Considering the Whole Gender Equity Equation on Women’s Equality Day

By Hot Bread Kitchen

At Hot Bread Kitchen, we are dedicated to the pursuit of economic opportunity and equity. We work with individuals disproportionately impacted by gender, racial, social, and/or economic inequality, with a particular focus on foreign-born women of color and their families with low income. Hot Bread Kitchen supports these women as they pursue meaningful careers and opportunities to uplift themselves and give back to their communities, addressing many of the intersecting factors that impact health, economic well-being, racial and social justice, and support for marginalized communities.

We are thinking about what it will take to achieve gender equality especially in August, a month when we commemorate some of the critical gains we’ve made and consider the work still to be done. On August 26th, we honor Women’s Equality Day, the anniversary of the certification of the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which legalized women’s suffrage. Adoption of the 19th Amendment was the culmination of a century of dedicated advocacy and a historic starting point: it afforded white women the right to vote, while women of color–and Black women in particular–remained disenfranchised for much of the 20th century and experience attacks on their voting rights today. That intertwined racial and gender oppression shows up in other ways beyond voting, which we also acknowledge in August: the 3rd is Black Women’s Equal Pay Day, a representative date selected because, on average, that is how far into the year a Black woman must work to be paid what a white man would have made the previous year.

These ongoing disparities are among several indicators that we are still on a long road to a more equitable society–and they are the gaps that Hot Bread Kitchen seeks to close. We exist to address the myriad needs women have to achieve the equality we are all due. Since our founding in 2008, Hot Bread Kitchen has developed a workforce program that provides the building blocks for financial security and long-term economic mobility for the women with whom we work. For many years, we focused on women’s wages–which tend not to be equal to men’s wages–and partnered with employers to ensure our members were paid fairly, advocating for a living wage in addition to the many other things women need to be successful: set schedules, transportation, paid time off, and childcare. These efforts result not only in meaningful incomes for our members, but also connect them with the networks and resources they need to support their families and give back to their communities.

But fair pay is only one part of the equality equation; true gender equity isn’t just about whether your paycheck is the same as the men in your workplace (although it should certainly be the same pay, at least!). There are many intersecting barriers, at work and in the world, that stand in the way of equality. That’s why Hot Bread Kitchen has been shifting our approach toward a more holistic job quality framework that takes into account the many challenges and inequities a person may face regardless of how much she makes.

To address the inequities our program members face and improve their outcomes at work, Hot Bread Kitchen has incorporated wrap-around social work support into our workforce development program. That means that when a woman like Ranea, a mother of four from Egypt, comes to Hot Bread Kitchen, she doesn’t just receive skills training and placement; she gets access to ESL classes, referrals for childcare vouchers, and job readiness training to help navigate the workplace. Ranea began work as a pastry cook at La Boulangerie de Francois, a bakery in Queens, one day after completing Hot Bread Kitchen’s training in 2020. She told us recently the impact our partnership had on her success at work, saying she believes the web of support she received at Hot Bread Kitchen helped her get a raise in her first three months on the job.

Life always feels better when you have someone behind you–when someone has your back… Hot Bread Kitchen did so much to prepare me for a new career. How I stand, how I listen, how I take care of everything for the chefs. Interviews, communication skills, how I talk, how to fix my problems. I appreciate so much how they supported me during the hard time of coronavirus, giving me food, financial assistance. Hot Bread Kitchen changed my family’s life.

– Ranea, Hot Bread Kitchen member

Our shift toward a more holistic, whole-human approach to career development has not only improved our members’ financial and health outcomes, but has also become the core of our strategic vision. Today, Hot Bread Kitchen is an international hub of services and partners in the heart of New York City, a catalyst for a network of women breadwinners to come together, connect, and support one another. We are currently embarking on a three-year strategic plan to provide services to 1,500 immigrant women across New York City by 2024, who are in need and in search of catalytic training, networks, and opportunities to learn, earn, and advance their futures.

We believe this work is a critical step toward a brighter, more stable future for our community of members and for our larger project of gender equity. While we recognize the gains made in gender equity this month, we also know this work is only be the beginning. But we are committed to staying on this journey with our members until we all live in a more equal world.