The award winning digital marketer and writer, Stephanie Rodriguez, has created the first ever travel portal exclusively designed for women. Her new company, JOZU For Women, is a platform that helps women travel easier, better, and safer. JOZU provides hotel tips and trip reviews written by women for women. In this Q&A, Rodriguez talks to SWAAY about her inspirations, future ideas, and favorite aspects of JOZU For Women.
What were you doing before you created JOZU?
Before founding JOZU For Women, I worked at The Mighty Media Group full time. Mighty Media Group is a digital agency that has been consulting for the travel space for more than 7 years. They have consulted with companies like Club Med, Sydney Airport, and SSP. While I was working as a consultant to travel companies, I travelled to 48 countries and stayed in hotels across the world.
What inspired you to create JOZU?
I found that at those times of me booking my travel online, because I never had a secretary or personal assistant, that I would often find myself booking and staying in hotels that I would not have originally stayed in if I knew more information online.
I recognized the growing frustrations and travel concerns that women have with booking hotels, restaurants and other amenities that seem to look great online -- only to arrive at their destinations and discover their selections were actually unsafe, unclean or simply did not live up to their expectations, so JOZU was born.
What was your “ah-ha” moment?
My “ah-ha” moment was sparked when I stayed at a hotel in Genevia while I was working with SSP. I booked it online, it had great Wi-Fi reviews, which is something that is critical for me. It had proximity close to the train station, and their website was easy to understand in English. But, unfortunately, the hotel was located in the middle of the red light district. Whilst that would probably not be an issue for men, I definitely would not recommend for women to stay there if she were traveling alone regardless of business or vacation. So, when I began to think about what the world needed as it related to travel, and taking into consideration all the marketing experience that I have for that sector, I decided that there had to be a better mouse trap, which was the inception point of JOZU.
What makes JOZU different from other travel websites?
JOZU is a Japanese word that means well done or better than. So, JOZU for WOMEN’s mission is to help women travel better and safer. Now, how we are doing that is by creating a platform that is for women only and is for women to communicate online.
Photo courtesy of Crunchbase
JOZU is the first of its kind travel portal exclusively designed for women, helping them to explore, plan and book their leisure and business travel in a better and safer way that specifically meets their expectations and needs. More than just a site or an app, the platform is home to a passionate community of female users, where women have a safe-place to engage, connect and share honest travel insights for helping one another make better decisions as part of their trip planning experiences.
What technology are you using for JOZU that put you ahead of other travel websites?
The platform of our website is powered by Lithium Technologies, which is the same technology that is used for Southwest Airlines, eBay, and Sephora. So, it is a robot enterprise technology that speaks global languages. We are using this technology to vet gender to allow for there to be parts of our platform where woman can share their vacation stories with discretion of privacy, like a ladies locker room. How we are doing this, and what makes us magical, is that we are using our own proprietary AI, and her name is JENI. So, as women create profiles and say what they know and where they have been, JENI matches the subject matter expert to the seeker. So, my profile said that I have been to 48 countries and I listed the boutique hotels or fitness clubs that I liked, if jenny found another women who was looking for specific hotels in an area I have been too, JENI would match the seeker to my profile. But then when you are trip planning, or also an online note taker, JENI already knows what you want before you do because she has observed what you liked, shared, and discussed.
So when it comes down to booking your vacation, we are using a suite of technology that allows you to be able to say “okay I am ready to take a holiday now” and jenny is able to make recommendation to you based on what it knows about you, and match you to the holiday she believes you will like.
What are your future goals for JOZU?
Well, our initial and overall goal is to build something that women love and need. Ideally, we are working on launching a mobile version of JOZU that will have some features that the website version does not. Also, we want to expand our destinations beyond the Caribbean, such as Asia and South America.
Women in the workplace have always experienced a certain degree of discrimination from male colleagues, and according to new studies, it appears that it is becoming even more difficult for women to get acclimated to modern day work environments, in wake of the #MeToo Movement.
In a recent study conducted by LeanIn.org, in partnership with SurveyMonkey, 60% of male managers confessed to feeling uncomfortable engaging in social situations with women in and outside of the workplace. This includes interactions such as mentorships, meetings, and basic work activities. This statistic comes as a shocking 32% rise from 2018.
