Cortina McCurry

Putting a Spotlight on Women’s Health in the Workplace

Former partner Cortina McCurry discusses her journey after BCG and how she followed her purpose to found a “femtech” health care startup.

As the CEO and cofounder of Caia, a healthtech company geared toward women and families, what do you believe are some of the major gender-inequality issues facing women in the workplace? How is Caia addressing them?

Caia is an online platform that connects users with trusted experts in women’s health. Our vision is to make it easy for our customers to get access to specialists who can help them through various reproductive life stages.

One of the biggest challenges for women is that the workplace wasn’t designed with reproductive needs in mind. Whether related to menstrual disorders, infertility, the postpartum phase, or menopause, there are several things that women experience that nobody talks about. We want to make support accessible and destigmatize and normalize these issues. In offices worldwide, women show up, manage meetings, and do amazing things. But no one's talking about how they might be undergoing fertility treatments or managing another reproductive health condition.

It's crucial to be honest about the fact that these things are taking place and for open conversations to happen. There’s an opportunity for workplaces to step up and ensure that employees are getting the support they need.

What motivated you to found Caia, and what did you learn during the process?

I was motivated to found Caia after the birth of my first daughter. I was impressed by the physical, mental, and social needs that come with the transition into parenthood. The physical recovery was a huge surprise for me. I hadn’t anticipated it would be so hard.

Being pregnant is like running a marathon for 40 weeks, and we don't acknowledge how our personal and professional lives intertwine during this period. We push our bodies to the limit. And even after the birth is over, people tend to think that the most challenging aspect is the lack of sleep. But in addition to the anxiety-inducing pressure women feel to return to work, there are also postpartum elements to consider. One in three women are affected by postpartum anxiety or depression. Following childbirth, women are left with an internal injury. The placenta is the only organ that leaves the body once its purpose is served. I can guarantee that when it comes to global maternal health policy, treating childbirth as an injury would cause people to be more empathetic.

My own personal challenges, as well as stories from colleagues and friends, got me thinking about Caia. I knew there had to be a better way to get access to care and to improve overall literacy around some of these issues—not just postpartum support but also women’s health more broadly.

Things came to fruition when I was able to find a cofounder with experience working with women in the social impact measurement space. We are both passionate about supporting health and wellness to improve gender equity and want to increase the number of women who remain in the workforce. I’ve had multiple conversations in my career with women grappling with pregnancy and motherhood. “Do I let my managers know I'm pregnant, or will it affect my promotion? How can I possibly juggle work and parenting?” Many women have to ask these questions and ultimately leave their jobs because they do not believe they can juggle both worlds.

How has your decade of BCG experience benefited your career? Are there any key lessons learned or professional advice that you still carry with you?

One of the lessons from BCG that took me the longest to learn—and one that I still reflect on today—is the importance of letting the individuals on my team know that I trust them and that I am there to support them. It's about helping them identify their superpowers and flourish. It’s about helping them build up their confidence, knowing that they can deliver better value. Once I figured this out, it made a huge difference in overall team morale and expanded the creativity of the solutions that we were able to deliver to clients.

I remember when a client said there was going to be a big change in the direction we were taking. Normally, I might have said, “This is what we need to do, and here are the action items.” Instead, I had a call with my team and urged them to sleep on the topic and return with solutions the next day. My team was grateful that I trusted them to think about it, and we were able to figure a plan out. I think that's an important leadership lesson: let the people you work with know that you trust them and respect their well-being. You have to recognize that sometimes the best solutions don't come when you respond with urgency.

The other lesson would be the importance of having an intense customer focus. From day one at BCG, it’s important to understand who the customer is and what they need. Similarly, at Caia, we spend a lot of time thinking about customer personas. Caia still hasn’t officially launched, but we are building something valuable together with our customers. I think that's what makes it special.

Do you have a favorite BCG memory?

My best BCG memory would have to be learning to fly. One of my managers gifted me a course in pilot lessons at a local flight school at the end of a successful case. He was already a pilot, and he thought I might have a knack for it. He was right. Years later, we had the opportunity to fly together. That was cool.

What is the most important piece of advice you can give to budding women entrepreneurs?

We put a lot of weight into what scares us and what our fears tell us not to do. I think if more people spent time reflecting on what their dreams are and what excites them, they'd realize that the passion project that keeps them up at night might actually be where their talents and energy are going to serve their greatest purpose. If you follow your purpose, everything else falls into place. The reality of trying to run a startup with twins and a toddler during a pandemic might seem like a lot to handle—and I am working harder than I ever have—but I find it energizing. This period has been a big moment of awareness and growth for me.