Cat Perez, Co-founder & Chief Product Officer at HealthSherpa, Explains Why Prioritizing Diversity & Inclusion is Good for Business


Interview by Breanne Thomas

Hi Cat! Can you tell us about your role at HealthSherpa and what you’re currently working on?
Sure! I’m the Co-founder and Chief Product Officer at HealthSherpa, a technology platform and team of people helping individuals find, enroll in, and use their health coverage. I also lead up Diversity and Inclusion initiatives and manage a lot of the growth and development infrastructure for our team. Additionally, I oversee the entire support experience, working very closely with the Director of Support and their team.
Right now, I’m working on a variety of projects. From a product perspective, we are introducing other types of coverage into the menu, starting with stand alone dental plans that can also be subsidized under the Affordable Care Act (ACA). As the landscape shifts based on the government’s plans to modify health care reform, we will continue to be a resource for individuals in this country who are at risk and have many questions around their health coverage. Additionally, we are gearing up to work with Project Include to up our game on Diversity and Inclusion efforts here at HealthSherpa.
The intersection of healthcare and tech is particularly unique, as many people view the former as bureaucratic and difficult to navigate. How have you developed HealthSherpa to not only be accessible but modern in its approach to healthcare discovery?
Accessibility is one of our core brand values. In serving a primarily low-income population, our mission is to reach these people and give them access to an empathetic experience not just within a self-serving product but also when they call in.
This means putting a ton of thoughtfulness into who we bring on as consumer advocates and how they help these people. The majority of our advocates come from non-profit, social work backgrounds and have deep connections and commitment to community, which translates well in the world of marketplace coverage.
Beyond support, we spend a lot of time creating additional resources and tools for those who fall into different levels of eligibility, sometimes no eligibility at all. This looks like generating and sharing lists of free or sliding-scale clinics in their area, pointing LGBTQIA individuals to provider tools that can help them seek out a safe patient-to-provider experience, and more.
As a big advocate for diversity in tech, how do you balance not only leading product at such an important company but also making time for advocacy and activism? 
I will be honest, it is not easy. When you’re a team of 20 and in such a volatile space as we are, there is a constant backlog of items to get to, fires to put out, closed deals to prep for, and a consistent lack of capacity across the board.
I would say about 25% of my time is spent on Diversity and Inclusion and People Ops work for our team here at HealthSherpa. For me, it comes down to the value of prioritizing this work. There are 2 major reasons I make the time:

  1. I’ve had my fair share of toxic tech experiences that have certainly threatened my identity and impacted my work. These experiences have driven me to do the work that I do today, not just for myself, but for others who are discriminated against or marginalized in the workplace.
  2. I mentioned above that our market is primarily low-income (people who qualify for subsidies under the ACA based on factors like income and household size) of which 55% are communities of color. When we are hiring, it’s key that our team can not only reach those communities, but we speak the same languages and have a real, genuine connection. A very specific example of this was one cis-white individual who learned Spanish in school, and ran a webinar for Spanish speaking users. After the webinar, we received a series of complaints from the participants because it was clear a cis-white individual struggling through a Spanish demo was unsettling, to say the least. We likely lost some users that day because of that experience.

To summarize, I’m highly motivated to make the time to do this work. When you’re not checking yourself at the door, you do your best work.
And when your team reflects your target audience, you’re likely to have success. We’ve seen our efforts positively impact NPS scores and even our bottom line by ~80%. However, the goal is to bring on a full time Diversity and Inclusion leader when we hit a specific growth metric at HealthSherpa. Until then, we will continue to prioritize this work.