Diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) are essential elements of a thriving workplace, but how do we ensure these policies are not built on empty promises? This founder proposes empathy.
Thorey Proppe is not your average businesswoman.
A self-described adventurer, she became a female activist at a young age and was a board member of the National Committee for UN Women Iceland, fighting for gender equality.
She got into politics but found her true purpose when she started working in diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) for a consulting firm.
“I knew that was what I wanted to do,” she tells me when we meet on Zoom.
We are here to talk about Alda, Proppe’s latest venture, or – as she cheekily describes it – a “DEI software that actually works”.
Founded in collaboration with Sigyn Jónsdóttir, Alda provides employers with DEI metrics, action plans and gamified micro-learning content to foster a positive work environment. The aim? To dismantle toxic work culture and build spaces where everyone can thrive.
In an era of transformational changes across the landscape of work, having an intentional focus on DEI has emerged as one of the most important things that a company can do to succeed.
This is a long overdue development since the research has been overwhelmingly clear that companies that prioritise DEI perform better financially and have more engaged employees.
The question is, what is good DEI? A full suite of inclusive company policies sounds promising, but how do we ensure meaningful progress is made?
“When discussing DEI, it can be challenging to talk about changing the culture in a work environment,” says Proppe.
“The results are often upsetting and revealing, especially for marginalised groups who often don’t feel comfortable to openly discuss the obstacles they face.”
Good DEI, she says, doesn’t just mean having a set of policies in place. Rather, it refers to inviting everybody into a conversation where they can openly talk about different issues without feeling uncomfortable.
“It’s about showing empathy, I think. If we all had 100 per cent empathy, we wouldn’t need a platform like Alda – everybody would put themselves in each other’s shoes and see their perspectives. Unfortunately, that is not the case.
“That’s why we strive for helping everybody thrive at work. In order for that to happen, it’s important that those with privilege are able to see their biases and make fair decisions.”
A critical aspect of DEI is the connection between DEI and mental health. Proppe says understanding and addressing the intersection of these two crucial dimensions is pivotal for building a truly inclusive and supportive work environment.
“A lot of people, especially those from marginalised groups, feel like they can’t be who they are in the workplace,” she explains.
“However, pretending to be someone else for other people can be very detrimental to your health. Putting a mask on every time you go into the workplace is not just hard and exhausting but can have a real impact on your wellbeing.
“Research shows that women, especially those in positions of power, have much more obstacles than men. This gets worse around menopause, when women are more likely to quit their jobs or reduce their number of hours due to a lack of support. The consequences are of course even more severe for those with intersecting marginalised identities.”
So, what advice would she give to employers looking to improve their DEI policies?
“Get Alda,” she laughs. “We’ve done the research and it’s all you need.” More generally, however, collecting data that reflects the culture would be a great place to start, she adds.
“Data is queen. A lot of people who don’t belong to marginalised groups don’t believe there is a problem. Collecting data helps them recognise the issues and see them for what they are.
“Plus, how are you going to set goals if you don’t know where you’re at?”
Menstrual health: how ‘donating your period’ could advance women’s health
Could your menstrual blood help researchers? This entrepreneur thinks so
Imagine a world where women could use their menstrual blood to screen, diagnose and monitor a range of health conditions, all while contributing to valuable research and product development.
It’s not wishful thinking; it’s the bold idea of the South African entrepreneur and female health advocate, Karli Büchling, who is establishing Europe’s first period biobank.
A self-described problem solver, Büchling thinks Yoni Health could not only help millions of women manage their health, but completely transform the women’s health landscape by allowing people to donate their periods for medical research.
The process would be simple. Women would download an app, track their period, collect the menstrual blood and send it to the biobank, where the exciting part begins.
“Businesses and researchers working with us will be able to have access to the samples for research and product development; they could choose to either get us to do the research for them in our lab facilities or they could have their own scientists do the research,” Büchling explains.
That research though won’t be solely limited to female-specific health conditions.
“We are planning to go into a range of health conditions, such as ADHD, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and cancer, and other areas that haven’t previously been explored,” says Büchling.
“We see a future where women can use their periods to self-diagnose and manage their health and where researchers and health professionals can provide safe and effective equitable healthcare solutions that work for the female physiology.”
