses, raffles for monthly house cleaning, dog-walking or laundry services, or lunches via a food delivery service they are demonstrating care and concern for employees.

While Mother’s Day is only celebrated once a year, the struggles that women and working parents face daily should be a topic of conversation that is elevated and ongoing in boardrooms across the country. As increasing numbers of working parents and employees experience burnout and mental health concerns that may lead to further resignations, it is imperative for business leaders to combat the situation by promoting work-life balance, supporting career growth, boosting well-being efforts and offering relevant perks.

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Jill Chapman is a senior performance consultant with Insperity, a leading provider of human resources and business performance solutions.

When it comes to the SECURE Act 2.0's affect on businesses, here are six areas leaders of startups should consider. Photo via Pexels

6 things startups should know about the latest HR legislation, according to this Houston expert

guest column

In an effort to encourage more workers to save for retirement, the federal government passed the Setting Every Community Up for Retirement Enhancement (SECURE) Act that went into effect in December 2019, benefiting employers that established retirement plans with tax credits and providing employees with an avenue to save for retirement.

To build upon this retirement savings legislation, the U.S. House of Representatives recently passed a bill entitled, Securing a Strong Retirement Act of 2022, by an overwhelming bipartisan majority. This bill has been nicknamed SECURE Act 2.0 because it builds on the original SECURE Act. Although the SECURE Act 2.0 is not yet a law and requires consideration by the U.S. Senate, its powerful appeal in the U.S. House of Representatives is a strong indicator of further developments to retirement savings legislation in the not-so-distant future.

While the SECURE Act 2.0 affects all businesses, it appears that startups and small businesses may have the most to gain from the legislation in its current state. Below are six areas leaders of startups and small businesses should consider.

Boosts primary goals

The SECURE Act 2.0 is designed to boost the initial efforts of phase one by focusing on additional ways to address serious concerns about the adequacy of retirement savings in the U.S workforce. While it has always been critical for employees to take more responsibility for their retirement savings, now is the time to further elevate the conversation by appealing to employers and educating workers about investing early and the power of compound interest.

When more startups and small businesses offer retirement savings plans, it lays a foundation to increase the number of plan participants and improve their financial well-being. If the bill is passed, projections indicate at least a 10 percent increase in overall employee participation, which helps move the needle in a positive direction to advance retirement savings initiatives.

Offers employer incentives

The SECURE Act 2.0 provides significant incentives for startups and small businesses establishing retirement plans by doubling tax credits and number of employees who qualify. For businesses with fewer than 50 employees, the current tax credit is equal to 50 percent of administrative costs, with an annual cap of $5,000, for three years. However, the SECURE Act 2.0 would increase this to 100 percent for companies with up to 50 employees. It also creates a new credit that allows smaller employers to offset what they contribute to the plan, up to $1,000 per participant. This additional credit is available in full to employers with 50 or fewer employees, and a partial credit is available for employers with 51 to 100 employees. Penalties for some reporting mistakes will also be decreased, helping businesses avoid a negative impact on the bottom line.

Simplifies saving for employees

One of the best ways to save for retirement is through automatic payroll deductions that fund retirement accounts on a consistent basis. Many individuals are either uninformed, overlook the enrollment process, feel it is unaffordable or have other priorities. The SECURE Act 2.0 simplifies saving for employees by requiring employers that establish new plans to automatically enroll new hires in the plans at a pretax contribution level of three percent of their pay. The levels would escalate one percent annually up to at least 10 percent; however, they cannot exceed 15 percent of pay. There are some exceptions, including for small businesses with 10 or fewer employees. Although employees have the option to opt out of the program, in theory, it is simpler to remain enrolled, which can lead to increased financial security.

Appeals to multiple generations

With at least four generations currently in the workforce, employees are at different stages on their road to retirement, so the SECURE Act 2.0 takes the various groups into consideration. With older employees remaining in the workforce longer, the bill raises the age for required minimum distributions from 72-75 based on a phased approach. In addition, for employees aged 62-64, the catch-up contributions would be increased to $10,000 starting in 2024. However, starting in 2023, all catch-up contributions – affecting everyone age 50 and older – would have to be made to Roth accounts allowing the money to be taxed sooner. The benefit of Roth accounts is that distributions are tax-free.

