We hear a lot about Mary T. Barra, CEO of General Motors and Margot Giodiara of Mattel, but how many female CEOs are there in the grand scheme of things? These are just the main success stories, women going up against “the man” and getting stuff done. As it turns out, not many CEOs are women. There are only 23 female CEOs of the top Fortune 500 companies. This is only five percent overall. In the startup world, female CEOs only receive three percent of venture capital money. In the sex tech industry, a group of women, lead by the godmother of all, Cindy Gallop, is coming forward in hopes they can take part in a historically male-dominated field. It’s about damn time if you ask me.
While all of this is totally fabulous and I tip my hat to these badasses 10X over, I have some questions about ~business stuff~. The Women of Sex Tech are making amazing fun necessary products, but at the end of the day it’s still a company. With all of the sexual harassment scandals unfolding in Silicon Valley, as well as the alleged toxic work environments, it feels like these questions deserve pondering now that women are taking charge. How does one maintain a professional atmosphere in an office that fully revolves around dildos, orgasms, lube, periods, and vaginas? When business is super sex-positive in nature, how do keep things comfortable for your employees?
You've Got To Stay In That Professional Mindset
Even though your business is to talk about clits all day long, you have to set up a framework in the office that clearly outlines what you and your team are here to do: Sell a product. Just because you sell products for sex or menstruation, doesn’t mean every conversation is about all the sex you are or aren’t having.
It’s not open-mic night for your sexual escapades. “We're here to empower women to take control of their sexual and reproductive health and while that does entail having open conversations about condoms, and lube and ultimately sex, our personal sex lives aren’t a regular topic of conversation.” Meika Hollender, CEO of Sustain Natural tells Bustle. “This is about fostering and building an open and transparent community where every one of our employees feels passionate about what we're creating with Sustain.”
Alex Fine of Dame Products tells Bustle that clear expectations and values are a must. “We have set clear values of respectfulness, accountability, innovation and organization," she says. "We encourage our employees to be open and honest.”
Hire The Right People
As with any company, setting up systems in a sex tech company to ensure the personal comfort and boundaries of employees is critical. As sex tech companies are reaching maturity, CEOs are looking to put protocols in order.
“We realized that we had to be intentional with how we designed our company culture," Bryan Stacy, CEO of Biem. "We brought in two I-O (industrial and organizational) psychologists (Dr. Nikki Blacksmith & Dr. Meredith Coats) to interview Biem leadership to ensure we were aligned on core values. Then we worked together to determined how to drive those core values into the activities that define culture like hiring, onboarding and training, verbiage, and communication.”
This also includes a stringent interview process to find the most qualified applicants. “When we hire, we look for a sense of maturity relative to human sexuality," Polly Rodriguez, CEO of Unbound tells Bustle. "In the first round of every interview, I ask each candidate why they're passionate about female sexuality. If they giggle or answer inappropriately, we know they aren't a good fit for [us].”
Lunapads CEO and Co-Founder, Suzanne Siemens, adds that, “When we onboard every new employee, they get a deep dive into our office culture and know what is expected: open and respectful conversations that are inclusive and without judgement.”
In short, these women have come too far to take any risks. Setting up a thriving company means not skipping any details and proceeding with caution in all matters.
Compassion And Respect Are Key Ingredients To Success
Acknowledging the negative atmosphere surrounding sex is part of having a successful sex tech company. Working to change those views and intentionally choosing to work with like-minded people sets you up for making waves and pushing for larger cultural shifts toward sexual openness. “The biggest lesson we’ve learned is be clear on your values, share and model them," says Siemens. "Then, ensure your organization is always listening to new or diverse perspectives within a culture of respect and radical compassion.”
Fine adds, “I would focus create a culture of respectfulness and openness. What is professional, is to spend time understanding our emotions and then to articulate your experience to your peers in a way that generates empathy and uncovers truth.”
Always Be An Example To Your Employees
The number one rule of all great businesses is to lead by example. When it comes to a business focused on sexuality, it’s no different. What is different is the need for a more ingrained sense of self-awareness. “Biem team leadership practices judgement-free conversations, gender neutral language and does its best to embody everything in the workplace that Biem stands for," Stacy says. "And that’s’ important. At a small company, if a leader isn’t living the culture, it doesn’t mean much. And when we mess up, you can be sure someone will let us know.”
Though sex is not inherently bad (or unprofessional for that matter), we still live in a culture that is largely sex-negative and therefore, CEOs have to be careful about how they present themselves as both leaders as well as an innovators with a viable product for the marketplace.
Sex tech CEOs are leading the way into a new frontier of sex positivity with their visionary thinking and exceptional products. They may have to be on guard more than the average business owner, but as long as they keep company values in check, the dildos will keep on coming. Just because you make sex toys doesn’t mean it’s one giant orgy. At the end of the day, they're here to make money.