Gender bias in healthcare
Around 1.8 billion people menstruate every month worldwide, meaning 800 million women and girls are on their period on any given day. Given those numbers, surprisingly little is known about menstrual blood itself.
“There are less than 400 studies done on menstrual blood – that’s compared to more than 16,000 on erectile dysfunction,” says Büchling. “We know very little about menstrual health and we have little to no education about periods.”
Historically, medical studies have excluded female participants and research data have been collected from males and generalised to females. The gender gap in medical research, alongside overarching misogyny, has resulted in real-life disadvantages for women.
“Misogyny and sexism have a lot to answer for when it comes to understanding the female body,” Büchling agrees.
“Healthcare today is based on the male physiology and it’s based on the assumption that the female physiology is exactly the same as the male physiology. Although we now know that that is not the case, we don’t understand very clearly what the differences are.”
She says: “We may not be treated as the default, but we need to move to a place where the male and the female physiologies can coexist.
“The more research we can do, the more data we can collect, the more analysis we can complete, the better solutions and innovations we can create that could serve the female physiology in its entirety.”
Things won’t change over night, the entrepreneur admits, but she remains optimistic.
“I made it my mission to make women’s health research more accessible not only to businesses and researchers, but to every single person who wants to contribute.
“I want to be an enabler and I want the biobank to be part of that.”
Yoni Health’s biobank is expected to launch in 2025. Join the waiting list at yoni.health.
“We are terrified to say the word ‘vagina'”- the founder educating the world on reproductive health
After years of being ignored and dismissed, Golnoush Golshirazi was diagnosed with endometriosis
Vaginal health is an essential part of a woman’s overall health. Yet, misconceptions surrounding this topic often lead individuals to feel dirty or ashamed when experiencing problems.
The lack of research into vaginal health and women’s health more generally seems only to perpetuate these misunderstandings, leaving women suffering in silence.
Dr Golnoush Golshirazi knows this too well. After years of being ignored and dismissed by healthcare professionals, she was diagnosed with endometriosis.
Wanting to make a change, the now researcher and women’s health advocate built her own business and launched ScreenMe, a platform that screens for every bacteria present in the vaginal microbiome and helps women better understand their reproductive health. She sat down with us to share her story.
Hi Golnoush, could you tell us a bit more about your background?
My background is molecular biology, with a PhD in genetics.
What inspired you to create ScreenMe?
My own personal health journey was what really ignited my passion to help others in the health space. It took thousands of pounds and many years until I got my endometriosis diagnosis. I felt constantly dismissed, ignored by professionals and unable to perform at my very best.
I always remember getting my period during one of my final exams for my university degree. I literally couldn’t move from my bed, and after ringing up, the invigilators were able to bring me my exam paper at least – however, the fact that I had to sit an exam when all I could think about was the huge pain I was experiencing (and be supposed to feel ‘grateful’ for this), is something that I will always remember.
After receiving my endometriosis diagnosis, I took a look back at this long and painful journey and vowed that I wanted to work to make sure this changed for others.
I saw that I could really use my own knowledge and expertise to advance healthcare responses and assist in creating solutions that genuinely worked for people. It wasn’t just this, but the wish to create a space where people felt heard and had access to the science that can really change their life – as this was something I struggled to find and wish I had looking back.
How would you describe ScreenMe in a few words?
Wow, that is a hard one. In just a few words I would say: answers and solutions, with care. This is because ScreenMe brings cutting-edge science to those who need it, but also pairs such with professional guidance, education and genuine support, to create solutions that work for you as an individual.
What makes ScreenMe different?
ScreenMe’s main difference I would say comes from making cutting-edge science accessible to the general public and bringing together the scientific, medical and holistic field for support.
As a team of scientists, medical professionals and holistic practitioners, and experts within the women’s health space we have decades of experience between us. This allows us to separate fact from fiction and really give advice and solutions that work for our community.
In a world which is moving towards a preventative and holistic care model – our team is so passionate about this and works towards such every day. Our team is also why we focus on education and awareness. We are aware from our own experiences that so many people know so little about intimate health and its long-term implications for fertility, infection, and disease – so it is our team who have focused our strategy on first educating society on the topic.
