I have a deep passion for gender equality and spend a lot of my time educating myself about the subject, the status quo globally, and how improvements can be made. Therefore, for my Master's thesis, I decided to tackle this inequality as a design problem. Specifically, I decided to look into gender discrepancies in leadership positions of firms relating to experience design: in technology, design and business. I named the project xx++ to refer to coding language and female chromosomes.
I was in a unique position to be able to experiment with how to conduct my research and thus I decided to include the most diverse sample of interview candidates I possibly could to mirror the central concept of diversity. This led to a decision to travel and conduct interviews in a myraid of places. Over the course of twelve weeks, I travelled to twelve different cities across the globe to interview female founders in the aforementioned areas. I conducted in-depth interviews with twenty-eight founders about their experience with work outside of and within their own ventures to inform my solution.
Approach to Research
When determining what cities to visit, I specifically looked into the concept of innovation and startup culture. The 2015 edition of the Startup Genome Project provided several statistics relevant to the performance, market reach, funding, talent, and startup experience of companies in several different global cities. Through compiling the data from the Startup Genome Project Report, including additional research into non-listed Asian regions, with my own personal connections and what could realistically be accomplished through travel in the timeframe, I came up with a list of twelve cities to visit divided into three geographical regions: Europe, Asia Pacific, and North America. The cities involved in the research were London, Amsterdam, Copenhagen, Berlin, Singapore, Sydney, Tokyo, Seoul, San Francisco, Austin, New York, and Toronto. The project revolved around three main questions:
What problems do female founders face in the workplace in 2016 due to the intersection of their gender and their roles?
What behaviours enforce these problems?
How can experience design be applied to help mitigate these problems?
In addition to the in-depth interviews, I also developed my own observation framework to be able to conduct additional research using a different method.
Themes & Insights
Upon consolidation of the themes and insights, it was clear to me there were several opportunities to design interventions as one would expect when tackling with such a vast and complicated problem. However, it would be impossible to try to solve all the problems revealed by the research conducted and thus it was necessary to narrow my focus to create a meaningful conclusion. Within this context, I was intrigued to explore a central theme the presented itself of networking between female founders. There were three primary reasons for this:
Almost every woman I interviewed mentioned either how much their female founder networks help them or that they wished they could connect more with other female founders due to a shared understanding.
Through my observation framework, I was able to analyze to what degree each founder was aware of the gender biases that affect her as well as her own internalised misogyny. The results were widespread with several women highly aware of their disadvantages, while others were not. Some of those that were conscious of it mentioned that they had gotten this way through reflection. Connecting founders who are well informed on these issues with those who are not will help to spread knowledge and increase the likelihood of successful solutions.
On a similar note, I believe that connecting female founders with each other will harness the collective power of these women leaders to support each other and solve their problems together.
I created a concept for networking between female founders that not only caters specifically to these women, but also solves many common problems with networking more generally. Planet XX is a platform that pairs founders with one another based on their goals, objectives, and locations.
When first logging on to Planet XX, users must first complete some simple questions to help determine their objectives. Initially, they must provide basic information on who they are, where they’re from, and why they consider themselves to be a female founder. Planet XX is open to female founders on any part of their journey, whether they have yet to start or are solidly established. Secondly, in order to make appropriate matches, they must choose the reasons they wish to join. Because each individual has different motivations, curating smaller groups may allow those objectives to be better met. The third and final option is to select geographical settings. Founders can choose whether they want to form a group with those in their city, country, or
geographical region, or they can choose to create a global network.
Based on their answers, users will then be sorted into small, appropriate groups with 2-4 other female founders. This is in opposition to other networking groups, which tend to be a free-for-all and can be intimidating to the point where individuals find it hard to make deep connections. Planet XX curates groups with only a few members who engage in targeted activities to turn those units into small but mighty support networks with flexible time requirements.
Concept Testing & Prototyping
To determine the value of this proposal, I created an online questionnaire to extract subtle opinions on the concept as well as helpful feedback. This survey garnered thirty-four responses from female founders who were not my interview candidates. These results further validated several insights I had drawn from my qualitative research that had been included in my concept. Firstly, there is a strong interest to network amoung female founders with other women founders based on a shared understanding. Additionally, there are several reasons why founders want to network, and the conclusion that matching these women up in a meaningful way will create better connections can be made.
After the concept testing survey, I prototyped a group session with two of my original interviewees: one living in Toronto and one living in Copenhagen over a video call. When asked how it was to move through the facilitated activities, both women responded with positive remarks about taking time to reflect. More specifically, they recognised that there were few times in their lives where they reflected upon themselves positively.