Wellbeing is a top issue for CEOs today. All of our leaders are being called upon to address wellbeing for the people they employ. They are guiding their teams through an uncertain maze we call the future. Even with a glimmer of the pandemic in the rear view mirror here in California, there is still fear, change and uncertainty. Can we trust the new normal? Is there a new normal? Whether we are working from home or office or whether we are in retail or technology, change is impacting all of us personally.
Meet Andrea Cubitt, PhD, successful scientific research executive and entrepreneur who created a technology solution that personalizes wellbeing, engagement and inclusion by grounding it in science. Her new company, Dionysus Digital Health goes live this summer. I met with Andrea to learn more about this fascinating and unique approach to understanding our mental wellbeing and having a tool to achieve a healthy, connected and purposeful life.
Sherry Benjamins: How is Dionysus redefining wellbeing?
Andrea Cubitt: Traditional approaches to medical and physical wellbeing rely upon the concept of the individual recognizing that there is something wrong, and then seeking help. This works fairly well for physical wellness, (because we feel ill) and of course we have fitness Apps to track our fitness. But it’s often more difficult to stay in peak mental shape because we don’t have good tools to track our daily stress, and understand how we can most effectively manage them.
Dionysus Digital Health gives us the ability to track perceived your specific, individual (i.e. personal to you) anxiety and stress on a day to day basis.
Here we are not so much thinking about big, life-changing things like a divorce that we’re very well aware of, but instead, all of those minor barriers and obstacles in life – like miss placing your keys, or being late for an important meeting, or having personal conflict - events that subtly alter our perspectives and sense of wellbeing. These constant challenges create little daily changes in stress levels that accumulate over time. Typically it’s not just one thing, but an accumulation of problems and life challenges which can be the straw that breaks the camel’s back. With Dionysus we can give people the tools to understand these daily changes. By showing a user how their stress is changing, we can redefine how one thinks about their wellness or happiness. Using this approach, we can help you make smart decisions, based on validated cognitively smart approaches that can help you improve and drive happiness.
Dionysus is very much about who you are: your individual and gendered personality, layered on what’s happening to you in that moment. Through big data, and validated smart cognitive feedback, we can help you create a personalized path to greater wellbeing.
Sherry: What prompted you to start this new technology solution?
Andrea: As an established transgender professional and who transitioned on the job, my eyes were opened to the real world differences in perspectives and attitudes in male and females. Perhaps most importantly I lost my own white male privilege, and got to see the world through a completely different lens. At the same time, I noticed that starting hormone replacement therapy, and trying to optimize it… had dramatic and sometimes highly emotionally impacts on my own sense of wellbeing.
Sometimes I would come into work very upset, feeling like the whole world was against me. I began talking to other women and it opened my eyes to understanding how much more dynamic personality and mood actually are for both men and women. However, too often gender stereotypes get in the way of true understanding. Amazingly, most personality types analysis systems exclude the idea that gender exists at all, yet it underlies almost all human interactions between men and women. Moreover, it is a core component of who we are as human beings, that underpins what makes us happy in almost all sectors of our lives.
Specifically in a work context, when you look at the best high performance teams, the very best teams – those with the highest decision making ability - and highest emotional intelligence - always have a 50-50 mix of men and women. So gender is an incredibly important aspect of building successful teams, and having more tools to explain, demystify and breakdown gender stereotypes (which always get in the way) is an essential part of helping to make this happen. Ultimately we are all a unique mosaic of different gendered personalities, based on our genes, environment, upbringing and experiences in life.
Sherry: How do we handle “overwhelm” in our working groups today?
Andrea: I think that we are all much more aware that as we all became more socially isolated because of COVID, and that it has accentuated a new sense of detachment from work and our colleagues. Importantly we are also aware that this sense of connection can’t easily be replaced through video conference calls. At the same time, we are living through a phase of significant political dissatisfaction on both sides of the political spectrum. Social media, and headline news, accentuate our fears and anxieties to drive their readership, but the net effect for most of us is constant tension and anxiety.
To handle overwhelm, we need better defenses and tools to highlight the things that allow us to relax, and to identify and neutralize the things that cause us unnecessary stress. What triggers a person to a specific stress, is specific and unique to that individual. Our work with Dionysus intends to give visibility to the things that uniquely stress you out, and provides actionable cognitively smart approaches to reduce your stress. For example, we show what is actually stressing you out on a daily basis, and what is actually helping, over time.
Sherry: What gets in the way of healthy group dynamics and relationships?
Andrea: I think that personal wellbeing, trust, transparency, good communication skills and understanding underpins healthy team relationships, and ultimately drives team performance. Fundamentally I believe that building a strong sense of psychological safety within the team, where everyone is able to fully participate and speak up creates a framework for healthy group dynamics and relationships. Many times we see that stress can erode healthy relationships and lead to a breakdown in personal wellbeing with team that is the root cause of bad team dynamics.
