Women of the Year 2021: Diva’s Carinne Chambers-Saini is Pioneering the Dialogue Around Menstrual Equity
From Olympic athletes and tech startup founders to social impact champions and business changemakers, our inaugural 2021 Women of the Year guide features 37 impressive leaders who are making a difference, both individually and as a collective. They’ve all navigated incredible obstacles to get to where they are (often on an uneven playing field) and yet, despite this, have still managed to summit their industries and change Canada—and the world around them—for the better. In our series of one-on-one interviews, get to know each honouree a little better: their values, mission, lessons learned, and the other women that inspire them in their own lives.
What is your elevator pitch to the world?
Carinne Chambers-Saini: As the creators of the top-selling menstrual cup in the world (The DivaCup), Diva is a Canadian company on a mission to create menstrual equity in all spaces through advocacy and education, and to give freedom of choice to accessible period care.
What was the impetus to starting your company?
Carinne Chambers-Saini: Diva was founded from the desire to create and offer premium and sustainable menstrual care products. My mother created the original DivaCup and together we worked to bring it to mass retailers over ten years ago. As Diva’s CEO and founder, I’m committed to continually raising the standards of care and menstrual equity both internally at Diva International Inc. and externally through our many social impact programs.
What excites you most about the work that you are doing?
Carinne Chambers-Saini: So much excites me. As the first mass-market menstrual cup brand, it’s been amazing to witness the immense growth within this sector. What inspires me about this is that it means people who menstruate have way more choice in care today than they ever have had before. It also motivates me to keep pushing for real change in our continued mission to destigmatize periods. Our activism work in this space has truly opened my eyes to the many barriers that are created when we aren’t able to freely discuss menstruation in all spaces.
Where do you think you have made the most impact in your company and community?
Carinne Chambers-Saini: Each year we release an annual social impact report, as a way to check in on the progress Diva is making towards our mission of making period care accessible, as well as destigmatizing menstruation. Periods do not stop for pandemics—COVID-19 exacerbated the already pervasive issue of access to period care around the world, and 2020/2021 efforts were more important than ever.
Our impact program is core to how we make a direct impact with the communities we are a part of. In the last year alone, we donated more than fifteen thousand DivaCups to those in need (including frontline nurses in Canada) multiple organizations across the US, and even Australian firefighters. Our cumulative efforts of over $700,000 in products and financial supporting, with $250,000 earmarked to support BIPOC organizations as part of our continued commitment to ending racial discrimination in the menstrual equity space. We are especially honoured to have worked with our partners No More Secrets in Philadelphia on the opening of the Breonna Taylor Room—a safe space in their menstruation and family-friendly building that is dedicated to the safety, rest, and recuperation of BIPOC.
Diva’s entire identity and product line is directly tied to sustainability, so every Diva win is a win for the planet. Last year we diverted 1,855,881 waste products. Building on this, we launched the first North American menstrual cup recycling program, DivaRecycles, in partnership with international recycling leader TerraCycle.
Most recently and closest to home, as part of our efforts to destigmatize menstruation and promote equity, we introduced a Paid Menstrual Leave Policy. By setting an example and through advocacy, Diva hopes to inspire other Canadian companies to introduce their own policy.
What kind of problems are you trying to solve?
Carinne Chambers-Saini: There are many issues that Diva tries to tackle on a daily basis. Our work is centered at the intersection of climate crises, lack of accessibility to safe and sustainable products, and destigmatization of a life-giving bodily process.
What are you doing that no one else is doing?
Carinne Chambers-Saini: It’s really in Diva’s DNA to be disruptors. We positioned Canada on the global stage and are still the leaders in the menstrual cup category. We were the first to introduce a menstrual cup—a healthy and effective alternative to disposable period products—to the mass retail market, prioritizing sustainability before other brands gave it any thought, and also offered a first-of-its-kind recycling program. To date, Diva has served over 80 million periods around the world. We are committed to serving people with periods.
This year we implemented a Paid Menstrual Leave Policy to promote equity and break down stigmas around menstruation in the workplace. Based on our research, we are the first to do so in Canada.
As we succeed in our mission, we will not be the only ones. Other Canadian companies will be inspired to introduce other meaningful products and policies. The hope is that all our efforts spark widespread change so we can continue researching and educating towards the next milestone.
We also produced the award-winning documentary Pandora’s Box: Lifting the Lid on Menstruation in 2020 that explored the global impacts of menstrual inequity and period poverty. The documentary will be made free and available on YouTube early next year to help support our work in advocacy and education for the destigmatization of periods, a crucial issue that creates barriers for those who menstruate worldwide. Not only is this film a great feat, but it’s also the first-ever feature-length film on the topic of period poverty and menstrual equity. It’s definitely a career highlight for me.
