Tiffany Whitlow utilized her personal experiences to co-found a startup company that is filling a crucial gap in health care, Acclinate. Acclinate is improving health equity through inclusive clinical research. Diversity is important in clinical research, because not everyone reacts the same to a given medication—and sometimes the patient’s ethnicity can make a big difference. For instance, a treatment that works well for white Americans might be less effective for communities of color, or it might give them unwanted side effects. At Acclinate Tiffany empowers communities of color through awareness, education and access to clinical research opportunities. Tiffany champions inclusion over diversity within the healthcare field and continues to challenge the status quo.
Tiffany is Acclinate’s Co-Founder and Chief Development Officer, and with her fellow co-founder Delmonize Smith, CEO, they are building a range of other services to connect minority communities with pharma companies and healthcare providers. The goal is for all people to be able to make better-informed decisions about treatment options, care and have access to that care. Acclinate is attracting major support, and has received financing and other forms of assistance from Google, through its Black Founders Fund.
World Woman Hour honors her for making significant contributions to health care while serving as an advocate and role model for women. What makes Tiffany stand out among healthcare entrepreneurs is that she is doing all of this without the benefit of having advanced degrees in either science or business. What Tiffany does have is a tremendous drive for turning real-world learning into useful innovation. Here are highlights from her interview with WWH.
Q: Tiffany, would you start by telling us the story of how you came to be where you are today?
Tiffany Whitlow: Very early in life, I was adopted into a biracial family. My birth mother gave me up for adoption because of the color of my skin. As I grew up, it was important to me to make sound healthcare decisions, but I couldn’t do that since I didn’t know much about my family’s health history. When I became a mom at 19 years old, it was no longer just about my healthcare decisions, I now had to make decisions for someone else, who was depending on me. I needed to be sure that I was making informed decisions. My son was hospitalized and diagnosed with asthma. He was given the most commonly prescribed drug Albuterol which, unfortunately, is 47% less effective in African Americans and 67% less effective in Puerto Ricans. That’s just one example of a commonly prescribed drug that is less effective, or has negative side effects, due to a person’s ethnicity, which is why our work at Acclinate is so important.
Q: What gives you the passion to keep pushing forward with all of the work involved in starting and building a company?
Tiffany: Not enough people know that there’s a lack of diversity in clinical trials, which means we are consuming drugs that may not be the best for us. I’ve always had a passion for ensuring that those who feel unheard are heard, and are represented and included.
Q: What have you learned about overcoming setbacks and failures on your journey?
Tiffany: A failure is not a failure. A failure is a lesson learned, and your job is to make sure that you don’t fail at something twice. Remember that every single failure makes you who you are and allows you to be in position to move ahead, so the failure is just getting you prepared.
Q: From your experience, could you share one word of advice you’d give to younger women just starting out?
Tiffany: Be patient and continue to work, because your time is coming. It’s all about the right time. In business, timing is everything. Timing your relationships: at what point they are activated. People don’t understand, because we always want to rush.
Q: What changes can be made to help more women succeed and become leaders in fields like yours?
Tiffany: One is to truly support women with the resources, mentorship, and finances they need. Really surround the whole person, and make sure that this one woman is in place and ready to receive all that she has, and that the person then reaches backward and is able to do the same thing for someone else.
Also, we have to focus on developing people and not just providing the resources without a plan. That has to include real financial guidance, and guidance in self-development. By making these changes we can ensure that women not only enter the fields of science and innovation, but also remain here.
Q: In terms of increasing the representation of women in science and innovation, do you see key steps that still have to be taken?
Tiffany: One of the most pressing problems with the representation of women is that our voice is still not heard. It’s like we got a welcome into the room, we have a seat at the table, but we are not really heard. Everything we say has to be validated over and over again, yet we are the leaders within our families—the trusted leaders making health care decisions, everyday decisions. But we’re not trusted in the boardroom; we’re not trusted when it comes to innovative ways to ensure that there’s diversity in clinical research. Why? There has to be change.
Q: How can women themselves take the lead as problem-solvers in health care? Or in any area?
Tiffany: Women can lead in solving so many problems in so many ways. You don’t have to be a scientist, you don’t have to be a researcher. I do it by drawing on my lived experience. I think about the point at which I’m actually making health care decisions, and the point where you’re actually going to get to me and my family in order for me to make those decisions for my parents, for my children, or my husband. And so I lead through my lived experience. Who would have thought that all of the hurdles we’ve faced, and all of the journey that we’ve had thus far, would turn out to be relevant in bringing innovations to life?
Q: Can you name three ways that women are leading—or could lead—the change for a better world for women everywhere?
Tiffany: First, by assuming more roles in male dominated fields. Second, by prioritizing their careers and personal aspirations, which allows them to serve as great role models for young women and girls. And by openly sharing their experiences. I try to be transparent and authentic with as many people as possible, to let them understand what I’ve learned through my journey and make sure that they aren’t making the same mistakes that I have made.
Q: Could you say more about what “leading” consists of, in your view? And the qualities that are required?
Tiffany: Leading, to me, is ensuring that I am represented and that other women are represented, especially in male-dominated fields. Our time is now and we must move swiftly. That is going to take true leadership. Leading to me is remaining hopeful of what’s possible, despite how bleak everything might look at times. And I feel that I am leading change for women by spearheading initiatives that place our families at the forefront—because that’s what women do.
Q: What would be your call to action, for someone right now to be able to go out and do something?
Tiffany: One change that you can make is to prioritize your health. Remember to pause, breathe, and go. That is how I make it through the day: pause, breathe, then go. Ladies, the time is now.