Check back each month for the Original Thinker Series as we explore local innovation in entrepreneurship, the arts, and our community one pioneering mind at a time.
It is hard not to be optimistic after a conversation with Kateri Ruiz, founder of MAIA.community. Kateri is committed to emboldening women’s equity and has vowed that she “will not cease until all data sets can prove it.” Her approach to gender equity work: speak passionately and carry a big directory.
MAIA is a free access directory of women-owned businesses across the nation. It is built for the conscious consumer who wants to spend their money in alignment with their values—especially when it comes to gender equity. Companies with at least 50% or greater female representation in the highest levels of leadership are listed for free with the option to purchase a premium listing for greater visibility.
The idea for MAIA began when Kateri and her husband started paying attention to the products and services they were bringing into their home. They put them through a litmus test: were these products and services ideated by, created by, or done in a holistic image of a woman? After failing month after month to match their spending with the 5:1 female to male ratio of their household, Kateri realized there was a larger problem to solve. “Why is this so hard,” says Kateri. “Women owned firms are everywhere.”
Kateri began earnestly gathering every list of women-owned businesses she could get her hands on. (Shameless plug: She did some of her research at the James J. Hill Center.) What she realized in the process was that these lists are plentiful but scattered. They are often owned by groups or associations and accessible only to paying members. Additionally, most are designed for business-to-business use and not for the consumer.
Someone needed to gather all these lists into one place and make them searchable and user-friendly to the everyday person trying to live a socially conscious life. Thus MAIA was born. “We wanted to make it easier for consumers to have that level of information,” says Kateri. “So that consumers could spend their money in a way that meant something to them.”
Women make up nearly half of the workforce in the United States (46.9%). Yet, only 5% of S&P 500 companies have a female CEO and only 21.2% of board seats in these same companies are filled by women. “The disparity between who is doing the work and who is leading the companies we find to be a systemic barrier,” says Kateri.
After spending a career in workforce solutions, Kateri is taking the reverse approach with MAIA to influence systemic change. “If we are being told that we cannot figure out how to solve gender pay parity for another 50 years… then perhaps we should move outside of that status quo and drive a more female-centric economy—potentially on its own,” says Kateri. This is what makes Kateri an original thinker. She is harnessing the free information philosophy of the Internet to allow us to support the businesses—and the women leading them—that we’d like to see more of in the world.
“We believe that when women are involved equally at the highest levels of leadership where we ideate, where we create, where we are making the decisions… that can yield a more holistic product and solution,” says Kateri.
Written by Christopher Christenson, Program & Event Coordinator, at the James J. Hill Center. Have an idea of a person or organization to feature in this series? Send your recommendations to email@example.com.