Inspirational Woman: Dominnique Karetsos | CEO & Founder, The Healthy Pleasure Group

Dominnique KaretsosWith a preference for working in disruptive industries and challenging environments, Dominnique Karetsos specialises in growth for sexual health technology start-ups.

Dominnique Karetsos is instrumental in shaping the next generation of sexual health tech brands entering the market and has a true entrepreneurial calling for being part of the sex tech revolution. An established business & brand architect, entrepreneur and innovator, BBC radio broadcaster, Dominnique has nearly two decades of experience delivering results in multi-sector business transformation.
Previously Head of EMEA Intimina for the world’s leading intimate lifestyle company, LELO Group, she is focused purely on sexual health, wellness and technology.

Dominnique now invests and/or sits on several advisory boards. She also co-founded Forbes featured agency, Healthy Pleasure Group, the only integrated agency dedicated to Sexual Health Technology start-ups and Intimology Institute - the school for sexual wellness, with business partner Dr Maria Peraza Godoy.

Healthy Pleasure Collective work with award winning innovations and brands, pairing the latest technology, branding, communications, investment and distribution to generate powerful and lasting innovations that are the motors for economic and social change and to bring more value to our to sexual health.

Dominnique can be seen spreading the word of Healthy Pleasure as Sex expert & Industry speaker on the likes of Forbes, Giant Health, Oprah, Women’s Health, Shape, Bustle, Elite Daily, BBC, TNW, Well & Good, Voice America Radio, Pure Edit.

Dominnique is a key contributor to trend immersion report for consumer insight behaviour including Canva8 and Fashion Snoops.
Healthy Pleasure recently featured in Forbes.

Tell us a bit about yourself, background and your current role

Personally, I have been a successful and failed entrepreneur since I was 13 and selling alcohol-free perfume balms in South Africa. I come with a masters in Maritime  and international trade (the Greek blood in me). My love of people and how we move through the world, how we behave and engage with sexualities transcends beyond fascination but drills into how our self-efficacy and sexual identities are our most impacting social and economic life motors. I went from commercial zoning of the oceans to be a business / brand architect & entrepreneur/ investor for 15+ years, but it was my curiosity eight years ago being a co-host on BBC Radio London, coinciding with being a new mum of a daughter and a financially crippling divorce that led me on a  personal journey spotlighted the intrinsic value pleasure and my healthy sexuality contributed to living a fulfilling life.  So I left my successful career for significance and joined a leading adult brand as head of their EMEA and learned the lay of the recently coined SexTech landscape. This space is grossly but not surprisingly polarised - we have family planning or porn and as far as women's sexual health goes we have been historically ignored and underserved. So I realised then we had a lot to do to democratise sexual health for women, dismantle the entrenched social constructs we abide by as women, reposition sex as something ot be explored, empowered and healthy and build the foundations for the internet of smart sexual wellness, health and tech. Tech is the solar plexus of this movement. tech is the facilitator to close the trifecta between sex and health. Be it a smart vibrator that helps us communicate to our partners what we desire in the bedroom (Mysteryvibe.com)  an STI testing and sharing platform (iPlaysafeapp.com) to verify our safe sexual status, to reengineering pleasure products for trans women ( my-exo.com), tracking our hormones (elara.care), biotech printing of skin for FGM victims (HP Group Lab)  to a The School of sexual wellness, Intimologyinstitiute.com

Today I am immensely proud to say I am surrounded by business partners, teams, my soul sister co-founder Dr Maria Goddoy, all of whom are trailblazing changemakers. As Ceo and Founder of Healthy Pleasure Group , we are powered by fiercely curious and proven experts committed to democratising sexual health and bringing all their worldly entrepreneurial and unique skills to define and reshape this challenging landscape, every. day.

Healthy Pleasure Group is an ecosystem in essence. We have The Agency - an end to end incubator type offering where we take you to market from concept to shelf. By taking brands to the market we lead the way for a new sexual wellness landscape and consumer behaviour.  The Lab - this is were medicine, science and research meet to create innovative solutions to our problems that historically have been ignored and finally, The School of Sexual Wellness. this is an online platform for sexual enlightenment where education is authentic and delivered by credbile experts.

Lead. Launch. Learn is what powers our mission to facilitate the connection between sexual pleasure and our overall health and wellbeing. Our well-engineered experience in Sex, Health and Tech is proven because we understand that  Human-centric technology is critical to not only help brands but their customers to value this part of their health but drive the cultural conversation that sexuality is something to be embraced, researched, and experienced – not hidden.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

No. I only knew it had to involve travel, people, stories, risk, and reward and it was always powered by passion and led by curiosity. I come from a family of entrepreneurs and only my grandfathers were educated. My greek grandfather a diplomat and politician while my south African grandfather an esteemed criminal attorney dedicated to defending African communities during the apartheid era. I planned my need to learn and be educated, academically and worldly education and I knew I had an immense desire to blow shit up and change taboos.

Have you faced any career challenges along the way and how did you overcome these?

