Sarah Saska of Feminuity on what you don’t know about D&I and focusing on what energizes you
Dr. Sarah Saska is the Co-Founder and CEO of Feminuity, a global consultancy devoted to helping companies navigate through the unmapped territory of diversity, inclusion, and belonging. Sarah is a recognized and respected business leader and a passionate advocate for bringing D&I to the innovation economy. She is a sought-after speaker and has been twice named as one of Canada’s Top 100 Most Powerful Woman.
Looking back five/ ten years, where did you think you’d be by this point in your career? How did you get here?
Since as long as I can remember, I’ve always wanted to be a human rights lawyer; I lost my dad to cancer at a young age and I was determined to fulfill his dream of being a human rights lawyer. 10 years ago, I was completing undergraduate studies at the intersections of gender studies and business, and when presented with the decision as to whether to go to law school or to pursue graduate school, I realized that I didn’t actually want to be a lawyer and that the legal system wasn’t the best mechanism through which I could bring value to the world. I went on to complete my Masters, continuing to bridge the aforementioned intersections, but expanding my research into the areas of queer theory, trans theory, disability studies, masculinity studies and I ultimately focused my research on Bill C-279, a bill to provide equal human rights protections for trans people in Canada.
During my doctorate, I continued to explore a range of equity-based research and I became fascinated with innovation studies. I quickly realized that the field of innovation studies considers itself to be “gender-neutral” which results in deeply embedded biases in every aspect of our lives, from the cars we drive to the medicines we consume, to the video games we play. So, in my third year, I put the Ph.D. on pause and I joined MaRS Discovery District as a fellow to get the support that I needed to translate the research into practice. In 2013, my co-founder and I launched Feminuity, which represents my commitment to guiding tech and innovation and the disruption that comes with it. The innovation economy also has an extensive reach, and it’s up to us to ensure that we don’t deepen existing inequalities, and that we work towards equitable solutions in our products, services, and overall companies.
What is the most misunderstood thing right now about D&I and what do companies often get wrong?
The first is that many people and organizations who say they deeply value diversity and inclusion efforts fail to signal this to the people with the skills and expertise to execute this work. They tend to allocate this type of work to HR departments or distribute these tasks to employees who “champion” diversity on a volunteer basis. But this is laborious and technical work that requires specific skill-sets and experience to do effectively. Would you hire a full stack developer to renovate your house?
The other issue is that many organizations regard D&I as a “nice to have” and think it can be incorporated into their business on the side of someone’s desk. The reality is that this kind of work is only effective if it is holistically embedded into the fabric of an organization. Diversity and inclusion strategies need to be intentional, deliberate, and comprehensive and so it follows that one-off trainings or piecemeal programming won’t have much impact.
What is the most important lesson that you have had to learn the hard way? How has that made you more successful?
When I started research at the intersections of social justice and innovation in grad school, there were no conversations around diversity and inclusion in tech – and the absence of these discussions meant that I was faced with a lot of skepticism in early years. In fact, I had moments where I asked myself if I was lost or missing the mark, but I stuck with it and I realized that if I was ever going to find my people, I had to stay true to myself so that they could find me.
Tell me about a big mistake you made in your career. What did you learn from it?
I spent the better part of my 20’s dealing with imposter syndrome. I repeatedly set excessively high goals for myself, and I would work to reach those goals at the expense of my mental, physical, and emotional well-being. I’d chalk up any accomplishment to chance, connections, or other external factors and I’d focus on all the ways I could have done it better. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve worked to start accepting and embracing my competencies and qualifications, and with the help of so many women who’ve come before me, I’m continuously learning to step into my confidence.
If you could give one piece of advice to someone in the workforce today to be successful and find work that is fulfilling, what would that be?
No matter what you’re trying to build in this world, it’s unlikely there will be one, single thing that will get you there. It’s the little things you do every single day that make up the quality of what you create: the experimenting, the learning, and the failures will get you there.
In the last few months, we’ve had a handful of offers from investors who are interested in helping us grow and scale and if someone told me this would happen five years ago, I would have laughed in their face. We’re not even close to where we ultimately want to be as an organization, but we’ll continue growing, day by day.