Fantastic female – 	Sarah Aird-Mash founder of Together Equal

FANTASTIC FEMALE – SARAH AIRD-MASH FOUNDER OF TOGETHER EQUAL

I’m Sarah, I’m the mother of two girls and we live with our dog, rabbits, gerbils and fish in South London.  My day job is a Marketing Strategist, my passion project is Together Equal. https://www.togetherequal.com/

I used to run my own advertising agency and once we were established with some great clients in book publishing, computer games, telecoms and fashion, I realised I had an opportunity to give something back. I reached out to our local Women’s refuge which was run by a charity called Eaves for Women and asked them what age and sex the children who would be there at Christmas would be. That first year, through my clients and colleagues we collected four gifts each for 26 children. Roll forward nine years and we had enough gifts to give 131 children a sackful each. It took the whole agency 3 days to wrap everything and we had to borrow a van to deliver everything. 

I went client side shortly after and this initiative stopped, but 18 months later, over coffee with the CEO of Eaves, I got involved with them again. This time they had a plan to create a sustainable income stream by launching their own baby food. They needed someone who could create a brand and take it to market. I became the Chair of Tiny Diner. Our team created a range which was to be listed in Planet Organic, Wholefoods and Sainsburys. Three months before we hit the shelves Eaves went into administration, taking Tiny Diner with it. We were too late for Eaves, but as government policies were slowly killing off similar, small charities I realised we needed to do something. That’s how the idea of the conversation cards came about, I wanted to create something we could sell to charities at cost which they could sell on, keeping all the profits for their own activities. It’s been a winding road and our model has changed on the way, although we are still supporting a number of charities in this way. This was just the beginning.

It  might sound obvious but I started Together Equal because I believe everyone is equal, even though too frequently people aren’t treated as such. We are all entitled to the same status, rights and opportunities. One of the biggest crimes of humanity is the myth perpetrated over centuries that we are not born equal. For centuries humankind has been doing everything possible to hold back pockets of society – controlling people in their own self interest for money and power. This has had a cascade effect; the wealthiest and most powerful creating a fake social hierarchy where different groups feel more, or less, entitled than others.

Over the past two centuries  we’ve come a long way, with civil rights activists from Sojourner Truth to Emmeline Pankhurst  blazing a path for equality. In our lifetime we’ve seen things improve as equality is championed as a basic human right.  Collectively the majority want positive change and for parents this is especially acute – we would do anything in our power to make our children’s lives better than our own, however we can. 

‘Better’ is relative. In my lifetime I’ve survived a turbulent childhood,  several (unrelated) episodes of sexual harassment, sexual discrimination and a controlling, abusive relationship.  Others have different, but no less significant, experiences of discrimination. All I know for sure is I don’t want my, or any other, children to have to go through the same things.

Discrimination is not OK. Of course it’s not. Now there are laws in place to protect everyone, but it continues. Gender, racial, sexual, economic, social… it is all encompassing and happens on a daily basis. In homes, behind closed doors. Shared ‘jokes’, stereotypes in entertainment and the media. Everyday language.  Unconscious bias. The list goes on. 

TOGETHER EQUAL

But why? Because whilst the world keeps turning, society is slow to change. There are huge social, race and gender inequalities which are continuously perpetuated by societal stereotypes – which are being constantly reinforced.  Supporters can tweet, we can march, we can shout from the rooftops, but who are we shouting too? If we’re preaching to the converted how do we reach the perpetrators? if we really want to make change happen we need to find a way to amend the common vernacular.

I don’t want people telling my kids they can’t do something because they’re girls. I don’t want people telling other kids they’ll never amount to anything or they’re stupid. And this is happening. Because it is so ingrained into society. Many people unconsciously repeat what they’ve heard, read or been told themselves for years, inadvertently passing on out-dated ideas which are embedded into the English vernacular. 

Just because a child likes certain things or was born a certain way doesn’t define who they are or what they can achieve.

It’s important we nurture this idea at an early age so that as kids grow up they’re not constrained by social stereotypes. However, it isn’t that straightforward. Whatever great work  done at school or home is continuously undermined externally. Bias is a learned behaviour and there are a lot of influences working against us, not least the legacy of a parents’ own upbringing or the constant reinforcement of stereotypes in entertainment and the media.

This is why I started Together Equal, created the conversation cards and started the school programme. I wanted to create something that would generate a tangible social impact. The conversation cards are designed to get children talking about all manner of subjects which aim to build their soft skills, self-esteem, and self-confidence. To ‘play’ you just take it in turns to draw a card from the pack. You might get ‘What do animals talk about?’,‘What makes someone clever’, ‘Is being scared a good thing or a bad thing?’ or ‘Is it OK to call a boy ‘girly’?’

More importantly though, in creating a platform which engages carers and kids, they give us a route into impacting the equality landscape from the ground up. As kids share how they think and feel with the significant adults in their lives, their grown-ups are having an ‘A-Ha’ moment of their own. Our children are helping carers to recognise their own unconscious bias. It’s a discrete approach but the feedback is really encouraging. Over time it becomes a self-perpetuating circle, as self-awareness improves amongst adults, children are able to become increasingly confident with their own perspectives.

TOGETHER EQUAL

Every baby is born equal, and every child should have access to the same opportunities in order to fulfill their potential. We also need to eradicate social constraints which set any limitations. Boys can cry, girls can dream of captaining England at a World Cup; everyone deserves equal opportunities. So let’s make sure we’re having these conversations and recognise that supporting children’s hopes and dreams is the only thing that matters. 

Sarah is a co-founder at TogetherEqual.com, specialising in producing conversation cards which raise money for charities while having a social impact by creating conversations which challenge social stereotypes. Follow Sarah and Together Equal @betogetherequal @sarahairdmash.

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