Yes. From day one. Being one of few women in the world as a maritime logistician, this was ( and maybe still is) exclusively a man’s world. I encountered sexual harassment, discrimination, minimizing of my thoughts, ideas. Sometimes it was because of age, sex, maybe my attitude. I can communicate this now because I have the language to name it. At 24 I only knew it was not right and something felt wrong but never had the language to name the problem, no one to tell it to and no social media to share it  and call it out. I worked in fortune 500 global companies and even there, I was instructed to stay in my lane - not stay in your lane and make it your own type, more like a don’t colour outside of the lines. When I got brave enough, I dealt with each challenge differently but a running theme for me has been something my father taught me. He used to say that what other people thought of me was none of my business. The only control we have is to listen and how we then react is ruled by the attitude with which we listen with.  I apply this to all my challenges from sexual harassment to conscious uncoupling through a crippling divorce so that my daughter maintains a loving relationship with her father, to overcoming loss, everything really.

Challenges are not unique to me alone. We all go through them, but these ones specifically  I truly believe were all in preparation for my turn to play my part in revolutionising sexual health for human beings. I know this is where I am meant to be and I am forever grateful. I have been walked out of meetings, laughed at, hissed at, all in the name of a menstrual cup. 4 years later and that very same retail outlet has a sexual wellness category in 200 stores with that very menstrual cup. The very same investment houses that asked me to pitch without saying the word sex or vulva are investing in sexual health brands and smart vibrators. As an industry category, Sextech is categorically excluded still. ED can be advertised on Facebook but not vibrators for women. We still encounter double standards. In VR tech women are few and far between in this space. VR equipment is still designed and built for men’s faces. The same can be said for PPE equipment. It was not long ago that you could ask apple suri where to buy adult entertainment or book a sex worker but ask it where to go after you have been raped and the answer was, “sorry I am not able to help you.”

Is it changing? Yes. Thanks to #MeToo movements, mainstream media and more women and men demanding change, innovation and solutions that relate to their problems. So we are headed in the right direction. We are not close to home though.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

Today. right now. I have the privilege to dream big and believe bold. I get to blow up shit, disrupt and build. I get the chance to work human-centric first and do it with brands and people that want the same. To travel the world and be given the opportunity to listen to others stories and share mine. My career for the first time is led by my curiosity and not by necessity.

What one thing do you believe has been a major factor in you achieving success? 

Kindness. From others to me and from myself to myself. It is the currency of our future.

What top tips would you give to an individual who is trying to excel in their career in technology?

I think this applies to any industry but learning the value of NO. Understanding that saying no means you understand your value and by saying no you are saying yes to the right or better opportunity which is true to your calling. Tech is still dominated by men and as women we are often raised to believe that saying no is being rude or we are not a team player. No means only one thing. No.Nothing more nothing less.

Don’t be afraid to ask for an expert opinion or support from others. People really do want to help. I challenge the idea that women are each other's worst enemy. EGO is the enemy. There were many who lifted me up and took me with them. But only when I asked for help and I knew exactly  what I wanted help for did I start to see my career move in the right direction. If you don’t ask the answer will always be no. Cliched but true.

There are so many opportunities to get involved in Tech today. As Peter Thiel explains “There is no reason why technology should be limited to computers. Properly understood, any new and better way of doing things is technology.” decide what you want to do in tech, where you want to learn or innovate the change and then go for it. Take the chance. Believe in yourself.

Do you believe there are still barriers for success for women working in tech, if so, how can these barriers be overcome?

Yes, there is but like most industries, I believe the way to overcome it could be to concentrate our effort in three areas: Innovation ( for women, by women), Investment and Education.

All three have their own barriers but when we work to break all three together we will see this industry fast track. As consumers, women must demand innovation that resonates with  our issues and wants - we hold the purse strings and roam 50 per cent of the planet. We need more investment houses dedicated to female founders and entrepreneurs, companies like HerCapital or the Case for Her and the biggest catapult is Education - we need to encourage women to believe in themselves and go after a future in engineering, STEM, medical etc but one the ways to do this is to raise girls seeing what we asking them to imagine and that is  she can change the world.  She needs to be  raised with the positive beliefs and self-efficacy that she too is worthy to her voice, her choice and her opinion.

What do you think companies can do to support the progress the careers of women working in technology?

 Invest in women. Innovate for women by women. Make education accessible for women. We need to take other women with us. Not this, ”I'll send the elevator down for them” speech. Instead do the work and take women with you on your journey to the top.

There are currently 17 per cent of women working in tech, if you could wave a magic wand, what is the one thing you would do to accelerate the pace of change for women in the industry?

Hahah I think you know my answer by now. I would make funds available for investing in female founders, education accessible and put even more magic over what we are doing to democratise sexual health for women.

I must confess that I would love to see women experiencing pleasure as part of their healthy daily habit, having the ability to express and request what we want sexually, as a standard indicator for empowerment. When we give ourselves permission to validate our erotism and sexuality without guilt and through pleasure, becoming responsible for it and generating a healthy speech towards ourselves, recognising our differences in sexualities. When we can do this only then we close not only the orgasmic gap, but any gap that we are able to close in bed will translate into our surroundings…we will ask for a salary increase, surely we will able to choose, study and exercise male-defined careers, we will raise our kids with a different sense of gender equality, we will become aware that our equality lies in our differences, not the other way around.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech, eg Podcasts, networking events, books, conferences, websites etc?

Podcasts:

Learning:

Reads:


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