Then people can make informed, evidenced decisions as to what care, testing or support they need (if at all). We are passionate about not trying to push the ‘hard-sell’ on our product, but empower people with the agency to make the decisions that are right for them.
In terms of technicalities. ScreenMe is the only UK-based company that provides NGS-based screening of vaginal and seminal samples for bacteria and yeast allowing identification of all species present at very high accuracy.
Do you feel there is a lack of awareness around the importance of the vaginal microbiome and vaginal health in general?
As a society we are terrified to even say the word ‘vagina’, let alone open up discussions around this or provide adequate education. Most people do not even know the difference between the vulva and the vagina; or do not know that there are actually seven holes in their intimate area (most think there are three!).
So many of the people with vaginas we see each day have no clue about the implications of the symptoms they have been experiencing, or even the basics on how to look after their intimate health. This lack of awareness also extends out into the medical community.
Vaginal ecosystem and the role of the vagina in the bigger picture of health is hardly spoken about at med school. So many concerns could be prevented or resolved if people only had access to the correct information and services – so this is honestly something that I could speak about all day.
Such a severe lack of education is why we include a free one-to-one consultation with a practitioner for each of our tests, so that results can be explained and solutions can be curated.
This is also why we have published our free online Vaginal Health Clinic on our site where we provide the latest information regarding the vaginal microbiome and how this relates to a whole host of concerns, including recurrent infection, miscarriage, IVF success, thrush, cancer risk and much more.
How do you think we could start educating people on these subjects?
For me, the two most important ways to do this is through schools and educating the healthcare system itself.
Firstly, regarding schools, it is simply not enough to learn about the reproductive organs and their very basic functions. We need to ensure that there is effective and detailed education for all genders on the many layers of health, which includes intimate health, the role of hormones, menstrual conditions and disorders, sexual health and wellbeing, menopause, fertility complications, and so much more.
Schools are such a brilliant access point to allow people to understand from an early age, how to look after themselves, how to protect their health, what symptoms to look for, and also how to interact and understand others who may be suffering from particular health concerns or conditions.
We also are really passionate about educating the healthcare community about this topic. You would be amazed at how little is often required to be learnt about intimate health and so we do a lot of work with practitioners to improve their knowledge on this topic – including webinars and broadcasts.
Vaginal health often comes with a lot of stigma. How did you find establishing your business in this sector?
We actually started focusing on women’s health care in general and it was only through listening to our community that we realised what a huge gap there was in understanding, testing, services and support for intimate health. So, while there have been barriers in this pivot, we ultimately have had a core community who are so appreciative of the work we do for them and want to hear more about vaginal health.
I think reading the many positive reviews that state how we have changed people’s lives, really keeps us motivated. However, having a business in this sector has been difficult when approaching investors.
Intimate health is not always something that people are comfortable speaking about, so it is sometimes difficult to present appropriate data on such, or have productive conversations. Yet this is something we are striving to change every day!
What obstacles have you encountered on this journey?
I guess the main obstacle I have faced is actually being a woman. We hear all the time how gender disparities reveal themselves in the workplace and in society as a whole – but I guess you never really realise the extent of this until you experience them first-hand yourself.
Particularly when looking for investment, it is difficult to always communicate some of the many struggles that women face daily, and present them as a consumer market – despite women making the majority of household health-related spending decisions!
I have even been in a room myself with an investor and my co-founder (who is a man), and the investor asked me for a tea and assumed that I was the assistant. It was only when we started the meeting and my co-founder asked me to answer the first question, that the investor realised the mistake he had made. Of course, instances like this do serve well to light a fire in my belly, but it is unrealistic to say that they aren’t sometimes difficult to navigate.
Where are you with ScreenMe now?
We are currently really focusing on our expansion of intimate health services. This has a multi-pronged approach including: providing top-quality thought leadership, providing our services globally and expanding the network with whom we work with.
Each month we are receiving more attention and onboarding more partners, practitioners, clinics and customers. We want to expand out outreach and awareness, so that intimate health is something everyone understands and makes a part of their routine check-ups. As we build momentum, we are so excited to see this future starting to take shape in front of us, even if there is still a way to go yet.
