Two Women, One Idea:
“Do you know what? We should set up our own equality training and consultancy organisation.”
Our jobs had seen us share hotel rooms in places as far apart as Glasgow and the Isle of Wight and there was no reason to think that this chat was any more significant than the time that we had decided to open a bohemian coffee shop or the time that we were going to start our own political dictatorship. However, this chat seemed to stick: the fact that between us, we had worked in the field of equality and diversity for over 13 years, probably stood us in better stead than our lack of knowledge when it came to running a sovereign state, and we decided that an evening spent brainstorming some ideas wouldn’t hurt.
As the plan began to look less like a fantasy and more a possibility, I considered many of the obstacles that we may face in making this leap into the unknown: the lack of job security, the harsh financial climate, people’s resistance to the idea of considering their own contributions to issues of inequality.
The fact that we might encounter sexism did not cross my mind. But, it soon became clear that being two women setting up a business was considered something of a novelty. In May 2013 we attended a course for people interested in starting their own business. The day gave a brief overview of the various areas which needed to be considered: legal, finance, marketing, tax – many of which we were familiar with and the day gave us the confidence that we could turn our ideas into a reality. But we did look at each other in bemusement when referred to as “The Diversity Girls” by the facilitator.
We spent the next few weeks balancing our day jobs with evenings dedicated to producing a robust business plan: Who, precisely, were we going to be? What were our aims and values? Refining ideas into business, marketing, and environmental strategies; investigating other organisations, what made us different? After a couple of months hard slog, we felt that we had built a solid enough case to approach banks and enquire about the possibility of a loan.
Kate drew the short straw of spending a Saturday visiting banks to investigate the different options, and her boyfriend kindly offered to come with her to make the day less arduous. However, by the time that it came to bank number three, she was leaving him outside the banks as she would open the conversation, but the bank representative would direct all replies to Daniel, leaving him having to hurriedly explain that he was no part of the new organisation.
One day, a few months later, I arrived home to find a letter on the mat addressed “Dear Sirs” informing us that we had been successful in our bank loan application. We went out to celebrate the fact that EqualiTeach had finally become a reality. People were very interested in hearing about the new business, or alternatively we bored everyone to death, by being able to talk about nothing else! Though, one man congratulated us with the words “That’s brilliant, so who wrote your business plan for you?” and another told us “You’ll never make it, you should have done this, and this and this before you got this far”
This week is our first working full-time for EqualiTeach, undoubtedly there are many more, harder, battles to be fought and won down the line. However, the Women’s Business Council has reported that women are only half as likely as men to start a business, and only 19% of small or medium sized enterprises are majority women led. Many cite fear that they lack the requisite skills as a barrier to setting up on their own. Just maybe, a society which infantilises women, considers them incapable of writing their own materials and assumes that business owners will be men, contributes to this lack of confidence. There’s undoubtedly still work to be done.
Sarah Soyei: EqualiTeach Director: firstname.lastname@example.org