The SECURE Act 2.0 provides the statutory basis for employers to match contributions for student loan debts based on employees’ student loan payments, even if employees are not making retirement contributions, which helps younger employees consumed with student loan debt continue to pay off loans, while getting retirement accounts started. It also addresses the influx of more long-term, part-time workers with at least 500 hours of service a year, by reducing the eligibility period for them to participate in a retirement plan from three consecutive years to two years, which is effective in 2023. With a broad appeal, startups and small businesses can rest assured that implementing a retirement plan will make a difference and benefit all workers.

Attracts and retains talent

When startups and small businesses evaluate their employee benefits, more weight is typically placed on providing health care benefits, as opposed to retirement plans, so they lag behind larger companies that offer 401(k) plans. As the competition for talent continues, smaller companies should consider establishing retirement plans to attract and retain top performers and gain a more competitive advantage. Through the SECURE Act 2.0, startups and small businesses would receive incentives to help level the playing field, so now is the time to develop a strategy and be prepared if/when the bill is passed.

Requires professional assistance 

Based on the current timeline, employers have roughly eight months to prepare, so it is vital to take the proper steps for their businesses. Establishing a 401(k) plan can be complicated and overwhelming for leaders at startups and small businesses, especially given their limited time and resources. Leaders should seek professional assistance rather than try it on their own for numerous reasons, including investment selection, fiduciary liability and payroll integration.

While providers such as banks, attorneys, accountants, insurance brokers and investment advisors may suffice, it is likely more efficient and cost effective to enlist a full-service HR provider that seamlessly handles HR administration and payroll processing, employee benefits, retirement services and more for a comprehensive approach to supporting startups and small businesses.

As startups and small businesses look for ways to move their companies forward, they should consider the benefits of establishing a 401(k) plan that not only attracts and retains top talent, but also helps to instill a greater sense of financial responsibility and well-being for the future of American families.

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John Stanton is vice president of retirement services operations with Houston-based Insperity.

This week's roundup of Houston innovators includes Kimon Angelides of FemTec Health, Sandy Guitar of HX Venture Fund, and Jill Chapman of Insperity. Courtesy photos

3 Houston innovators to know this week

who's who

Editor's note: In this week's roundup of Houston innovators to know, I'm introducing you to three local innovators across industries — from venture capital to femtech — recently making headlines in Houston innovation.

Kimon Angelides, CEO of FemTech Health

Dr. Kimon Angelides, a serial entrepreneur in Houston, joins the Houston Innovators Podcast to discuss how he plans to disrupt women's health and beauty. Photo courtesy

Founded in 2020 by Kimon Angelides, FemTec Health is creating a holistic approach to women's health in both a B2B and a direct-to-consumers capacity. He explains on the Houston Innovators Podcast that most treatment for women is centered around age, rather than the type of health care they are looking for and need.

"Women don't really have a program that's designed for them," Angelides says on the show. "We embarked in terms of building a platform and a company that would be a single destination for women — one that's not age specific but built around journeys." Click here to continue reading.

Sandy Guitar, managing director of HX Venture Fund

Sandy Guitar of HX Venture Fund explains how they're working with out-of-town VCs to fund Houston companies in a recent Q&A. Photo courtesy

Last week, the HX Venture Fund — a fund of funds that makes investments as a limited partner in venture capital funds across the country — hosted Washington D.C.-based Revolution Ventures in Houston to introduce the firm to local entrepreneurs. Tige Savage, co-founder and managing partner of Revolution Ventures, and Sandy Guitar, managing partner of HX Venture Fund, join InnovationMap for a Q&A about how the two organizations are working together to put funding in the hands of Houston tech entrepreneurs.

"This is our second event this year already, and we've done about half a dozen of these so far of what we call VC engage days," Guitar says. "The idea of the VC engage day is to really connect all of our communities together." Click here to read more.

