Meet the Founder of the Gender Equality Project, Aku Acquaye!

School & class: 

Barnard College Class of 2018

 

Major: 

Political Economy 

 

Hometown: 

Fort Lauderdale, FL

 

1. Tell me a little about yourself. Are you involved with anything on or off campus? 

I'm a junior at Barnard and on campus I'm involved in the following things: Barnard Student Admissions Representative, Operating Committee Leader in Columbia's Organization of Rising Entrepreneurs, Mentor & Curriculum Writer through The WomanHood Project (we travel to the Bronx every week to facilitate workshops on social justice and women's issues to girls in high school), Student Government Association (First-Year Class President, Sophomore Class President, Campus Life Committee '16-'17), Orientation Leader, and Barnard Co-Chair for Glass House Rocks 2017

In addition, off campus, I sit on The American Association of University Women's (AAUW) National Student Advisory Council, interned at The Office of Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, interned at The InterParliamentary Union, interned at Accenture in Tech Consulting, and this summer will be interning at Accenture again in Management Consulting & participating in a 2 week teaching program in Japan through HLAB, an organization that connects American college students with high school students in Japan.

2. Last year you started a blog called the Gender Equality Project. Would you mind telling me a little bit about what the Gender Equality Project is/does? 

The Gender Equality Project is a blog dedicated to discussing inequality in the workforce experienced  by women. It was founded and is currently managed by me, Veronica Suchodolski (BC'19) and Angela Zheng (BC '19) with the intent of creating a space in which women can shed light on past injustices experienced in their professional field or discuss how being a woman may have impacted their decorum, career choices, pursuit of motherhood, etc

3. What motivated you to start the Gender Equality Project? 

While on SGA my sophomore year, an administrator who previously worked in finance spoke about how in her past career she'd attend meetings with her co-workers, but somehow always felt left out of conversations or as I recall her saying "not invited to the joke." And that feeling of exclusion resonated with me, and after reading Lean in by Sheryl Sandberg and other research papers, I had quantifiable data supporting my theory that women were truly not  treated equally in the workforce. And I thought to myself, if this administrator experienced this "how many other women have felt the same way?" The Gender Equality Project is meant to archive these experiences and bring light to gender discrimination in the workforce by putting actual faces behind the data.

4. Have you always been passionate about women's rights? 

I think my interest in women's rights was sparked by my college experience in general and the community of women I have met at Barnard. My race and gender have never been more salient to my identity until I entered college & only once I recognized how important those identities were to me, I begin to invest my time and energy in advocating for the rights of women and people of color. 

5. As the blog's founder, what are your short and long-term goals? 

Our short term goals include: continuing to expand our social media presence and viewership, as well as accumulating more stories. We're also actively looking for students to be writers or interviewers for the blog as well, so improving recruitment efforts next semester is a goal of ours. Our long term goals include: ultimately compiling all these stories into a book and potentially partnering with a women's organizations that could continue to expand our viewership. Currently we focus on interviewing women in New York City, but are definitely open to partnering with college students in other cities to gain an even greater perspective on gender inequality in the workforce.

6. What are your plans for the Gender Equality Project after you graduate? 

I honestly haven't thought that far! I'd hope to attract more students interested in this line of journalism within the next year who would then take over once I graduate. 

7. What advice would you give to someone looking to start their own blog? 

I think branding is really important when it comes to creating a blog/any entity. You need to have a clear definition of what you stand for and what content you're trying to provide. You also need to be aware of your target audience and by knowing your brand, it'll be easier to know who you should be targeting on Facebook, Instagram, and other social media platforms to gain viewership.

8. What were the biggest challenges you faced while starting the Gender Equality Project? 

Before the blog launched, it was harder (and it still is difficult) to get people to reply to our cold emails to interview them. The blog was a very abstract idea and a lot of people were probably afraid to tell their story in fear of retaliation, which is completely understandable. A large part of the interview process is making sure women understand that we're not here to make you divulege information you don't want to share nor are we hear to elicit hateful speech.  Our questions are less geared towards producing negative content and more concerned with the individual and how their identity (i.e. race, sexuality, invisible or visible) and gender impacted their individual workplace experience. And it's up to them to interpret the questions as they please. We also like to include research in our blog posts and often spend time researching how a part of a person's identity, say an invisible disability, relates to women in genderal who experience dsicrimination on the basis of disabilities. We always try to emphasize how each story isn't a singular problem, but a national issue. 

9. How is the Gender Equality Project different from other blogs? 

I feel like a lot of feminist, equality oriented blogs may be more broad in the content they offer regarding discussions on women's rights, political advancements, abortion rights, etc I think our blog is different in the sense that it strictly focuses on in-person interviews relating to gender inequality in the workforce, and the inclusion or research related citations.

10. What are your favorite non-profits and blogs? Do they inspire your work for the Gender Equality Project? 

Some of my favorite non-profits are Emily's List and Eleanor's Legacy/ any organization focused on the recruitment of women into political offices. I'm also biased towards The American Association of University Women (AAUW), an organization that focuses on advancing gender equity for women and girls through advocacy, education, and research, as I sit on their national student council. AAUW definitely inspires the work I do as they are concerned with a multitude of policy issues, particuarly the gender pay gap, which inevitably is related to gender inequality in the workforce. Broadly isn't a blog, but I've read great articles on their & their work focuses strictly on women's issues.

11. If you could interview anyone in the world for the blog, who would it be and why? 

Michelle Obama because who would give up the opportunity to speak to M I C H E L L E?! I think she would bring a great perspective as a woman of color whose authority and intelligence has been undermined on multiple occasions, nationally as our First Lady and perhaps before that in her previous career in hospital administration.

12. Earlier this year you were one of four Barnard Students selected to attend the Public Leadership Education Conference (PLEN) in Washington, DC- congrats! What attracted you to this conference in particular? 

I applied to attend PLEN because they had a specific conference related to Business and Policy, and my interest in both topics has increased recently especially in light of the recent election. I was interested the intersection of both Business and Policy through a gendered lens.

13. What was the most important thing you learned at the conference? 

The conference reminded me that women are truly the backbone of this nation; not only do we hold a substantial amount of market power and comprise over 50% of the workforce, but we're also the very minds behind the interworking of Capital Hill, NGOs, and businesses across the nation. We are honestly such amazing human beings with so much potential to enact effective change in society, but it's all dependent on not only being aware of that worth and of that power, but also on our ability to make our female counterparts aware of it too.

14. Lastly, If you could make one change in the world, what would it be? 

Equal Pay for Equal Work. There is absolutely no reason why a woman should receive less than a man for comparable work. It's 2017. @ all employers, get your act together.