We have also recently launched our semen microbiome testing service. This is so we can help everyone with their intimate health. The semen microbiome is also really important for a range of similar reasons, including fertility, IVF success, infection risk, and risk of disease.
Further, in the case of heterosexual partners, this allows us to treat couples as a pair and prevent reinfections – as there is no use for only one person to do all of the work to optimise intimate health, when their sexual partner is doing nothing!
What are you looking to achieve with ScreenMe?
We want to achieve a world in which intimate and reproductive health is a key feature of education and research and people are able to get the testing, support and services required to improve such. It is crazy to me that we are still using swab culture methods to investigate intimate health, when this was a method devised over 100 years ago.
NGS is an available technology which provides much greater accuracy and is able to screen 100 per cent of the bacteria present, rather than a selected panel of pre-selected bacteria as used in swab culture or PCR methods.
ScreenMe works to make this technology available to everyone, so that they can understand the full context of their microbiome, rather than just get a few pieces of the puzzle. So, really what we are working towards is empowering everyone with their intimate health and at the same time seriously powering up research which is crucial for better intimate and reproductive health.
Where do you see the company in the future?
I see ScreenMe as the go-to platform for people globally when it comes to their intimate and reproductive health. I see a trustworthy, science-based place where men and women find answers, solutions, support and education with all of this leading to lower risk of non-communicable diseases across society.
I have big ambitions, so I don’t just want to see ScreenMe changing and growing in the future, but I want to see the whole of intimate health as we know it changing due to ScreenMe’s work!
Dr Golnoush Golshirazi is the co-founder and CEO of ScreenMe. She is a Cambridge graduate, scientist and entrepreneur who advocates for women’s equality within the healthcare system.
London-based graduate develops device to help visually impaired women manage their periods
Muna Daud has created the gadget during her master’s degree studies in innovation design engineering
A London-based design engineering graduate has come up with a period blood detection device to help visually impaired women manage their periods.
The device, called FlowSense, was designed by Muna Daud during her master’s degree studies in innovation design engineering at the Royal College of Art and Imperial College London. It uses disposable testing strips that attach to pads and underwear to measure pH levels and detect period blood.
Developed in conjunction with the visually impaired community at Royal National Institute of Blind People, the gadget provides tactile and audio feedback, while also helping women track their cycle.
“A lot of us use tracking apps to track our menstrual cycle, but this can be much more difficult for visually impaired women,” explains Muna.
“Up to 95 per cent of these women would rely on showing their underwear or paper towel to someone in their family who can tell them whether they got their period.
“Those who would prefer not to ask for help would wear pads three to four days before or after they’re done with their period – something that can be very expensive and unsustainable in the long term.
“With FlowSense, I wanted to develop something that could help women figure everything out themselves.”
The device, which comes with a charging station that can act as a cleaning kit, lets women know whether they got their period either through vibrations or audio feedback. However, when used consistently, it can also predict a user’s next period.
“FlowSense can record users’ results on an app, so that, based on their cycles, women would be reminded closer to their next period to do the test again,” says Muna.
“The app is also a way for them to know more information about their vaginal health and pH balance.”
The need for innovation
While all women struggle, to some extent, to navigate the lack of innovation and stigma surrounding periods, those with visual impairments can be particularly vulnerable.
“Only one in every five menstrual or period products are accessible for the blind which really shows that we need more innovation,” says Muna.
“As designers and healthcare advocates, we can recognise the unique challenges women face and help provide a more empathetic and inclusive design approach.”
The designer plans to collaborate with manufacturers to deploy a batch of prototypes to diverse users to gather feedback and establish trust.
“I think the product would firstly launch locally within communities to raise more awareness with visually impaired women.
“I don’t think it would be something that would be placed on the shelves right away, because it would need to be a bit more widespread within the communities so that people could be more aware of it.”
However, she would be happy to see FlowSense in big stores in the future.
“The entire mission with FlowSense is to better manage women’s healthcare and raise awareness of menstrual designs that fail to ensure everybody has access to products they can use comfortably,” she explains.
“It won’t be a device that aims to replace the typical menstrual pads; it will be a tool in addition to these other products.
“I think it’ll be quite unique, as it has no a direct competitor, but my hope is for it to become a pioneer in menstrual hygiene.”
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