Better businesses empower women
How two women-led B Corps are championing gender equality in the agriculture and technology industries
The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are a collection of 17 interconnected goals set by 193 United Nations member states in 2015 to serve as a blueprint to build a better world for people and our planet by 2030.
Goal five focuses on gender equality, which is not only a fundamental human right, but a necessary foundation for a peaceful, prosperous and sustainable world. While there has been progress on goal five over the last decades, many challenges remain.
Hi Ruth and Jenny, thanks for joining us. What, at a top level, are you doing to champion gender equality?
Ruth: Divine was built on the principles of inclusivity and equity, and fundamental to the work Divine does is ensuring the positive impact we deliver for farmers benefits women and men equally. We are on a mission to make sure women are reached and included, that their needs and wellbeing are addressed, and that their ability to make strategic life choices, and to put those choices into action is strengthened. There is clear evidence that changes that empower women, in turn benefit communities and economies.
Jenny: Even if (for some reason) you don’t believe in the ethical reason for diversity and inclusion in business, you cannot argue with the commercial benefits gained as a result. And by designing and building digital solutions, we’d argue that it is even more important in a business such as ours. We have focused on building a team with 40% women, and 50/50 representation at board level. Flexibility, inclusivity, career development and equal pay and opportunities are all a focus at Yoyo.
Progressing these aims can be challenging, what have been the biggest barriers to gender equality in your industry?
Ruth: For many reasons, both cultural and educational, women farmers have always been socially and economically disadvantaged, despite working as hard and being as crucial to the farming process as the men. Yet, for any development programme to have maximum impact in a community, it is absolutely vital we ensure women have equal access and derive as much benefit from these programmes as men. Too many programmes run by western organisations use a helicopter, top down approach, bypassing the most important inputs to the design and development of the projects — the views and priorities of the community themselves, including the specific needs and issues for women.
Jenny: Within the tech field, the applicants for jobs still tend to be gender-skewed, especially for roles in technology, UX and design. The other barrier is that the nature of the work in agencies can lead to women leaving the industry when they have children. Traditionally, agencies have long working hours and the team is at the mercy of the clients and senior colleagues, who fail to recognise commitments outside of work. This can lead to women leaving agencies, to work client-side, or simply to leave the industry altogether. Women don’t need to change to fit around the agency model, the system does.
As women in leadership roles, how have you guided your businesses to navigate those barriers to gender equality?
Ruth: As we develop and design each of the programmes we support, we start by listening to both women and men. We ensure any statistics we are looking at to assess the scope of the project have been disaggregated by gender to expose the different needs and issues for women. We can then set in place whatever is needed to bring women fully on board. In the process of programme design, we have tackled a number of biases that exclude women from receiving support, such as designing technical agricultural training that takes into account womens’ lower literacy levels or ensuring training selection criteria does not limit participation to those who own land.
Jenny: To tackle the first barrier, we are working on ways to encourage diversity at entry and through education. We do regular talks at schools (some specific talks at all-girls schools), we partner with universities and although we haven’t implemented quotas, we are actively searching for more women in our production teams. To tackle the second barrier, in simple terms, we have to create jobs that are designed around the individual, enabling them to achieve the work/life balance that they need at various stages of their lives. This means a very open approach to flexibility, opportunities for shorter/different working patterns, job/task sharing and a focus on output rather than time spent. To challenge any biases, and ensure equality, we measure a number of metrics, including an annual assessment of pay equality.
You’ve made such amazing progress but I’m guessing there is more to come. What’s next?
Ruth: Divine exists to improve the lives of farmers and their families, so that together we create a fairer world and we have ensured the empowerment of women cocoa farmers is central to realising this mission. We know there is still more to do and the evidence is clear — given the opportunity and resources, women invest in precisely the things that human beings need to prosper. For each and every programme that Divine funds and supports in the future, gender equity will continue to feature as a central tenant in programmatic design, ensuring no one is left behind.
Jenny: Flexibility is one of the biggest barriers to overcome, especially with women with children. We are exploring many different options at the moment, e.g. trialling a 4-day working week, having core hours of 10–4, etc. Ideally, I would like to get to the point where we say to the individual (who shares similar values and that we trust because we’ve hired well), “What hours do you want to do so that we get the best out of you at work, and you have the right balance with your other life commitments?” Of course, it would take a bit more organisational structure, but it’s not an impossible aim.
Ruth, Jenny — Thank you for sharing your company’s journeys to supporting gender equality. Do you have any final words of advice to share with our readers who want to follow in your footsteps?
Ruth: Search out and listen for diverse voices and then amplify them. Be authentic. And create an environment in which people feel safe to be curious and not afraid to make mistakes.
Jenny: If you’re really committed to gender equality, you need to scrutinise every part of your business’ operations. Despite being a female CEO, I’m surprised at how often I slip up. Be honest with yourself, that’s the only way to create real change.
About Divine Chocolate
Divine Chocolate is the only Fairtrade chocolate company that is also co-owned by cocoa farmers. They are driven by their mission to use the amazing power of chocolate to bring people together to create dignified trading relations, thereby empowering producers and consumers globally. For more than two decades, Divine Chocolate has worked for the empowerment of women cocoa farmers whether that be championing the need for increased female leadership positions within producer organisations, or funding programmes focused on adult education where literacy and numeracy levels are known to be a huge barrier for women’s full participation and empowerment.
About Yoyo Design
Yoyo Design creates innovative and impactful digital experiences. They are a group of thinkers, doers, designers and technical experts who work with interesting start-ups and global giants, across a variety of different sectors. Yoyo Design runs Codebar Kent, where developers teach underrepresented groups how to code — women are one of these groups. Many women are interested but don’t see coding as a viable career option for them. By promoting it, as well as running the events, Yoyo hopes that women see tech as the exciting and welcoming industry it is.
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