Jill Chapman, senior performance consultant with Insperity

Gen Z is predicted to represent more than 25 percent of the workforce by 2025 — here's how you can prepare your workplace for their imminent arrival. Photo courtesy of Insperity

Gen Z workers — they are coming. In a guest column for InnovationMap, Jill Chapman, senior performance consultant with Insperity, shares tips on preparing your workplace for the future.

"As business leaders prepare for an influx of Zoomers in the workplace by promoting mission/values, employee well-being, DEI and technology, they are also making significant strides toward improving the work environment, which leads to increased employee engagement, retention and performance for sustained business success." Click here to read more.

Gen Z is predicted to represent more than 25 percent of the workforce by 2025 — here's how you can prepare your workplace for their imminent arrival. Photo via unsplash.com

4 ways to prepare for Gen Z in the workplace

guest column

As each ensuing generation enters the workforce, they bring with them unique characteristics and desires that encourage employers to take notice, which typically results in proactive steps that significantly improve the workplace. Enter Generation Z, or Zoomers, which is an appropriate moniker given the Zoom era and descriptive nature of their rapid interconnection with technology.

Zoomers, born between 1997-2012, are reported to be the most diverse generation in U.S. history. They are also considered true digital natives born in the era of Wi-Fi, Google, social media, and smartphones. Although the oldest members are only 25, Zoomers are already voicing their opinions about key aspects of the workplace.

As employers continue to define and refine their workplaces to attract and retain top talent, now is an ideal time to address the needs of Zoomers, who are predicted to represent more than 25 percent of the workforce by 2025. Below are four areas for business leaders to consider as they prepare for an influx of Zoomers.

Promote mission and values

Zoomers place a high value on meaning and purpose in their lives, so they want to be associated with companies that have a mission that extends beyond making a profit and makes a difference in the world.

Business leaders should review/re-evaluate their mission and core values accordingly to position the company in a manner that connects to a greater good and establishes ways employees’ roles contribute to meeting organizational objectives.

Companies should prominently promote their mission and core values statements in all recruiting materials, job descriptions, websites and career pages to demonstrate their commitment to being an employer with a higher purpose that aligns with the current environment and workplace needs.

Embrace holistic well being

Although employee wellness and mental health are the topics of many conversations and initiatives, Zoomers expect employers to ramp up efforts and embrace a holistic approach to employee well-being.

Companies should go beyond the basics and realize that many factors influence employees’ lives and their overall health, such as purpose/career, social, financial, physical, community and mental/emotional. For example, it is important for employees to feel connected to the community, so employers can offer paid time to volunteer. Mindfulness programs, meditation apps and EAPs offer mental/emotional support.

Putting programs and services in place that focus on the six areas for a holistic approach is critical to Zoomers.

Consider DEI initiatives

As the most diverse generation in U.S. history, Zoomers are mindful about diversity, equity and inclusion in the workplace. They are interested in companies that have solid DEI programs in place and demonstrate them through actions.

For example, addressing the composition of boards and executive teams for equal representation; conducting ongoing DEI training in the workplace to raise awareness and institute behavioral change; ensuring a diverse hiring panel and slate of candidates during recruiting efforts; and offering robust mentoring programs for equal learning/advancement opportunities are ways for companies to support DEI initiatives.

Companies should display their DEI stances on websites and in recruiting materials to ensure Zoomers are aware of their efforts to remain relevant and make a difference for everyone in the workforce.

Optimize technology

Zoomers are considered to be true digital natives and have an innate ability to use technology, so they prefer employers that offer the latest technology and tools to enhance their performance in the workplace. In addition, Zoomers are a mobile-first generation that grew up with smartphones and tablets, so many of their activities, such as job searches, employer research, and work applications are conducted on mobile devices.

Employers should optimize technology by using HR technology platforms that are mobile friendly for all aspects of the business, including recruiting, hiring, onboarding, time, and attendance, performance management, training and more. Communication platforms such as Slack, Zoom, and Microsoft Teams should be staples in the workplace, along with relevant social media platforms for instant connections, to help employers remain relevant to Zoomers.

As business leaders prepare for an influx of Zoomers in the workplace by promoting mission/values, employee well-being, DEI and technology, they are also making significant strides toward improving the work environment, which leads to increased employee engagement, retention and performance for sustained business success.

