IWD2023: Communia's Founder Olivia DeRamus on Building Safe Digital Space for Women

IWD2023: Communia's Founder Olivia DeRamus on Building Safe Digital Space for Women

Interview by Anja Paspalj
Published: March 08, 2023

Who Is Olivia DeRamus

Olivia DeRamus is the award-winning founder and CEO of Communia. She is also the founder of Restless Network, a portfolio of brands seeing tech through the female gaze. With a prior background in the non-profit industry, Olivia believes that private companies can have a powerful role to play in effecting positive social change, particularly through innovation and scale. She is also a consultant, writer and speaker.

Only 37% of women feel safe online, which is a staggering result to face on International Women's DayDespite occasional steps in the right direction, the digital space is still a man’s world. Will tech and gender equality ever go hand in hand? 

Born out of a need for a safe space online, Olivia DeRamus launched Communia in 2019. Initially a media platform, Communia evolved into a social media and discussion app for women. Presented as a “safe space for your unedited self,” Communia is the only social media space making the safety of women a priority.  

In an effort to create a space for marginalized voices, Communia is pulling the veil off what’s missing in the digital realm and what could be done to fix it. 

In an exclusive interview with Spotlight, Communia’s founder Olivia DeRamus discusses the relationship between tech and gender equity, how the app maintains its zero-tolerance for abuse policy and the challenges of working towards the top.  

Spotlight: This year's International Women's Month theme is "Innovation and technology for gender equality." How does this resonate with you personally and professionally?  

Olivia DeRamus: I do feel that we are at a crossroads in the tech world when it comes to gender equality on a number of levels - so it definitely resonates! Even just in the social media space, we’re seeing increasing cultural shifts as women are more vocal in demanding a more equitable and ethical digital world. Now is the time for tech companies and tech users to rethink how we use technology in a more positive and empowering way. 

What challenges have you faced as a CEO in the tech industry and how have you overcome them?  

There is a lot of sexism in the tech industry, compounded by resistance by many to even acknowledge that there is a problem. Being a founder and a CEO has its privileges - being my own boss may be the most obvious one. But women in leadership also face sexism and even harassment in certain situations.  

Only 1.9% of VC funding went to women last year, a clear signal that we are consistently underestimated by the investment community. I've often questioned whether I should speak plainly about this, as doing so could hurt my business or my career. But I'm not building Communia to be a tech darling, I'm building Communia to help women. To overcome these challenges, I have tried to stay focused on my ultimate mission, tuning out the noise and making choices on behalf of myself and my business's best interests.  

Tell us about your mission to have a safe space for women to discuss sexual assault openly. How did this idea come about? 

Like far too many women, I'm a survivor myself. I also had to fight an extensive legal battle just to retain the ability to speak about what happened to me. I learned first-hand what it was like to lose your freedom of speech while in that fight, and there was nowhere to turn when I tried to find a safe way to access community support. A survivor certainly is not going to find support on platforms like Instagram or Twitter.  

We actually offer an anonymous posting feature, as there are any number of life experiences where you need anonymity, as well as access to people willing to support you. It's very hard to find both, and that's where we come in. Women and marginalized genders can use the Communia app to talk about anything - whether that's a question about sexual health, mental health struggles, a first date gone bad, or a bad boss.  

So much of our power is in our voice, but when we’re not safe to use it, that power can be taken away. We provide a refuge for women and marginalized genders to use their voice in a safe space online, within a supportive community.

Communia black logo

Communia aims to empower women by connecting them with resources, mentors and networking opportunities. Can you discuss some of the key features and benefits of the platform? 

At the heart of Communia is a social network that makes it easy to help others, and to find help yourself, using our own lived experiences. You don't have to be a high-flying expert or whatever to give advice or be a mentor to someone who's dealing with something you may have also already dealt with. We've created a more mindful social environment in which to do this. That means required identity verification before you can communicate with others, a chronological newsfeed that you fully control, and human moderators who take action if you were to encounter unsupportive behaviour.  

We also have an entire second section of the app centered on connecting with yourself using established well-being tools like journaling, mood tracking and goal tracking. You can also use our public journaling feature for a longer, more consistent form of content creation that creates a more intimate sense of community. Think "confidence tips" if you're a coach, or even "book recommendations" if you're into reading. It's a better way to organize and create content, whether you're using the app personally or looking to gain a following.   

The platform also has a zero-tolerance policy for any form of abuse, a rarity for social media platforms. How do you ensure user safety?  

We take a preventative approach, rather than trying to put band-aids on problems retroactively. That means we require identity verifications, and we put a priority on human moderation with Care Officers. We also respond immediately if a user runs into someone who breaks our guidelines. You won't have to beg us to take them off the app, because we really do act at the first instance of problematic behavior. That should be the norm for all social media platforms! I hope we'll start seeing other platforms adopting this stance. 

Building a tight-knit digital community has been key for this journey. What are the best ways to create a welcoming community for a new brand?   

Authenticity and transparency. They’re more than just buzzwords! And to start as early as possible, with the right platform. TikTok is all the rage - but it might not be the best platform for the kind of community you want to build. It’s important to be intentional. For any brand, I also think it’s really important that the customer is seen, heard and respected. If you’re able to make them feel that way with whatever your offering is, you’ve already won.  

Looking back on working towards Communia and where it is today, what do you now recognize that people were missing the most when it comes to social media platforms?  

Trust and play! These are two very different aspects of an online experience, but I think they are closely linked. You can’t play if you don’t feel safe and you don’t trust the platform or the people around you. Because we do have such a focus on social good, I think people who haven’t used the app assume it’s a heavy space. But that couldn’t be further from the truth. 

We’ve been intentional about creating an uplifting digital world that helps you relax and be excited about your stage of life. No comparison culture. Just support, literally! And just because you go through hard things sometimes doesn’t mean you want to talk about them all the time. We get that. And when you do need to talk about the tough stuff, everything is transparent, you know you’re talking to real people who care about you. That has a real impact on how beneficial your online experience is.  

How do you see the relationship between technology and gender equity evolving in the coming years, and how is Communia positioning itself to stay at the forefront of these changes? 

That’s a great question and not a straightforward one to answer. Technology can be such a force for good, and indeed push positive change around issues like gender equity. On the other hand, I’ve been increasingly concerned with observing how the predominantly male creators of the next wave of technology, like AI in particular, are handling issues affecting women online and off, like deep fakes, disinformation or the amplification of hate speech.  

Technology will not promote gender equity if the creators of that technology don’t take into account how their products impact women and other marginalized members of our society. As always, Communia will serve as a refuge for women and will continue to advocate for greater corporate responsibility.   

Finally, what advice would you give young women just starting in their careers, particularly in male-dominated fields like tech? 

If I listened to every “no” or “that’s not possible,” I wouldn’t be anywhere near where I am today! It doesn’t matter if other people don’t believe in you, as long as you believe in yourself. 

Keep up with Communia on Instagram and read about other industry leaders here

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