“I first defined myself as a feminist when I was 14,” recalls Maria Perdomo – known as Mia to her friends. “I was re-reading an old diary recently, and it’s there. There’s an entry which reads: ‘I understand I am a feminist.’”
The 32-year-old, from Bogotá, Colombia, has now made feminism her business. Perdomo is the co-founder of Aequales, an organisation striving to promote gender equality in the workplace. It’s also the home of the first-ever gender equality ranking system for companies in Colombia and Peru.Founded four years ago, Aequales began with 40 corporations on its books. Now it has 800 and has expanded to Mexico – and Perdomo and her business partner, 31-year-old Andrea de la Piedra from Lima, are only just getting started.
“We aren’t going to stop until we’re in every Latin American country,” Perdomo says. “We have big dreams.”
‘So much change needed’
Aequales turns a profit by offering training to companies which covers unconscious bias, female leadership, long-term strategies, gender-neutral recruitment processes and even “new masculinity” workshops for men that include topics like gender violence and bias.
It’s a radical approach in a region where many men still believe women don’t belong in the workplace. The co-founders faced “a lot of scepticism” when they launched Aequales, primarily from business leaders who simply did not understand why it was necessary to implement gender equality.
“Even when they did understand, they didn’t want to pay for it,” Perdomo says. “’Why would anybody pay for gender equality services? Why do we need gender equality?’ These were just some of the questions we were asked. Making companies realise they have a problem and then charging them to solve it? That was difficult.”