Aiming to Belong

5. Gender Equality 10. Reduced Inequalities

Overview

Feminuity is a global consulting firm focused on designing diversity, inclusion, and belonging strategies around the world. Feminuity partners with organizations to help them build a culture that their employees love and thrive in. This is new territory for consulting firms. 

Author

Morgan Peters

Morgan Peters

School

York University

York University

Professor

Charles Cho

Charles Cho

Innovation

In 2004, Volvo made waves in the auto industry by introducing the Your Concept Car, the first car designed entirely by women for women. The new model emphasized concepts like smart storage, easy access to the car's interior, good visibility, and minimal maintenance. The great insight that drove this exercise was that different groups of people have different needs, and the only way to ensure those varying needs are met is to involve them in the design process. The danger of having a homogeneous group of people design products and services is that the results will only address the needs of that singular group. This result might not seem so dangerous upon initial reflection, but consider the case of crash test dummies used in the auto industry. For decades, the dummies used were modeled after the 50th percentile American man, resulting in conventional seat belts designed to fit a man of that size. These seat belts do not fit pregnant women, and motor vehicle crashes have become the leading cause of fetal death related to maternal trauma (Gendered Innovations, n.d.).  

Whether done intentionally or not, excluding groups from design can have devastating results. It was these types of insights that motivated Dr. Sarah Saska and Dr. Andrea Rowe to establish Feminuity. The consulting firm conducts in-depth assessments of companies’ diversity, inclusion, and belonging maturity levels, designs tailored diversity and inclusion strategies, designs and delivers customized training and workshops, and provides executive-level coaching to leadership teams.

Aiming to Belong

Inspiration

Drs. Saska and Rowe met when they were both writing their dissertations. While Dr. Saska was studying how applying a gender lens could enhance innovation, Dr. Rowe was studying the same subject from a policy point of view. As explained by Dr. Saska, “Putting our research together gave a more holistic picture of gender challenges.” But Dr. Saska also stressed that, while their research may have started by looking at gender, the pair bring a deeply intersectional lens to their work with Feminuity, considering aspects such as race, class, and ability alongside gender. 

While performing their research, Drs. Saska and Rowe became increasingly frustrated with the lack of good results from those working in diversity and inclusion. They decided to take their research to practice by applying it in existing business environments. Dr. Saska sought the help of MaRS Discovery District to brush up on her entrepreneurial skills, and in 2014, she and Dr. Rowe founded Feminuity.

Overall impact

While measuring and reporting data on diversity and inclusion is necessary for showing progress in improving equality, Dr. Saska emphasized that belonging is also an extremely important concept. She attested that it is not enough for a company to demonstrate a diverse and inclusive workforce; they also have to ensure that all people feel like they belong. Without a strong sense of belonging, employees are not likely to stay with the organization or perform to their ability. Dr. Saska acknowledged that the word “belonging” is open to interpretation, and that is intentional. “Everyone has a moment in their life where they felt that they didn’t belong—that is the only universal that we can apply.” Belonging is more about a story than a data point; these stories give meaning to the data.

With regard to measuring positive impact, there are particular challenges in this space due to the intangible nature of the work. As noted by Dr. Saska, “Everyone is really hung up on metrics in this space. It’s a moving target; this is really hard work.” There are dangers in focusing solely on the metrics. If, for example, an organization is very aggressive in achieving gender parity, more issues might result from the abrupt shift of the "dominant group" and employees may not be sufficiently prepared to work under this new dynamic. Changing the culture of an organization is a delicate process. Dr. Saska explained that when conversations arise around diversity, the "dominant group" often feels threatened, whereas speaking through the lens of belonging helps to include everyone.

Business benefit

There are many studies that demonstrate the business case for having a more diverse and inclusive workforce. For example, Forbes (2016) cites three reports prepared by prominent consulting firms showing positive returns for increased diversity and inclusion. A report by McKinsey shows that ethnically diverse companies outperform their peers by 35%, research done by Catalyst demonstrates that companies with boards consisting of more women outperform their peers in the long run, and Deloitte Australia found that inclusive teams outperform their peers by 80% (Forbes, 2016). Feminuity helps clients tap into these benefits. 

As Dr. Saska pointed out, "Homogenized populations are on the decline and workplaces are shifting; they look and feel much different than they did in the past." The innovation economy has arrived and is rapidly evolving. We are developing technology that is going to affect all of our futures. In order to build technology that addresses the needs of a diverse population, we need to train people to check their biases. Businesses who understand that and embrace this change will be better positioned for the future.

In order to measure positive impact, Drs. Saska and Rowe conduct a number of pulse checks 3 months, 6 months, and even years after an engagement. They may do this through interviews or anonymous online feedback. To date, they have partnered with organizations in Canada, the United States, Vietnam, Sri Lanka, and China. They are also investigating scaling up their work through partnerships.

Social and environmental benefit

Feminuity is a company with an aim to reduce all inequalities. While the name may suggest that the firm is focused on gender equality, which is Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 5, a quick look at the work that they are doing reveals that they are working toward SDG 10, Reduced Inequalities.  Feminuity is contributing toward SDG 5 by helping to end discrimination against women in the labor market through education about the benefits of diversity, training to address hidden biases, and policy development within individual organizations. Feminuity is also contributing to economic inclusion for all people, regardless of age, sex, race, class, ability, orientation, ethnicity, origin, religion, or economic or other status, as required by SDG 10, through the same mechanisms. Drs. Saska and Rowe are helping to create equal opportunity for every person by working with clients to encourage more inclusive policies and practices. 

Interview

Dr. Sarah Saska, Co-founder & Managing Partner

Dr. Sarah Saska, Co-founder & Managing Partner

Keep this story going! Share below!

Feminuity

Feminuity

Toronto, ON, Canada

Business Website: http://feminuity.org/

Year Founded: 2014

Number of Employees: 11-50

Feminuity is a global consulting firm focused on designing diversity, inclusion, and belonging strategies around the world. Feminuity partners with organizations to help them build a culture that their employees love and thrive in. This is new territory for consulting firms.