Gender Diversity and Inclusion

For this week’s Power Hour I interviewed Cynthia Fortlage, who is a Gender Diversity and Inclusion Speaker, Writer, & Consultant supporting inclusive organisations at the intersection of Human Rights, Sexuality & Gender with an Intentional Culture where people feel they Belong. Get ready to learn and level up your LinkedIn!

Hello Cynthia, tell me about yourself and your Gender Diversity and Inclusion work?

I am a Belfast-born, Canadian-raised gal living in NW London (Camden Area). I was married for 32 years but divorced after coming out, and I have two adult children (Daughter Gillian, 26yrs, Lawyer and son Graeme, 30 yrs, V-CIO).

I came out as a trans+ woman at the age of 50 yrs. After a successful 30-year career as a C-suite technology executive, I was forced to sign a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) related to the treatment I experienced after coming out, ultimately ending my career.

-Cynthia Fortlage

The whole experience profoundly impacted me and made me realise the importance of creating a safe and inclusive working environment. This led me to start CAF services almost eight years ago to help organisations become more inclusive and give everyone a sense of belonging. Today, CAF services have evolved and are committed to creating safe spaces where everyone feels included.

Cynthia Fortlage, Gender Diversity and Inclusion,
Photo by Anete Lusina on

What are some ways in which a female health founder could develop their women’s health product/innovation to be GENDER inclusive?

The most common aspects I run into in my work with founders include;

  • Helping them think through if their offering is for cisgender women only.
  • Learning the language of inclusivity.
  • Considering issues like Bathrooms and changing rooms before it’s a challenge.
  • Exploring preconceived biases
  • Ensuring the word women isn’t erased while ensuring everyone else is included.

What are the key areas/topics a female health founder should work towards to develop a truly GENDER inclusive business?

  • Culture: we are who our clients, suppliers, and community say we are. Is that in alignment with who you want to be?
  • Market Segmentation: are you thinking too narrowly who your clients could be? Are you missing opportunities to market to underserved communities?
  • Financing: The share of the VC market focused on female founders is less than 3%, consider your model early and often. Female founders who are LGBTQ+ identify the market is less than 1%.
  • Branding: Are you using inclusive or exclusive language to address your target markets? Do you know how to talk to your markets in a language they will see as safe to do business with?
  • Safety: Where your business is location-dependent, have you thought about indicators to let your target market know you are a safe space for them?
Cynthia Fortlage, Gender Diversity and Inclusion,
Photo by Nicholas Swatz on

Tell me about your work towards promoting the message ‘acceptance without understanding’?

Acceptance without Understanding stands as a profound life philosophy, urging us to see the person before the difference they embody.

It beckons us to set aside preconceived judgments, fostering a culture of inclusivity. Rather than aiming for complete agreement or mere tolerance, it champions peaceful coexistence as an initial step.

-Cynthia Fortlage

This philosophy sprouted from the dissolution of my 28-year marriage, where despite love, there lacked acceptance of my transition, highlighting that unconditional love embraces both love and acceptance. Initially rooted in spiritual practice, this message now resonates as a calling to enlighten one billion individuals about acceptance without understanding by 2050 under the banner of #acceptanceforall2050.

What methods could a female health founder use, to ensure their business messaging and marketing takes a LGBTQ+ inclusive approach to female health?

  • Ask for help reviewing material before publishing/sending.
  • Begin with the market in mind, not as an afterthought. This includes language.
  • Include the target market in the feedback process during design and ideation.
  • Expanding current successful offerings to a larger market doesn’t have to mean a complete rework; applying inclusive knowledge could easily help you expand your target market.
  • Targeting existing offerings to a new inclusive market not initially considered may require specialised knowledge to help you repackage/remarket it for a faster turnaround.
Cynthia Fortlage, Gender Diversity and Inclusion,
Photo by on

What are the benefits of using a consultancy service (such as yours) to help existing female health organisations become more inclusive?

  • Availability on a fractional basis: rent skills rather than hire them. Saves on employee costs.
  • Quickly access deep, extensive, specialised knowledge, skills, and abilities.
  • We provide advisory services which are like ‘call a friend’ services for answers that don’t require research but may be experiential based.
  • Consultative services are ones that require the use of a depth of skills combined with situational components to arrive at conclusions and recommendations the founder may not have thought about.
  • Educational services in the form of short-form lunch-n-learn learn sessions to half/full-day workshops.
  • Facilitations with target market communities, i.e.: a friendly face from the community to help with arriving at insights the founder can use.
  • Mentoring support for founders, organisational leaders, and teams
  • Mentoring support for employees 
  • The skills associated with D&I should become part of the DNA of the organisational culture. A consultant can help you define a culture but can’t help you live it.

What is the common big thing organisations get wrong, when trying to become more inclusive?

Big organisations often falter in their quest for inclusivity by reducing it to a mere check box exercise. True inclusivity defies such simplistic categorisation.

Educating oneself about a specific community isn’t a one-off task; it’s an ongoing process that demands a continuous evolution to grasp the nuances of ever-changing communities.

-Cynthia Fortlage

Similarly, cultivating an inclusive culture within an organisation cannot be confined to a project with a defined timeline. It transcends the constraints of a month, quarter, or even a year. Building inclusivity demands deliberate, sustained efforts that align with the very existence of the organisation, acknowledging that this endeavour is perpetual and enduring.

What resources do you recommend for female health founders use to further their learning on inclusion and diversity?

  • Find creators who provide insights on areas you want to develop your D&I (diversity and inclusion) muscle.
  • If you need help developing that muscle, find trusted providers who can support you on your organisational journey. Fractional labour is one way to get up to speed quickly.
  • Network, connect, and chat with specialists in the field.
Cynthia Fortlage, Gender Diversity and Inclusion,
Photo by Alexander Grey on

3 take-away actions for founders:

  1.  Complete your organisational self-assessment Culture survey for personalised insights. (Culture Self-Assessment Quiz
  2.  Go away and make this one change today to challenge your assumptions about women who are not cisgender. They could be a hidden market for you. Read More Insights.
  3.  Start challenging your use of gendered language every time you talk about clients for a positive, inclusive change. Follow to learn more

Connect further with Cynthia on Gender Diversity and Inclusion :