Business 25 April 2018
Photo Courtesy of inhabitat.com
In today’s society, a new toilet design isn’t something to be fawned over. That is, until you realize what to many of us seems like a common household item is an unattainable luxury to billions of people around the world living without access to improved sanitation facilities.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 2.5 billion people live without access to improved sanitation facilities, which are defined as having a flush or pour toilet, a ventilated improved pit latrine, pit latrine with a slab or a composting toilet. To put that into perspective, that’s nearly 35 percent of the world’s population that is susceptible to deadly fecal-oral diseases, like diarrhea, that kill millions every year.
In an effort to resolve this issue, Cambridge, Massachusetts entrepreneur Diana Yousef and her team at startup change:WATER Labs are close to launching an innovative waterless toilet that will help alleviate the aforementioned dismal sanitary conditions around the world.
"Diana Yousef and her team at startup change:WATER Labs are close to launching an innovative waterless toilet that will help alleviate the aforementioned dismal sanitary conditions around the world." Photo Courtesy of Cartier Women's Initiative Awards
“Sanitation is so fundamental to every community,” says Yousef. “In the developed world, we take it for granted, but from Mumbai to Dubai to Fort Lauderdale, when toilets aren’t available or sewage infrastructure is non-existent or breaking down, the problems of sewage management can be very scary.”
The new toilet uses an innovative polymer pouch that aggressively evaporates the liquid of human waste, getting rid of more than 95 percent of the waste without the need for power or heat. As Yousef puts it, “We essentially shrink-wrap crap.” A single toilet can get rid of the daily waste of 15-20 people and can get rid of a day’s worth of waste from a single person in about an hour. Moreover, the polymer pouch used in the toilet is very cost effective. It takes only $0.40 worth of the material to vaporize the waste of 20 people for an entire month.
From an environmental standpoint, the toilet also makes sense as methane makes up 16 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, and is extremely potent—about 30 times more powerful a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. Open sewage contributes 4-6 percent of man-made methane emissions and once in production, Yousef's innovative toilet will help stop the release of the gas substantially, producing nothing more than water vapor. She estimates that one day, her toilet will limit the amount of methane emissions equal to the carbon capture capacity of a forest the size of Spain.
Yousef’s invention will also help with a large problem facing women in areas that lack improved sanitation. A staggering number of women drop out of school due to a lack of safe toilets. Not only do young women not feel comfortable without access to a proper toilet when they begin their periods, but women also put themselves in a vulnerable position to being raped or abused without a proper facility to use the toilet.
One region hit very hard by these effects in India, where nearly 55 percent of the population, or roughly 597 million households, do not have proper sanitation access. Because of this, 23 percent of young women drop out of school, a problem that does not bode well for the future of women in India, who are already highly marginalized. The women in India living without proper sanitation also face an increased risk of being attacked. 30 percent of women living in these conditions have been physically or sexually assaulted due to this problem, something Yousef believes is unacceptable in today’s society and something she is passionate about improving.
Although not yet in mass production, the first prototype of the toilet will be put into field testing this spring on a Hopi Indian reservation in Utah. Final adjustments and tests are currently in progress on the prototype to get it ready for field tests and Yousef is hopeful to transition to the production stage shortly thereafter.
"Yousef’s innovative toilet will help stop the release of the gas substantially, producing nothing more than water vapor." Photo Courtesy of the Boston Globe
For her novel invention, Yousef has been selected from nearly 3,000 applicants from 30 countries as one of the eighteen finalists for the Cartier Women’s Initiative Awards, an international business plan competition created in 2006 to identify, support and encourage projects by women entrepreneurs. She will receive $30,000 in funding and travel to Singapore to compete to become one of the six overall winners who will be awarded $100,000.
"Yousef has been selected from nearly 3,000 applicants as one of the eighteen finalists for the Cartier Women’s Initiative Awards."
Photo Courtesy of TheEditorial
Beyond looking to solve a global sanitation and women’s safety issue, there was another reason for Yousef starting her own company—to be a great role model for her two daughters. Having faced discrimination in her career for being a woman, she wants to teach her girls that they can be completely in charge of their own paths.
She admits starting change:WATER Labs wasn’t an easy undertaking, but she realized she wanted to do something important and be the ‘mistress of her own destiny.’
Adding to the challenges of starting her company, a recent report from Fit Small Business ranked Massachusetts 46 out of 50 in terms of support given to female entrepreneurs. Yousef doesn’t necessarily feel that information is true though, believing the Boston area has an abundance of resources available for her to develop her business further. For Yousef specifically, that may be due to the fact that her company falls into the biochemistry and health sectors, two areas known for success in Boston. What’s also interesting to note is that all three of the North American finalists selected for this year’s Cartier Women’s Initiative Awards are from the Boston area, providing another piece of evidence that Massachusetts may not be as unsupportive for female entrepreneurs as many think.
As change:WATER Labs progresses and one day brings its innovative toilet solution to the many in need across the world, Yousef’s impact will not only inspire her daughters, but will reach the future female leaders across the world that will one day make an impact of their own.
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.