I am both excited and honored that our investment firm Nia Impact Capital is the first business in the United States to earn a Gender Equity Now (GEN) certification. As asset managers, we operate in an industry that has very low representation of women (fewer than 10% of fund managers in the US are women). Our hope is that we can lead by example in showing that there are many potential steps all companies can take to improve their practices.
Created by a consortium of award-winning data analysts, experts in the field of gender studies, and a research team at the University of Washington, the GEN certification recognizes companies whose practices and processes fully support gender parity in the workplace. The Gender Equity Now team uses a comprehensive, data-driven approach to ensure gender equity in every aspect of a business. The certification process goes far beyond the well-documented pay gap. The GEN assessment addresses the spectrum of mechanics and cultural practices that produce gender equality--and points out practices that lead to inequality-- from unconscious bias in business meetings, to unequal opportunities for mentoring, and slanted performance evaluations. During the application process, Nia team members were given the opportunity to review all our practices and to learn the very best policies to implement to ensure we are promoting equality.
Erika Andraca, Nia Director of Client Services, shared, “When we learned that GEN was developing a system to measure gender equity outcomes in business practices, we jumped at the opportunity. It was a chance to find out how we measure up and learn new ways to improve our own practices. At Nia, we are all about doing the very best, in every way we can, and we highly value transparency, which we knew would be part of the process.”
As GEN Executive Director Sara Sanford states, GEN certification is the “new gold standard” for establishing gender equity-centered workplaces.
An Illuminating Process
As a women-owned and women-led business focused on building investment portfolios with a gender lens, Nia was already committed to gender equity on many levels. The company culture at Nia has always been one of promoting, celebrating, and advocating for diversity and gender equity specifically. These values are baked into our company’s mission and business practices. This certification process gave us an opportunity to take an even deeper dive in examining our own workplace culture.
In applying for the certification, we opened up our firm to a series of workplace practice audits. Each Nia employee responded to extensive surveys about their experience at the firm. Top-level managers participated in in-depth interviews covering each of the six pillars of gender parity: recruitment, hiring and performance evaluation, mentorship, work flexibility, leadership and promotion, and company culture. Employer and company policies were assessed in each of these areas.
The process produced a number of illuminating insights about gender equity. The GEN team of experts helped us identify the proven business practices to promote gender equality by removing any guesswork as far as how we recruit, hire and treat our employees.
One very tangible benefit from the certification process is the improvement to our family leave practices. Nia extended its leave policies to cover domestic violence survivors and now allows new parents to return on a part-time, flexible schedule until ready to return full-time.
Another benefit was learning specific measures to make our recruitment and hiring actions transparent and accessible to all. We also learned that formalizing gender equity practices is key to building a strong and equitable company culture. Together, our team codified our new business practices into our employee handbook, allowing for all participants to make valuable contributions. While we are currently a small team, we know that having formal processes in place as we grow will be instrumental in achieving our goals.
The net effect is that our firm’s business practices are stronger than ever. We are confident that GEN certification will help us attract and retain the most talented and diverse workforce.
It’s Worth The Effort
Based on our positive experience with the process of becoming GEN-certified, I strongly recommend it for every business. While not every business may be ready or willing to support and implement practices for each of the six gender equity pillars, the process itself is quite educational and every company can learn some best practices they can then adopt.
As more consumers base their purchasing decisions on social and environmental issues, businesses will be evaluated and judged on how they operate. GEN certification sends a clear message about a firm’s commitment to gender equality.
GEN certification also signals to employees – and potential hires – that a company truly believes in gender equality. In a tight labor market for talent, we believe GEN certification gives employers a meaningful advantage in recruiting, hiring and retaining the best and brightest.
Looking ahead, as GEN certification gains traction, we believe it will become a key differentiator – much like our B Corp status. In our view GEN certification is a win-win on many levels. We look forward to sharing this distinction with many other organizations similarly committed to gender equity.