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Jill Chapman is a senior performance consultant with Insperity, a leading provider of human resources and business performance solutions.

Most leaders are so preoccupied with the health/well-being and engagement of their teams, they forget the steps necessary to take care of themselves. Photo via Pexels

4 leadership tips for managing compassion fatigue from this Houston expert

guest column

Age-old advice for stressed caregivers typically shared by concerned friends and relatives is ‘take care of yourself first or you won’t have anything left for others.’ With or without the advice, many caregivers continue to selflessly do for others at the expense of their own health and well-being because it is in their DNA.

The workplace is no exception, especially for workers in leadership roles who have supported the emotional and physical needs of their staff nonstop for two years. Many leaders, from CEOs to frontline managers, have not only dealt with their own issues as a result of the pandemic, but also those of their teams, leaving them exhausted and suffering from compassion fatigue because they failed to follow their own advice.

Below are four ways leaders can manage compassion fatigue.

Lead by example

Leaders have spent countless time promoting company policies, programs and benefits that help employees deal with increased levels of stress in their professional and personal lives, which can have an impact on mental health and well-being. One of the first things leaders should do is set an example by utilizing the programs themselves to address compassion fatigue. Practicing what they preach not only supports the mental well-being of leaders, but it also demonstrates a culture that cares about mental health issues. Taking the initiative can encourage peers and others to take advantage of a company’s employee-support mechanisms.

Take time off

There are numerous reasons why many leaders are hesitant about taking time off, but the most common reasons are fear of being viewed as dispensable or worry that work will not get completed. It is not unusual for leaders to carry over weeks of PTO, or even lose it completely rather than use it. Disconnecting from work by taking time off is critical for renewal and emotional health that leads to rejuvenated leaders who are highly engaged and more motivated to lead their teams. While taking time off benefits leaders, it also builds confidence in staff because they recognize the trust that has been placed in them while the boss is gone.

Reach out to HR

Based on the widespread occurrence of compassion fatigue, chances are other leaders are experiencing the same feelings. Reaching out to HR can help get the ball rolling for additional programs designed to support leaders. For example, hosting lunch-and-learn sessions with medical professionals for advice, offering training sessions that cover relaxation methods, and creating a buddy system that pairs leaders for increased connections and mutual support. When leaders throughout the company realize they are not alone, they will feel more comfortable seeking help and participating in company-sponsored programs.

Develop a peer-to-peer accountability system

For higher-level executives who report directly to busy CEOs or a board of directors, there are fewer levels of oversight to address compassion fatigue. In fact, these may be the very individuals in most need of support. Executive teams should develop peer-to-peer accountability systems to support each other via biweekly mental health check-up chats, periodic PTO usage updates, quarterly retreats with dedicated downtime to relax, and weekly walking meetings. When executive teams create accountability systems, it helps to support mental health and well-being, build greater trust, and nurture stronger relationships that position leaders to better serve the organization.

It is no surprise that most leaders are so preoccupied with the health/well-being and engagement of their teams, they forget the steps necessary to take care of themselves. Leaders who embrace a popular philosophy – as go the leaders, so goes the culture and the company – should feel compelled to combat compassion fatigue by leading by example, taking time off, reaching out to HR and developing peer-to-peer accountability systems, putting their best selves forward to serve the needs of their teams and organization.

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Sherry Waters is vice president of field operations for Houston-based Insperity, a leading provider of human resources and business performance solutions.

This major sporting event doesn't just have to disrupt your team. Photo via Getty Images

March Madness: 4 tips for Houston businesses to embrace 'The Big Dance'

guest column

For sports enthusiasts, one of the most popular competitions that attracts tens of millions of viewers is here – March Madness, the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Tournament. As fans gear up for three weeks of action, employers are also excited, but for very different reasons.

March Madness can be a distraction in the workplace that hinders productivity. According to Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc., lost productivity during the tournament can cost employers over $13 billion, with nearly 50 percent of workers spending more than six hours of work time on March Madness activities. With an increase in hybrid/remote workers, the stage is set for more employees to view games during the workday, leading to higher levels of productivity losses.

