How To Embed Gender Equity in Your Business

Hatch’s event coordinator was joined last week by experts across a range of sectors to discuss gender equity: how it can be embedded within organisations, and why it’s a vital component of building a sustainable future. 

Our speakers were Hatch graduates Samantha Hiew, founder of ADHD Girls, Naïma Camara, founder of Ownership, and Ilaria Biancacci, founder of Wempower, as well as gender equity consultant Yael Nevo who is the founder of Gender Rise.

Following on from the discussions we held on International Women’s Day this year around the challenges female entrepreneurs can face, this Hatch Talks event explored the social and historical context of gender equity, the external challenges business founders can face, who needs to be involved in these discussions, and what a more equitable future would look like. 

These were the top tips our panel shared for those looking to prioritise gender equity.

1) Be clear on why you’re striving for gender equity

There are lots of obvious reasons to strive for gender equity: it’s the right thing to do, it encourages input from more diverse voices with more diverse experiences, and it promotes a more balanced company ethos that allows all employees to bring their whole selves to the workplace. In fact there is overwhelming evidence to show that businesses focusing on gender equity perform better, reporting 48% higher operating margins, making it good business sense to prioritise this.

However there are still cases of companies adding gender equity to their agenda as an afterthought, or making a show of support to combat negative publicity, and this inauthentic approach will never be effective in enacting real change. We need to address the very heart of the unequal structures and the core assumptions of what makes a successful business model in order to see any real change, and this takes real commitment and real investment. Naïma said, “These systems have been so ingrained… there is a lot to change within our communities, within the workplace, and at home as well.”

2) Understand the difference between equity and equality

Equality is the end goal, but this cannot be reached through treating people equally when everyone is coming from radically different starting points with different needs and facing different barriers. Equity is the means by which we are able to reach equality, positing that we provide support to match people’s unique circumstances in order that everyone has the same opportunity. Samantha said, “If you give everyone the conditions and personalised support that gives them equal chances to thrive, then they can all be on the same level playing field.”

Claiming that women have the same access to opportunity in the business world as men do demonstrates a fundamental misunderstanding of the barriers that female professionals face. Many women are raised from a young age to be kind, tolerant, and empathetic, whereas highly valued attributes in the realm of entrepreneurship and business leadership are competition, aggression, and confidence, putting many of those socialised as women at an immediate disadvantage. 

3) Balance tangible outcomes with impactful policies

When working towards gender equity it is important to have tangible outcomes to strive for as this is a key way to hold businesses accountable and measure the impact you are having. However true gender equity must go further than this, as there is a danger of cultivating an environment that believes itself to be equitable but does not actually put women at the centre of decision making.

A company where 50% of employees are female or from marginalised genders, but these employees are not able to be their full selves at work and do not have viable avenues for progression, is not a truly equitable workplace. Ilaria explained, “The whole journey of becoming an entrepreneur was because I couldn’t find my place.” Women and other underrepresented groups need to know that they are valued and listened to in the workplace, or they will take their talent, their innovation, and their participation elsewhere. 

4) Don’t put the burden on the already marginalised

A key mistake often made in the equity and inclusion sphere is assigning the work of dismantling discriminatory and inaccessible structures to the groups that are being harmed by those structures. Gender equity work is often labelled as a women’s issue, and women are expected to do the unpaid labour to rectify bias within the workplace on top of their full time job. This misses the point that an equitable environment benefits and impacts all, and adds further burden on people to justify and prove the challenges they have been facing.

Yael said that a huge challenge for her had been, “the emotional labour of trying to dismantle these very ambiguous experiences,” which are often born of very subtle stereotypes and slights, and build into a toxic and unwelcoming environment. To attract and retain diverse talent businesses need to have an organisation-wide approach to promoting gender equity, with investment from all groups. This means that men need to be involved in the work to dismantle these unequal structures, and also women in privileged positions need to lift up those with less of a voice, including the more junior and more marginalised. 

5) Consider intersectionality

“The more intersections you have, the more difficult your time at work will be” says Naïma. Gender is only part of the picture, with intersections including culture, class, ethnicity, neurodiversity, and more all playing a part. Having to wear a mask in order to fit into prescribed boxes in the workplace can be exhausting and is certainly not conducive to a healthy culture that breeds innovation. If employees are constantly having to present a different version of themselves to be more palatable, more in line with expectations, then they are more likely to burn out and move on.

Our panellists spoke of feeling liberated from that emotional tax when starting their own business, and many people will feel the same way before equity is the norm in the workplace. People who experience pregnancy, parental leave, perimenopause, and menopause are also going to need certain support mechanisms in place in order to bring their best selves to the workplace, and organisations that do not provide this are missing out on a wealth of talent and expertise. 

Gender equity is common sense, particularly when looking at the data and also considering the fact that it ranks highly in importance among Millennials and Gen Z who make up significant portions of the workforce and consumer market. Hatch’s event coordinator Sosina Binyam said, “Our amazing panel of expert speakers helped us understand what gender equity really is and what it would look like in practice. They provided examples of challenges they faced as female founders and provided our founders with possible solutions on how to handle some external challenges they may face when trying to implement gender equity. It was such an interesting and engaging discussion and one that is extremely relevant right now!”

If they don't give you a seat at the table, bring a folding chair.

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