Something revolutionary happened at Apple’s 30th annual World Wide Developers conference in San Jose last week. Yes, there were the announcements about the new IOS, a soon-to-be-launched “sign-in with Apple” feature that won’t share your personal data like Facebook might, and new watch-specific apps.
But on the big stage there was something else: a female Apple exec talking about periods.
As Sumbul Desai, M.D., Apple’s vice president of health, explained Apple’s new Cycle Tracker app, she didn’t get the same oohs and aahs as the unveiling of the new Mac Pro from the audience that was, Glamour guesstimate, five-to-one men to women. But for a few minutes, male techies, app developers, and journalists—and thousands more watching the live stream—were listening to a woman talk about cycle length, flow, period symptoms, and fertility windows (all which will be trackable from the convenience of your watch or phone).
For Desai, who, with her team, is the force also behind Apple’s ECG app, it was a natural extension of the health app, and a way to help people learn about their health and have better conversations with their doctors. “Providing people with more information enables a conversation. As a physician, you get five steps further than if you’re just gathering information,” she says. “At most doctors visits, about 80 percent of a physician’s time is spent on getting information. If you come in with that information, you give me a head start. It allows you to go deeper than I normally would and spend more time counseling.” That’s something every doctor wants to do more of, she says. “We thought a lot about: If we could have an impact on health, where could that be?” she says. “There are so many different facets to cycle tracking—both in educating people and removing some of cultural [stigma] around it.” (Apple says any personal info collected in the period app, like other apps, will be user-controlled and not viewable by Apple or any third parties without a user’s permission.)
Talking about periods in front of a million-plus men? That’s progress. And it’s one of several efforts the company is making to make tech more accessible to women—both developers and consumers. (Dismal but true: Only 25 percent of the tech workforce is women.) Apple has also launched Entrepreneur Camp, a two-week intensive to help give female app creators the tools they need to succeed. The two-week (free) intensive sessions bring female creators to work with Apple engineers on everything from code to design to accessibility, which helps fast-track development of their apps. The result: not only more women in tech, but tech products women need that might otherwise be overlooked.
Naomi Hirabayashi who, with Marah Lidey, cofounded Shine, an app designed to make self-care a daily habit, doesn’t hesitate to describe the value of Entrepreneur Camp: “It’s validity,” she says. “Apple is the world’s most iconic brand, and when they elevate someone or something, it holds so much weight because they are on the pulse of innovation.” The company’s support helped when she and Lidey were marketing the app and won a "best app of the year" designation; Apple also helped them sweat the design details, especially about accessibility, adjusting for things like people who read right to left instead of left to right, or changing icons or notifications so they are visible for people who are color-blind. The upgrades—and their mission to never be “preachy, presumptuous, or pricey” and to assert that self-care is “more than taking a bubble bath at the end of a long day”—have helped them build an audience that is more representative than most, with black women making up some 20 percent of their community, Hirabayashi says. Now Shine is the largest self-care membership in the world, she says, reaching 4 million people in 189 countries every day.
Lactapp founder Maria Berreuzo Martinez, from Spain, was also looking for community when she created her app to support breastfeeding moms. Just a month after giving birth, she was in a car accident that left her hospitalized for two months. She couldn’t see her baby but wanted to continue breastfeeding, so she pumped every day until she was home and could resume nursing. It was possible, she says, because “I had information and support—I had mothers around me that really supported me. Every woman should have that.”
So Martinez set out to create a virtual version of that, spending more than a year to develop an app that would answer questions customized to each mom and the age of her infant. Now Lactapp answers 35,000 questions a week, through live chats and with the help of AI. They’ve also identified key signs a mom may be experiencing things like postpartum depression and, in the next iteration of the app, hope to incorporate information and referrals to doctors for these often undiagnosed conditions. The app, Martinez says, already feels completely new after working with Apple. “We worked for three years on this, and after one session we were like, Oh! We can do this better,” she says. Martinez is mission-driven, but she’s not shy about this being a business (smart since app developers earned $30 billion in the last year alone). “Right now the system makes money when breastfeeding fails,” she says. “What if breastfeeding succeeds? Nobody thinks that way. We have to open a lot of minds.”
Kim Azzarelli, cofounder of Seneca Women (alongside Melanne Verveer, the ambassador-at-large for global women’s issues in the Obama administration), admits she wasn’t a tech native when she first had the idea of launching an app, but that didn’t deter her because she felt such an urgency for change. “Those of us who have been working in women’s issues a long time know we have a lot of the solutions, but unfortunately, we’re not able to scale the ideas quickly enough,” she says. “If you want to be part of designing the future, we need women at the table. And to do that we need women in technology.” Azzarelli and Verveer already had a book, Fast Forward, and a newsletter, but that wasn’t enough. An app, Azzarelli explains, offers “the ability to be interactive, to poll people, and to reach the community, but also the ability to be more direct and send daily, more snackable information. In a newsletter we can give people thoughts, but here we can give people something to do, right away.” Apple advised on their Seneca Connect app, which provides tools and resources for female entrepreneurs around the world, and includes the ability to shop from women-owned businesses. The company helped with engineering expertise, and Azzarelli brought her decades of knowledge about women’s issues to the table. Azzarelli has other ideas about AR to help bring these ideas and information to life, but she’s mum for now. “We are coming up to the 100th anniversary of [women getting] the vote…and [progress] is just too slow, too damn slow,” she says.
For her, it would be irresponsible not to use technology to help further the Seneca goals. “Susan B. Anthony traveled all over this country by horse and buggy, not Uber and Lyft," she says. "They really made sacrifices for 50 years to get us the vote. My fear is that we’re at this moment where [activism is] just in vogue. If we don’t give people actionable things to do and leverage technology, the action we’re seeing now could become another fad, and people will say, ‘Oh, we did that.’ No we didn’t—we’re still stuck. We don’t want the appearance of progress…. Technology is what’s going to bring us that leap forward.” Like the other developers, she found a new community at Entrepreneur Camp, or E Camp, as some call it. “I’ve been in a lot of rooms full of women,” she says. “At E camp, I was with another 15 women-led businesses, from all over the world. You just feel like you’re in something together. You feel like you’re building the future.”
Originally Appeared on Glamour