With Dionysus we’re trying to shine a light on group stress to give people visibility by providing actionable information on what specific teams, functional areas or types of people (older or younger workers for example) are particularly stressed. Importantly we can track this over time, across the organization, or compared to comparable groups and teams to understand what drives stress. Just like for the individual, we can then identify strategies, and proactively work with the company to minimize stress and maximize productivity across an organization.
Sherry: Companies are now focused on how to bring people back into the workplace. Do you believe they are having conversations about health or wellbeing?
Andrea: Yes absolutely. I do think that the best leaders and managers appreciate that if they want to create real impact, they need to change the corporate mindset. How do you support someone in an offsite location and give them what they need to make sure they feel empowered with work-life balance? The right answer is absolutely individual to that specific person, and their individual work-life environment. This means having meaningful and regular conversations with people who work with you about how they are doing in different contexts. At the same time, there is an emerging need to create better systems that can automatically support HR teams that are cost effective, scalable and always available to truly support all employees. We hope that Dionysus will be part of that solution.
Sherry: In the context of post-pandemic, what will allow us to thrive?
Andrea: We need to recognize that there is a uniqueness in people that challenges us to help them find the right places for them to be successful. It’s not a cookie cutter, one size fits all approach. Whether we’re talking about men, women, or groups of people, we need to recognize their individuality and bring out the best of them. Not to suppress diversity in our employees, but to engage and allow them to thrive in the work place. To do this we need to be much more cognitively smart (and not reactive) in how we think about wellness and its impact on productivity. Mental wellness is connected to physical wellness and it’s absolutely key to incorporate objective tools to look at how day to day situations are helping or hurting someone, as well as how those insights can drive their happiness.
Sherry: Is this our opportunity to educate ourselves and our leaders?
Andrea: I truly believe that it is all about education, and providing the tools for people to understand themselves – this is as true for gender, as it is for stress. We’re all a mosaic of male and female traits, mixed up in different ways. Importantly this uniqueness also dictates how we will individually respond to stress. Recognizing this opens up the door to powerful conversations. It’s about creating an environment where people feel like their employers care about them. Finding better ways to acknowledge and address the stresses in people’s lives in a way that’s not judgmental or stigmatized. In fact often times, people are simply just not aware of the stresses which they are causing within an organization.
One of the most important things that we recognized early on in terms of wellness and building a technology platform to support wellbeing, was that we had to get people’s trust. If people didn’t trust us to keep their information confidentially, then they wouldn’t feel comfortable using the app! That relationship between employer and employee should be about fostering communication and trust, as well as being proactive about how to deal with the stressful moments in our lives. To truly help, and not hurt the employee. Because of this, we are taking our responsibilities for individual data privacy very seriously. In fact, we are planning on creating one of the first private, independently audited data trusts, where individual information will be protected, to ensure that it cannot be sold or used (even by Dionysus) without an individual’s authorization.
Sherry: Will information be shared with an individual’s boss?
Andrea: Dionysus will only provide aggregated group data (like graphs or charts) back to a HR team. All individual data is private. However, one of the concepts we have developed within Dionysus is the possibility of sharing your day to day stress level within a trusted network, so that they can help. (like a fitness App, so that your trusted network can support you when you most need it). However, an individual can opt in or out of these features, and to select when and how data is shared.
Sherry: Before we close our conversation, please share with us how you chose the name – Dionysus.
Andrea: Dionysus is the unofficial LGBTQ+ god of the Trans community. In art, we usually see Dionysus as an old man, (and as the god of wine) but when depicted at a younger age, he was and more gender fluid. In founding Dionysus, we wanted to be able to use all the tools we could create through modern data science, machine learning, fundamental new insights on the importance of sex differences in neurobiology and clinical psychology to develop a platform that could genuinely embrace and support everyone’s unique gendered personality. Dionysus embodies the idea of a god watching out for you.
Sherry: How might our readers learn more?
Andrea: You can link to our website to learn more. If your community of leaders is concerned about understanding and investing in the wellbeing of their employees, please reach out to me. We are excited about our technology and the ability to create a unique multidimensional profile for each person. It will be powerful to offer smart adaptive feedback and inclusive solutions with actionable insights.
More about Andrea ….
Prior to creating Dionysus Digital Health, Andrea Cubitt, Ph.D. served as an executive in Scientific Alliances, Intellectual Property, and Product Protection within Tyr Pharna Inc since 2011. She is an established transgender professional who came to the United States from the United Kingdom, in 1987. She co-founded Anaptys Biosciences, a therapeutic antibody company, in 2005 and served as Executive Director of Corporate Development until 2009. She also served as Senior Manager, Technology and Intellectual Property at Aurora Bioscience Corporation, a biotechnology company. She did her postdoctoral training at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York, and at the University of California San Diego. Andrea is a co-inventor or co-author of 18 issued US patents and 20 publications. Andrea is also active in a number of not for profit organizations and initiatives focused on social and economic equality. She currently serves as a commissioner for the AMA Foundation, charged with reducing healthcare disparities for the treatment of the LGBTQ+ community, and also sits on the boards of the ACLU (San Diego) and Trans Can Work.