Was there ever a turning point in your career that fundamentally changed your business for the better?
Carinne Chambers-Saini: Seeing the growth in the menstrual care category has changed me, our business, and how we approach things. We have always seen our work as part of a large mission but the expansion in the category has taught us that we have friends in arms in this journey. We have been able to practice our values in action with these partners and collaborators. With what other businesses would see as a threat, or as competition, we have leaned in and collaborated with many people, innovators, brands in this space—and we aim to continue to do so. We believe in collaboration over competition, especially when we are on the same mission, together. We can achieve great things.
What have you learned about yourself as you’ve built your company?
Carinne Chambers-Saini: I’ve learned that one of my greatest strengths as a leader is my ability to listen. I think it is fantastic to share your ideas and speak about your visions but without the ability to listen and really hear the voices in your environment, you will end up stifling yourself and your brand. A lot of Diva’s successes are anchored on listening to our community; our people externally and internally teach us where we need to focus as a brand. That has been true with our most recent Paid Menstrual Leave policy that came from hearing from our internal team that it was needed, and our recycling program showed us a gap in our product’s lifecycle. We needed to find a way to solve it, so we listened to our community. It is also why our latest campaign, FREEDOM. PERIOD. showcases real DivaCup users. They are the brand and, as the CEO, they are the ones I make sure are at the forefront of any company decision we make.
What has been the most challenging part of building your business?
Carinne Chambers-Saini: We came into the menstrual care category as complete disruptors, there was no roadmap for a product or brand like ours. We were also female-founded and catering to a group that is often overlooked by companies. My mom and I would show up to investor, retail, or partner meetings and be sitting across a boardroom table from a group of older men. At that time, they didn’t understand the needs of people who menstruate so they didn’t understand a reusable, safe, and sustainable product. We had to fight to be taken seriously. Now menstrual care is one of the fastest-growing wellness sectors, which proves that people who menstrual want choice, they want quality, and they want brands that reflect their values. Things have changed a lot for the category.
What has been the most rewarding part of building your business?
Carinne Chambers-Saini: Seeing the DivaCup so widely available and hearing from our fans that it has changed their lives is a dream come true. I’m also incredibly grateful to be at a point in Diva’s growth where we as a company can truly put efforts and focus on giving back to the community through our activism and advocacy in support of menstrual equity in all spaces.
What questions do you think all leaders should ask themselves before building a company?
Carinne Chambers-Saini: What change do you want to make in the world? Can you show up for that every day, even on the bad days? If yes, then keep going.
In your experience, what has proven to make for a great brand experience?
Carinne Chambers-Saini: As a brand that is 20 years old, this is a question that we continually ask ourselves. Just as your customer evolves and grows, you as a brand need to grow and evolve, too. We really pride ourselves on our consumer support experience. As the frontline spokespersons for our brand, we ensure that our consumer support teams are well trained and able to handle any situation that comes to them with grace and kindness. It can be a vulnerable experience, bringing a menstrual cup problem to a total stranger. A great brand experience is in hiring great people. At Diva, we really believe in our people.
As well, our new campaign FREEDOM. PERIOD. is a reflection of this, we wanted to showcase who Diva is, and that is our customers. They are independent thinkers, challengers, advocates, and environmentally-focused citizens. Therefore, so are we. A great brand experience is when your customers see themselves in you and you see yourself in them—it needs to be a symbiotic relationship.
What is the mission of your brand? The bigger picture?
Carinne Chambers-Saini: Our mission is to become a life partner to women and people who menstruate as they journey through every phase of their lives. We support women as they reclaim their lives, their bodies, and their menstruation.
How do you define success? What does it mean to you?
Carinne Chambers-Saini: That’s a tough one, as there are so many aspects to the word “success.” From a business standpoint, success to me is knowing I’ve done something each day to create a better world for tomorrow.
What is one lesson that you hope people will learn or walk away with when engaging with your brand or from your work?
Carinne Chambers-Saini: That a world in which women and people who menstruate can live freely and without stigma is possible.
If you could go back and give yourself advice what would it be?
Carinne Chambers-Saini: Follow your intuition. There will always be people who doubt you, who say no to your ideas, or who think that you’re crazy. Do it anyway. Do what your gut is telling you.
Who is a woman in the community that you admire?
Carinne Chambers-Saini: I have to, of course, say my mom. She is my original business partner who has been dreaming about the menstrual cup since she was a teenager. She has been dreaming of sustainable solutions for menstruation for many years, and she has always had my back as a woman, a leader, a mother, and a friend.