What appears the be the crux of the matter is that men are afraid of being accused of sexual harassment. While it is impossible to discredit this fear as incidents of wrongful accusations have taken place, the extent to which it has burgeoned is unacceptable. The #MeToo movement was never a movement against men, but an empowering opportunity for women to speak up about their experiences as victims of sexual harassment. Not only were women supporting one another in sharing to the public that these incidents do occur, and are often swept under the rug, but offered men insight into behaviors and conversations that are typically deemed unwelcomed and unwarranted.
Restricting interaction with women in the workplace is not a solution, but a mere attempt at deflecting from the core issue. Resorting to isolation and exclusion relays the message that if men can't treat women how they want, then they rather not deal with them at all. Educating both men and women on what behaviors are unacceptable while also creating a work environment where men and women are held accountable for their actions would be the ideal scenario. However, the impact of denying women opportunities of mentorship and productive one-on-one meetings hinders growth within their careers and professional networks.
Women, particularly women of color, have always had far fewer opportunities for mentorship which makes it impossible to achieve growth within their careers without them. If women are given limited opportunities to network in and outside of a work environment, then men must limit those opportunities amongst each other, as well. At the most basic level, men should be approaching female colleagues as they would approach their male colleagues. Striving to achieve gender equality within the workplace is essential towards creating a safer environment.
While restricted communication and interaction may diminish the possibility of men being wrongfully accused of sexual harassment, it creates a hostile
environment that perpetuates women-shaming and victim-blaming. Creating distance between men and women only prompts women to believe that male colleagues who avoid them will look away from or entirely discredit sexual harassment they experience from other men in the workplace. This creates an unsafe working environment for both parties where the problem at hand is not solved, but overlooked.
According to LeanIn's study, only 85% of women said they feel safe on the job, a 5% drop from 2018. In the report, Jillesa Gebhardt wrote, "Media coverage that is intended to hold aggressors accountable also seems to create a sense of threat, and people don't seem to feel like aggressors are held accountable." Unfortunately, only 16% of workers believed that harassers holding high positions are held accountable for their actions which inevitably puts victims in difficult, and quite possibly dangerous, situations. 50% of workers also believe that there are more repercussions for the victims than harassers when speaking up.
In a research poll conducted by Edison Research in 2018, 30% of women agreed that their employers did not handle harassment situations properly while 53% percent of men agreed that they did. Often times, male harassers hold a significant amount of power within their careers that gives them a sense of security and freedom to go forward with sexual misconduct. This can be seen in cases such as that of Harvey Weinstein, Bill Cosby and R. Kelly. Men in power seemingly have little to no fear that they will face punishment for their actions.
Source-Alex Brandon, AP
Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook executive and founder of LeanIn.org., believes that in order for there to be positive changes within work environments, more women should be in higher positions. In an interview with CNBC's Julia Boorstin, Sandberg stated, "you know where the least sexual harassment is? Organizations that have more women in senior leadership roles. And so, we need to mentor women, we need to sponsor women, we need to have one-on-one conversations with them that get them promoted." Fortunately, the number of women in leadership positions are slowly increasing which means the prospect of gender equality and safer work environments are looking up.
Despite these concerning statistics, Sandberg does not believe that movements such as the Times Up and Me Too movements, have been responsible for the hardship women have been experiencing in the workplace. "I don't believe they've had negative implications. I believe they're overwhelmingly positive. Because half of women have been sexually harassed. But the thing is it is not enough. It is really important not to harass anyone. But that's pretty basic. We also need to not be ignored," she stated. While men may be feeling uncomfortable, putting an unrealistic amount of distance between themselves and female coworkers is more harmful to all parties than it is beneficial. Men cannot avoid working with women and vice versa. Creating such a hostile environment is also detrimental to any business as productivity and communication will significantly decrease.
The fear or being wrongfully accused of sexual harassment is a legitimate fear that deserves recognition and understanding. However, restricting interactions with women in the workplace is not a sensible solution as it can have negatively impact a woman's career. Companies are in need of proper training and resources to help both men and women understand what is appropriate workplace behavior. Refraining from physical interactions, commenting on physical appearance, making lewd or sexist jokes and inquiring about personal information are also beneficial steps towards respecting your colleagues' personal space. There is still much work to be done in order to create safe work environments, but with more and more women speaking up and taking on higher positions, women can feel safer and hopefully have less contributions to make to the #MeToo movement.