Although these numbers are staggering, savvy employers can leverage March Madness to promote team building and boost employee engagement, which can have a positive impact on long-term success. Below are four tips for business leaders to consider as they embrace March Madness.

Embrace the reality

Employers should accept the reality that employees will participate in March Madness activities regardless of company policies. With access to the tournament through streaming services, updates on websites, social media discussions, bracket activities and more autonomy in remote situations, it is impossible for employers to monitor.

Companies that embrace the madness will experience less frustration for management and greater appreciation from workers. More importantly, it demonstrates a human side when companies incorporate current events into daily interactions that support the interests of employees, along with business needs.

Understand the reality

While the tournament is a short-term event, the way employers handle it can have long-term benefits. As countless businesses look for ways to extend the culture to remote workers, leaders can rally around this event to facilitate more interactions and develop stronger bonds, further connecting employees to the company.

With proper management, levels of employee engagement, morale, performance and retention increase, which can have a dramatic effect on future initiatives and the bottom line. When leaders extend trust and enable employees the flexibility to enjoy the tournament in some manner, they are investing in the future.

Set guidelines

Business leaders should be proactive about March Madness by recognizing employees’ excitement and setting guidelines. A best practice is to distribute an email about the tournament and expectations surrounding activities, along with a reminder that sports gambling is illegal in the workplace.

For those coming into the office, enable televisions to display games so employees can get quick updates or watch games during breaks/lunch hours. When employees understand expectations, they are better able to manage their responsibilities and appropriately share in the festivities, leading to continued performance and improved morale.

Nurture the culture

March Madness is an ideal way to incorporate relevant activities that nurture the culture and involve remote employees. Encourage employees to wear jerseys of their favorite teams on game days, take pictures and post them on the intranet/social media. Hold a contest for the best-decorated workspace that includes home offices.

Hosting virtual events like bracket-picking breaks, game-watching gatherings and hoops happy hours offer groups a chance to connect. Awarding gifts cards to employees who pick winning brackets for the Sweet Sixteen, Elite Eight and Final Four promotes friendly competition. A PTO raffle for picking The Big Dance national champion is a bonus. When employees are part of a fun environment, it increases camaraderie and team building that nurtures the culture.

As the hype around March Madness builds and people scurry to finalize their brackets, employers should join in on the excitement and seize the opportunity to bring remote teams closer to the fold, promote the culture and position the company for continued success.

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Jill Chapman is a senior performance consultant with Insperity, a leading provider of human resources and business performance solutions.

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Houston college system plans to open $30M resiliency-focused center

to the rescue

Houston’s initiative to protect the city from catastrophes is getting a big boost from Houston Community College.

The college is developing the Resilience Center of Excellence to aid the city’s resilience campaign. At the heart of this project is the 65,000-square-foot, $30 million Resiliency Operations Center, which will be built on a five-acre site HCC’s Northeast campus. The complex is scheduled to open in 2024.

HCC estimates the operations center will train about 3,000 to 4,000 local first responders, including police officers and firefighters, during the first three years of operation. They’ll be instructed to prepare for, manage, and respond to weather, health and manmade hazards such as hurricanes, floods, fires, chemical spills, and winter freezes.

According to The Texas Tribune, the operations center will include flood-simulation features like a 39-foot-wide swift water rescue channel, a 15-foot-deep dive area, and a 100-foot-long “rocky gorge” of boulders.

The college says the first-in-the-nation Resilience Center of Excellence will enable residents, employers, civic organizations, neighborhoods, and small businesses to obtain education and certification aimed at improving resilience efforts.

“Our objective is to protect the well-being of our citizens and our communities and increase economic stability,” Cesar Maldonado, chancellor of HCC, said when the project was announced.

Among the programs under the Resiliency Center of Excellence umbrella will be non-credit courses focusing on public safety and rescue, disaster management, medical triage, and debris removal.

Meanwhile, the basic Resilience 101 program will be available to businesses and community organizations, and the emergency response program is geared toward individuals, families, and neighborhoods.

HCC’s initiative meshes with the City of Houston’s Resilient Houston, a strategy launched in 2020 that’s designed to protect Houston against disasters. As part of this strategy, the city has hired a chief resilience and sustainability officer, Priya Zachariah.

