Equity is a model for growth and gender equity was identified as the low hanging fruit.
Ten years ago SA set a 50:50 target – gender equity in investment for women in startups and social enterprises.
The levers used to get this result included: changes in procurement policies, education to get more girls into STEM and coding, capital – from venture capital to impact investing - setting their own gender targets, 50% women in board rooms and around the cabinet table.
Industry leaders, local and State government, set the foundations for early wins by all signing the panel pledge for gender balance at their conferences and events. Councils and State entities added it as a criteria in tender documents for global conventions wanting to use their venues. After all: “if you can’t see it you can’t be it”. Having women visible, publicly acclaimed, out front, all the time, no exceptions, made an impact and is now the norm.
The State Procurement Board set targets for social enterprises, BCorps and co-ops to win contracts. Business adjusted, eager to showcase their capabilities & gender credentials as part of their transition to the on purpose economy.
A little tougher, but achieved, was getting more women onto the runway for startups. Innovyz, Startmate and Techstars were early adopters and got 50% women into their second and third South Australian rounds. Research showed in 2017 you only needed half as much investment in female founded startups to double your money, so it was an easy sell.
Collaborations between startups and social enterprises ignited change at scale. From nanotechnology for monitoring the well-being of remote populations through to home kitchens creating nutritional meals for people with disabilities and their carers – these ideas started here – with women and with investment. Digitising the “blue book” and pairing it with SA’s world class Datalink, built and transferred knowledge about child development, established real time data and brought agile funding and resource delivery, when and where it was needed most. Consequently, SA became famous for its non-invasive early intervention approach to child protection.
The Google 2017 class action was a very useful level to the Equal Opportunity Commissioner to help spur on the tech and creative industries who had always lagged behind in the gender pay gap stakes. Leaders pointed to the economic truth: diversity equals dollars; diversity nurtures innovation and the early adopters economic results spoke for themselves.
If you want to know more about how SA got to gender equity, look around the town for VR clips embedded in the landscape telling stories of women innovators and entrepreneurs. Tap any leader – male or female - and ask them how they got involved and what they did to contribute. It has been a collective effort fuelled by passion, good ideas, imagination, wisdom – trading in trust, built on relationships and in a spirit of generosity, fostered by women and men who wanted to unlock and unleash the potential of South Australia.
We are making the gender equity path by walking it. I had no intention of starting a movement from my red couch on a Sunday night in Willunga. Wonderful women were telling me about the sexism they were experiencing and the systems challenges they were having in getting their start up and social enterprise ideas translated into business. The more research I did the more inequity I saw, the more conversations and listening I did the more I got motivated. I started to fall for the problem and now, like a hopeless love sick teenager, I unable to stop thinking about it, noticing gender inequity all around me. I set up a closed facebook group to see if anyone else felt the same and in May this year, with 100 members, Chooks was launched at the National Wine Centre.
I have been overwhelmed with the energy and activity. There are now 600 in this online self organising community and it is growing every day. My commitment to Chooks is turning into something of a serious relationship. Through the facebook group: jobs and staff are finding each other, collaborations are forming across industries and interests, focus groups are testing products and services, pathways to investors are being made, peers in regional areas are connecting. Chooks are hosting monthly female founders conversations, mentor matching has started, me and others are offering policy advice, advocating and applying the gender lens to all kinds of matters.
Chooks is rooted in our history and our potential. It is unapologetically South Australian.
Chooks is not a lab, an accelerator, an investor, it is a movement, leading, driving and striving for inclusive entrepreneurship. And like all movements, Chooks converges culture, activism and knowledge. With this momentum, over the next year, some features of Chooks will become more defined and formalise into an intermediary. At its heart though it will always be a movement.
My final word for today is that equity is a model for growth and necessary as we transition to an on purpose economy. The low hanging equity fruit is gender, so why not get on board and join us at Chooks?