Solid as a Rock:

The Resilience Necessary as a Woman CTO
By Isabella Hanna

“They taught me more than I could have ever taught them,” emphasized Katelin Cherry, MBE, Co-Founder and Chief Technology Officer (CTO) of Koda Health, describing the refugee women she mentored during her time with The Community Cloth.

The obstacles faced by women of color and new immigrants magnify the burdens shouldered by all women. According to the UNHCR (The UN Refugee Agency), “50 percent of refugees, internally displaced, or stateless populations are women and girls, [yet] only four and half percent of aid protects their rights” [1]. Recognizing this vast need, Cherry worked at facilitating an environment where marginalized voices were heard and heeded, a priority she and her co-founders incorporated into Koda’s backbone. 

“I’ve always had a passion for social justice, especially when it comes to empowering women,” noted Cherry. She, along with others, enabled refugee, non-English speaking women to create goods they could sell, generating additional income for their households. 

“They transitioned from solely relying on their husbands to possessing some financial independence,” continued Cherry. “It was gratifying to not only watch them make these works of art out of clothing, but to also observe their confidence in themselves grow.”

She elaborated, “In these experiences, you see the strength of women as they work to overcome the harsh reality of imposter syndrome… To lack confidence in one’s abilities is synonymous with missed equal opportunity and recognition.”

Imposter syndrome is a feeling of inadequacy at one’s job. A study by KPMG found that “75 percent of female executives across industries have experienced imposter syndrome [. . .]” [2]. Likewise, research shows how women are disproportionately affected by imposter syndrome, which often leads them toward burnout as they “prove” their worth. 

“It’s that much harder when you look around and there’s no one who looks like you,” agreed Cherry. The U.S. Census Bureau reported that women in STEM make up less than a third of the labor force; Cherry is part of the slimmer percentage of women CTOs, totaling less than nine percent [3]. 

You don’t see a lot of women in leadership positions, and it makes you question whether or not you are even supposed to be here… Of course, the answer is, without a doubt, yes,” she explained. 

Cherry shared one particular experience when her competence was pulled into question. “I remember we were on call with one of our investors and he asked Tatiana [Fofanova, Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Koda Health], ‘Do you think Katelin is capable of handling the tech?’ implying that my gender might prevent me from successfully meeting the needs of the role.” 

“I am deeply protective of my team – who was this man to feel so bold as to make such a comment!” reflected Fofanova. “But I was most impressed by Katelin’s ability to grow into her role and her voice despite the criticisms she’s faced. Insulting Katelin is like insulting a rock, it won’t stop her from rolling right past you.”  

Anthony Comito, Vice President of Engineering at Koda Health, has worked alongside Katelin since the beginning. He started, “Koda tackles complex problems in healthcare that involve a number of disparate parties– patients, providers, payers and other practitioners. Katelin has cut through all the complexity to create what, I think, is the most patient-friendly advance care platform available today.”

“Likewise, she has a knack for analyzing data. When we were first starting out and struggling to get patients involved in their own care planning, she dug into our data and found really valuable insights that helped us create new ways to get people on board, ultimately shaping Koda into what it is today,” explained Comito. “Koda is lucky to have Katelin navigating complex industry requirements around security, HIPAA compliance, and SOC-2.”

Prior to building Koda, Cherry was a research specialist at Rice University where she designed medical devices for low-resource settings. Although she credits some of her technological expertise to this role, that wasn’t her primary source of inspiration. 

“I was very fortunate to work in a lab run by a woman who was simply exceptional, to say the least. Whenever she walked in a room, no one could disrespect her– just by the way she spoke, she demanded respect, but not in a threatening manner,” said Cherry. “She was just that bright and polished.”

Tywin Pham, Full Stack Engineer at Koda Health, had similar things to say about Cherry, “Katelin has this rare combination of unwavering dedication to lead, background in product wizardry, and super cool, approachable demeanor. Plus, her work ethic is mind blowing and inspiring.”

He continued, “She’s also open to connecting and taking suggestions on process/team improvements. I think this is why she’s one of the biggest driving forces behind the continued progression of the product and development teams. It’s a willingness not easily found in today’s leadership.”