The Gender Equity Index: An Innovative Tool to Benefit Coffee’s Hidden Workforce (Guest post from Equal Origins)

By Kimberly Easson, Founder and CEO, Equal Origins (formerly The Partnership for Gender Equity)

Women play a crucial role in producing coffee, contributing anywhere between 40-80% of the labor it takes to get coffee beans from the farm to your final cup. 

However, coffee is generally thought of as a “man’s crop.” In some coffee-producing countries, a man’s identity as a coffee producer is essential to defining their self-worth and position within the community. 

Women’s roles are often undervalued, impacting their ability to gain new skills and seize the same opportunities available to men. Even though the coffee industry invests more than $500 million per year in farmer education and technical support for global producers, much of that investment doesn’t reach or benefit women. 

The Gender Equity Index (GEI) is an exciting new tool to ensure women can access the services they need to be successful. At Equal Origins (formerly The Partnership for Gender Equity), we developed the GEI for companies that provide sustainability education and technical support to farmers and farmer organizations. 

The GEI is a tool for coffee traders like ECOM, EFICO and Caravela; development organizations like Lutheran World Relief and Technoserve; and government agencies like the Colombian Coffee Federation and ANACAFE. The GEI tool helps ensure that these organizations’ programs reach women equally to men and gives them targeted recommendations to improve their efforts.

A Collaboration for Change 

The Gender Equity Index is a 67 question diagnostic tool that focuses on five pillars of gender equity: 

  • Organizational Capacity
  • Strategy and Analysis
  • Reach Women
  • Benefit Women
  • Empower and Transform 

Equal Origins returns a report with a score and targeted recommendations for each user who takes the diagnostic test. From this report, the user can develop an action plan to improve their performance on gender equity, and share their progress with industry partners, investors, and internal stakeholders.  

We developed the GEI with a number of partners and experts. In 2021, ten companies invested $127,000 to help develop the tool: Lavazza, Barrie House Coffee, Allegro, Paulig, ECOM, Caravela, 4C, EFICO, Jot, and Lutheran World Relief (MOCCA). Leaders within each organization also provided their expertise and knowledge to ensure the tool was relevant and addressed their organization’s needs. 

In addition, we invited experts from a wide range of backgrounds to ensure the tool relies on current best practices in gender and development. We also relied heavily on the work done by a research team at Yale University’s Jackson School of Global Affairs. With funding from Women Forward International, we asked them to identify the gaps in existing services. They compiled their findings in a report entitled: “Gender Equitable Service Provision in Coffee and Cocoa: The State of the Industry.”

We’ve tested the tool with a dozen partners so far. So far, our testing group reports increased awareness about how their current programming impacts women and many plan to redesign internal systems with gender equity as a goal. “Going through the GEI diagnostic sparked necessary conversations between two of our field teams about what we need to do to integrate gender equity into all our projects and programs,” says Pam Schreier, Global Sustainability Senior Manager for Cocoa at ECOM. (You can read more about how ECOM and Caravela have benefitted from using the GEI below).  

However, the GEI isn’t just an internal diagnostic tool. Roasters can ask their trade partners to use the tool. From there, they can assess how equitable their sustainability programs are and brainstorm specific efforts to promote gender equity applicable to their position within the industry. 

“From a roaster standpoint, the GEI tool is a great way to engage our business partners and begin the necessary discussions on gender equity,” says Craig James, NCA member and CEO of Barrie House Coffee in Elmsford, New York. “Barrie House has numerous sustainability programs that we’re actively involved in, but how do we start to truly raise our own expectations to maximize our support of these important programs? One approach is embracing the need to establish gender equity as a recurring budget item within our organization’s annual planning cycle.”

Fostering a More Equitable Coffee Future

For several years now, the coffee sector has invested in initiatives to support women’s entrepreneurship and leadership — often through sourcing “women’s coffees” or coffee grown by women.

These are essential efforts that must continue, and now with the GEI, the industry also can reach women working behind the scenes. 

We’re referring to coffee’s hidden workforce or the women working on farms where the titled landowner might be their father or their spouse. Their significant labor often goes unseen. By recognizing that gender equity is a sustainability issue, we can work to embed targeted and specific initiatives to ensure capacity building programs also reach and benefit this vast hidden workforce. 

With the GEI, the industry can begin to understand the issue of gender equity using a shared language. Much like the language of coffee tasting, building a shared understanding can facilitate conversations for action and impact among partners globally. 

“The GEI is an empowerment tool,” says Kimberly Easson, Founder and CEO of Equal Origins. “It’s difficult to know how effective any one action is, and the GEI is a simple tool that gives people the language to assess their gender equity capacity. Not only does the GEI provide essential context, but it also offers companies who want to do more or do better a launching pad to start. It’s a tool that empowers people to take action now to promote gender equity.” 

No coffee is grown without the help of women. It’s time they are offered the same opportunities as men to learn, grow, and prosper.

How can I get involved? 

  • Learn more about Equal Origins and our mission to build a more equitable coffee future here: http://www.equalorigins.org/GEI
  • If your company wants to learn more, adopt the tool, or support our work, we encourage you to contact Equal Origins at kimberly@equalorigins.org. 
  • We encourage roasters to ask their supply chain partners to publicly report their efforts toward building gender equity aligned with the Gender Equity Index. 
  • If you are a coffee lover, we encourage you to learn more about your favorite brands’ efforts to address gender equity.
  • Share these facts about women in coffee and get people talking! We’ve created a few social media graphics you’re free to use (find them at http://www.equalrigins.org/GEI_graphics) — tag @equalorigins in your post! 
  • Even though the coffee industry invests more than $500 million per year in farmer education and technical support for global producers, much of that investment doesn’t reach or benefit women. #GenderEquityIndex
  • The GEI is an innovative tool meant to ensure that women can access the services they need and are recognized equally for the work that they do. #GenderEquityIndex
  • “Coffee can’t grow without women, and it’s time they are offered the same opportunities as men to learn, grow, and prosper.” See how Equal Origins’ new Gender Equity Index is helping to make change possible. #GenderEquityIndex

What Others Are Saying About the GEI: 

“Using the GEI was a great learning experience for our team. It helped us quantify what we know and don’t know about gender equity. The GEI will help us to write a technical assistance program that puts gender equity at the forefront. We have already learned so much through using this tool.” Alejandro Cadena, Caravela Coffee

“Going through the GEI diagnostic process sparked necessary conversations between two of our field teams about what we need to do to integrate gender equity into all our projects and programs. Both field teams work in countries with ongoing projects that focus on women but don’t really expand outward. The GEI helped both teams see what they could do to impact the entire coffee supply chain and address equity on a larger scale. We’re happy to see what happens when we use the tool in other coffee- and cocoa-producing countries.” Pam Schreier, Global Sustainability Senior Manager for Cocoa at ECOM.

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