“Every action we take and investment we make should continue to improve our collective ability to withstand the unexpected shocks and disruptions when they arrive — from hurricanes to global pandemics, to extreme heat or extreme cold,” Mayor Sylvester Turner said last year. “The time is now to stop doing things the way we’ve always done them because the threats are too unpredictable.”

In an InnovationMap guest column published in February 2021, Richard Seline, co-founder of the Houston-based Resilience Innovation Hub, wrote that the focus of resilience initiatives should be pre-disaster risk mitigation.

“There is still work to be done from a legislative and governmental perspective, but more and more innovators — especially in Houston — are proving to be essential in creating a better future for the next historic disaster we will face,” Seline wrote.

Houston startup equips medical teams with data-driven hiring tool

staffing up

A surgeon spends over a decade in school and residency perfecting their medical skills, but that education doesn't usually include human resources training. Yet, when it comes to placing candidates into surgical programs, the hiring responsibilities fell on the shoulders of surgeons.

Aimee Gardner, who has her PhD in organized psychology, saw this inefficiency first hand.

"I worked in a large surgery department in Dallas right out of graduate school and quickly learned how folks are selected into residency and fellowship programs and all the time that goes into it — time spent by physicians reviewing piles and piles of like paper applications and spending lots and lots and of hours interviewing like hundreds of candidates," Gardner tells InnovationMap. "I was just really shocked by the inefficiencies from just a business and workforce perspective."

And things have only gotten worse. There are more applicants hitting the scene every year and they are applying to more hospitals and programs. Future surgeons used to apply for 20 or so programs — now it’s more like 65 on average. According to her research, Gardner says reviewing these applications cost lots of time and money, specifically $100,000 to fill five spots annually just up to the interviewing phase of the process.

Five years ago, Gardner came up with a solution to this “application fever,” as she describes, and all the inefficiencies, and founded SurgWise Consulting, where she serves as president and CEO.

"We help provide assessments to help screen competencies and attributes that people care about," Gardner says. "(Those) are really hard to assess, but really differentiate people who really thrive in training in their careers and people who don't."

Aimee Gardner is the CEO and president of Houston-based SurgWise. Photo via surgwise.com

These are the non-technical skills, like the professionalism, interpersonal skills, and communication. While SurgWise began as a service-oriented consulting company, the company is now ready to tap technology to expand upon its solution. The work started out of Houston Methodist, and SurgWise is still working with surgery teams there. She says they've accumulated tons of data that can be leveraged and streamlined.

"We're now pivoting from a very intimate client approach to a more scalable offering. Every year we assess essentially around 80 percent of all the people applying to be future surgeons — those in pediatric surgery, vascular surgery, and more,” Gardner says. “We’ve used kind of the last five years of data and experiences to create a more scalable, easy-to-integrate, and off-the-shelf solution.”

Gardner says her solution is critical for providing more equity in the hiring process.

“One of our goals was to create more equitable opportunities and platforms to assess folks because many of the traditional tools and processes that most people use in this space have lots of opportunity for bias and a high potential for disadvantaging individuals from underrepresented groups," she says. "For example, letters of recommendation are often a very insider status. If you went to some Ivy League or your parents were in health care and they know someone, you have that step up from a networking and socioeconomic status standpoint."

Personal statements and test scores are also inequitable, because they tend to be better submissions if people have money for coaching.

SurgWise hopes to lower the number of programs future surgeons apply to too to further streamline the process. She hopes to do this through an app and web tool that can matchmake people to the right program.

“Our ultimate goal is to create a platform for applicants to obtain a lot more information about the various places to which they apply to empower them to make more informed decisions, so that they don't have to apply to a hundred places," Gardner says. "We want to essentially create a match-style app that allows them to input some data and tell us 'here's what I'm looking for here are my career goals and any preferences I have.'”

While that tool is down the road, Gardner says SurgWise is full speed ahead toward launching the data-driven hiring platform. The bootstrapped company hopes to raise early venture funding this summer in order to hire and grow its team.

“As we continue to consider this app that I talked about and some of the other opportunities to scale to other specialties we're gonna start looking for a series A funding later this summer.”