EqualityCheck.it – catalyzing change towards an equal workplace
Marie Louise Sunde
I was lucky to be present when UN Women launched their gender equality campaign #HeForShe in 2014. The newly appointed UN Women ambassador Emma Watson was giving the keynote, dressed white– the colour of the suffragettes. Her speech has later gone down in history as the beginning of the fourth feminist wave. She reminded everyone of how we all can make a difference; “The only thing necessary for evil to take place is for enough good men and women to do nothing.” And finished by paraphrasing Hillel the Elder; “If not now – when? If not me – who?”
I was 26, and in my final year as an intern. I had been passionate about gender equality my whole life, being born as the fifth generation of working women. In Norway, in 2014, the general opinion was that gender equality was achieved, and it was time to focus on other things. It was true that we had formal gender equality – men and women were equal to the law. But there were still informal differences – men and women were perceived and treated differently. This is what we call unconscious gender bias and gender stereotypes. It is defined by how we treat men and women differently without even being aware; we think a man is more competent than a woman when they have the same capabilities. We see men as ambitious and strong, but the same behaviour demonstrated by a woman is seen as aggressive, too much and bossy.
This often unconscious unequal treatment had interested me for many years. Because it is unconscious, it is hard to recognize. And due to each episode being so small, it is hard to address, as it can often be dismissed as a misunderstanding or a joke. Each event is often banal, but I was convinced the accumulated effect overtime was one of the major reasons we still had (and have) a substantial gender gap in the Norwegian workplace. To change the unconscious gender bias and stereotypes, we had to include men in the conversation.
This led me to found Equality Check, an organization working to address unconscious gender bias. We started as a youth-led awareness-building campaign, addressing unconscious gender bias and stereotypes without pointing fingers, with humour, and including both men and women. We reached millions through social media, I was invited back to the UN to launch our campaign globally, and we had several spinoff campaigns in other countries.
We were happy to see that the workplace was finally realizing what Hillary Clinton famously quoted some twenty years ago: “Gender Equality is not only the right thing to do, it is also the smart thing to do.”
However, although the efforts were increasing, the results were not so good. According to McKinsey, only 24% of companies implementing initiatives for gender equality succeeded. After having advised several of the largest Norwegian companies, we observed how they lacked an evidence-based approach and maybe more importantly – they lacked data. From medicine, we know that if you make the wrong diagnosis, the treatment will not work. And if you try a treatment that has not been tested, you have no idea what the results will be.
We identified some other interesting trends as well; When employees seek jobs, the most important thing for them is to have equal opportunity, autonomy and a work/life balance that makes them happy. Today’s employees are also faster to quit their jobs if they are not happy, both men and women. We also saw how the world of work is becoming more and more transparent, but transparency on diversity and equal opportunity in the workplace is still lacking. Furthermore, recruiting and retaining talent is becoming increasingly important for companies to succeed. Finally, no significant change has ever come from corporates, but from the people.
So, In the fall of 2018, I did something I never thought I would. I quit my job in the hospital as a senior surgical resident and founded Equality Check together with my co-founder Isabelle.
Equality Check is a platform for anonymous reviews about perceived equality and diversity in the workplace, covering the full spectrum of diversity. A Tripadvisor for diversity, redistributing power from top to bottom. Because millions of voices will be hard to ignore- and when people speak up- we can collectively catalyse change.
When 5 persons have reviewd a company, it goes live. For companies who want to change, we have developed Equality Check Premium. Through this tool, companies can map their level of gender equality, get digital reports on the level of equality, identify problem areas and get evidence-based solutions on how to fix this. We have also initiated a research project, that aims to validate the solutions, to ensure that the measures suggested will be effective.
I have quit my job in an effort to solve gender equality in general, and inequality, power abuse, sexual harassment specifically within the healthcare sector.
Two of the first things you learn in medicine is that you need to know what you are doing. You need data. You need an evidence-based approach.
And if you are not progressing, you need to change your approach.
The progress of gender equality seemed to slow down for a while. We have therefore chosen a new approach, an evidence-based approach, including men and women, using technology to level the playfield.
As a Surgeon, with a PhD in Surgery, Marie Louise is well acquainted with the challenges women meet in male dominated workplaces. She has been engaged in gender issues and diversity for a long time. After Emma Watson finished he iconic speech in UN Women in 2014 with ”If not now – when? If not me – then who?”, Marie was inspired to found #ShesGotThis – an organisation addressing unconscious discrimination by including men an women, using humour and without blaming. After two successful campaigns in Norway, both reaching 1 million individuals through social media, Marie has spoken at the UN and was invited to Michele Obama´s ”United State of Women Conference in the White House.
ShesGotThis has been launched internationally in a number of countries. Last year, Sunde founded a company focusing on building technology solutions that will help improve understanding of causality, change attitudes, and improve gender balance in the business community. For this work, ShesGotThis partners with academia as well as leading Norwegian companies.