Interviews, North America

Parneet Pal – Chief Science Officer at Wisdom Labs

Women have a superpower – that of empathy, care and compassion – that enables them to be courageous in times of stress, stay open-minded and hold the best interests of a wider range of their constituents in mind.

Parneet Pal is the Chief Science Officer at Wisdom Labs, a San Francisco-based company solving for stress, burnout, anxiety and loneliness in the workplace. A Harvard-trained physician, she focuses on the intersection of lifestyle medicine, behavior change and technology and building wiser workplaces using the science of mindfulness, resilience and compassion.

An international speaker and podcaster, she loves to teach, write and curate content that connects the dots and science between personal, social and planetary wellbeing. She deeply believes we can create a compassionate society where health is the default.

She has written for the Harvard Business Review, is a TEDMED scholar and has been featured on the cover of Mindful magazine.

In a Nutshell: Tell us a bit about your job and what role technology plays in it?

I am the Chief Science Officer at a start-up called Wisdom Labs based in San Francisco. We’re solving for stress, burnout and loneliness in the workplace. We translate the science of mindfulness, resilience and compassion into practical skills for daily work life, to enhance mental, emotional and social wellbeing. Our focus is long-term behavior change in companies and we do that by building employee peer-led communities of practice. Technology is the key instrument that allows us to scale these skills within organizations, via our app and communities content platform. I’m in charge of content development, research as well as being the lead teacher and speaker sharing our thought leadership with the world.

Where did your professional journey start and how did you get to where you are now?

My professional journey started in Mumbai, India, where I grew up and went to medical school. I then moved to the United States to complete a Masters in Exercise and Movement Science, followed by a medical residency at Columbia and Harvard Medical School. By the end of my training, I realized that 86% of the healthcare costs in the United States were attributed to treating lifestyle-related chronic diseases – and 80-90% of these diseases were completely preventable, if we paid attention to how we eat, sleep, move and manage our stress. This inspired me to move away from clinical practice and focus on prevention and the business of helping people stay well through lifestyle medicine. After designing and running lifestyle management programs in clinical and wellness settings, I turned my attention to workplace wellbeing. Since we spend most of our lives at work, this was a great way to scale the impact of my work. We are currently in the middle of a global mental health crisis with record levels of stress, burnout and loneliness that impacts our productivity, creativity and health. In my current work, my focus on this aspect of wellbeing allows me to address the underlying cause of so many lifestyle-related chronic diseases – mental stress.

What is the greatest transformation in technology you’ve witnessed in your career?

So many come to mind – including the internet, exponential computing power, ubiquitous use of mobile technology even in the poorest parts of the world, telemedicine and nanotechnology to name a few. One of the greatest outcomes has been the growing democratization of information and knowledge thanks to this kind of technology.

When you think about ‘women’ and ‘technology’ what comes to your mind first?

I’m convinced the “future is female”.

The contrast between the present (not enough women in technology) and what could potentially lie ahead (I’m convinced the “future is female”).

We always hear there are not enough women working in Tech. What needs to happen to change that, which steps should be done to achieve gender equality in tech?

Shifting mindsets and power dynamics in the highest decision-making positions in companies and policy makers– which tend to be male-dominated unfortunately – is perhaps the greatest challenge that needs to be overcome.

This kind of systems change requires collaboration across industries and wise leadership at all levels. It includes disrupting the gender stereotypes in schools and universities to funding female founders in technology to building enough flexibility for women in technology jobs that allow them to balance work and home responsibilities (which often contribute to the attrition we see for mid-career women). Shifting mindsets and power dynamics in the highest decision-making positions in companies and policy makers– which tend to be male-dominated unfortunately – is perhaps the greatest challenge that needs to be overcome.

How different would our world be if more women worked in STEM?

Radically different. We only need to look at countries led by women heads of state (like New Zealand, Finland, Iceland, Scotland, Germany among others) to see the effect of female leadership and how successful it can be during a time of crisis (whether it is COVID19 or climate change or others). Women have a superpower – that of empathy, care and compassion – that enables them to be courageous in times of stress, stay open-minded and hold the best interests of a wider range of their constituents in mind. This means that the decisions they make are better-informed, collaborative, inclusive, and for the long-term, which usually leads to greater wellbeing for all concerned.

Which was the best decision in your career?

Paying attention to my intuition and making the change from medical clinical practice to focusing on prevention and wellbeing. At heart, I am an educator and communicator. Making the shift has allowed me to focus on my strengths and on the locus of greatest influence when it comes to health – effective prevention. Technology now allows us to scale this impact more widely than ever.

What advice would you give to women who want a tech career?

Participate, volunteer and give back to your peers as much as you can, and find inspiring mentors along the way – this kind of human connection and support is invaluable.

Build and hone your tech skills as much as possible (that’s an ongoing journey and there is always so much to learn) but don’t forget the power of your community and network. Participate, volunteer and give back to your peers as much as you can, and find inspiring mentors along the way – this kind of human connection and support is invaluable.

Parneet Pal is the Chief Science Officer at Wisdom Labs, a San Francisco-based company solving for stress, burnout, anxiety and loneliness in the workplace. A Harvard-trained physician, she focuses on the intersection of lifestyle medicine, behavior change and technology and building wiser workplaces using the science of mindfulness, resilience and compassion.

An international speaker and podcaster, she loves to teach, write and curate content that connects the dots and science between personal, social and planetary wellbeing. She deeply believes we can create a compassionate society where health is the default.

She has written for the Harvard Business Review, is a TEDMED scholar and has been featured on the cover of Mindful magazine.

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