Gender is a social construct and an archaic framework for how we should perform in the world. At the current rate of progress, it will be 2080 before we hit gender parity.

Thanks to some fascinating studies, we have started to break down that framework and discover that implicit biases, and a host of social conventions, impede us all - men, women and everyone in between - from progressing to our full professional potential. 

In partnership with the AIGA, we set about disrupting the ways in which gender impacts and affects people's ability to advance professionally, in the design industry and beyond.

We discovered that a critical part of reaching equality is developing equity – the equal access to resources that people need in order to overcome barriers and flourish – and that this is facilitated through empathy, mentorship, and positive experiences. The Gender Equity toolkit is designed to help overcome the invisible barriers created by gender bias, in order to foster equity in the workplace. 

No senior female leadership (in our office) means that there is no role model of what successful female leaders in our organization looks like.
— Research Participant


To create this toolkit, as with all of our interventions, we employed the Disruptive Design Method of mining, landscaping and building to leverage positive change outcomes. The mining phase of this project involved interviews and workshops with over 150 US-based designers from cities across the country.

A key insight was that one of the biggest issues inhibiting women’s ability to progress to positions of leadership is related to the pre-formed social constructs of what leadership should look like, which is currently inherently masculine.

This creates a double bind: women find they must adopt male leadership traits to get into a leadership positions, but once there, they are penalized for not fulfilling the gendered expectations of the stereotypically female traits of sensitivity and caring.

Other key insights emerged around the use of empathy as a tool for developing equity, the role of restricted thinking and networks, and the bright spot of organic peer-to-peer mentorship overcoming systemic issues that impede gender equality. (For more about the research process and the insights that led to the creation of the Gender Equity Toolkit, check out this Medium Article written by Leyla.)

Through the research that underpins this toolkit, we found that learning to appreciate and understand ‘the other’ really helps overcome gender bias.

So we developed an empathy-building exercise that can be conducted in just a few minutes.

We found that connections through conversation help to ignite the dialogue needed to share similarities of experiences and create an ice breaker: connected conversation. In order to enable greater resilience, we also designed a scenario-testing activity that builds mental muscle around difficult tasks like asking for a raise and negotiating your professional leadership.

The Gender Equity Toolkit, Developed by Leyla Acaroglu in collaboration with AIGA with card design by Deb Adler Design

The Gender Equity Toolkit, Developed by Leyla Acaroglu in collaboration with AIGA with card design by Deb Adler Design

All of the activities included in the toolkit are designed for a diverse range of play – from the boardroom to the classroom, by small or large groups, with men and women, and by anyone and everyone interested in increasing their empathy, understanding, and leadership capabilities.

Following the development and testing of the kit, Disrupt Design created this workshop to bring directly into organizations and to transfer the knowledge to teams and leaders looking to level up their organizational diversity.

My co-founder is a male and 90% of the time we have meetings with big companies they assume that I work for him and that I am not his equal, they say ‘What’s it like working for (name removed)?’ I say: ‘It’s great being his business partner’.
— Research Participant



These immersive workshops are held face to face in small group settings. The Disrupt Design style of workshop creates an invitational, non-confrontational collaborative space to address the biases that we all hold, and explore how we can recode our brains. The workshop structure includes a component of direct knowledge transfer, along with small group work and one on one activities to develop skills + team connection. 


Gain: a common language for the implicit biases we all hold, and how to recognize and work within them.

Build: Trust and communication on your team for stronger growth, diversity and collaborative effort going forward.

Identify: Insights + opportunities within your organization to grow and iterate ways to foster a positive work place.

Show: Set a top down example of the type of organization you wish to see for your employees and industry.


Connected conversations: Help your groups bond and gain powerful insights into one another by seeking shared values as points of connection. Sifts perspectives and challenges biases while forging human connection.

Empathy building: Overcome stereotypes by gaining understanding and insights that allows for a shared feeling or experience.

Scenario  testing: Build the mental muscle to tackle complex career hurdles, such as negotiating salary. This is an intentionally difficult activity to build confidence and understanding.


Check out which UN Sustainable Design Goals this workshop LOOKS TO address

Equality Goals

5.5 Ensure women’s full and effective participation and equal opportunities for leadership at all levels of decision-making in political, economic and public life 

5.C Adopt and strengthen sound policies and enforceable legislation for the promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls at all levels

8.3 Promote development-oriented policies that support productive activities, decent job creation, entrepreneurship, creativity and innovation, and encourage the formalization and growth of micro-, small- and medium-sized enterprises, including through access to financial services

8.5 By 2030, achieve full and productive employment and decent work for all women and men, including for young people and persons with disabilities, and equal pay for work of equal value

10.2 By 2030, empower and promote the social, economic and political inclusion of all, irrespective of age, sex, disability, race, ethnicity, origin, religion or economic or other status

10.3 Ensure equal opportunity and reduce inequalities of outcome, including by eliminating discriminatory laws, policies and practices and promoting appropriate legislation, policies and action in this regard 

10.4 Adopt policies, especially fiscal, wage and social protection policies, and achieve greater equality 

16.7 Ensure responsive, inclusive, participatory and representative decision-making at all levels



What is the time commitment?
These workshops can be designed to be short or long. Short workshops are 2.5hrs and long workshops are a full day. They can extend to 2 days for more advanced outcomes.

Who benefits from this workshop?
Everyone in your organization will benefit from this training, but the positive effects may be seen beyond that - to families of participants and future workplaces. By engaging in this type of work, we are all working together to disrupt the status quo and bust through emotional gender stereotyping.

Does this cover other forms of bias aside from gender?
Yes! We also address racial, ethnic, language and economic biases and hurdles within the context of the bias + diversity framework.

What will we get with this workshop?
A hands on workshop includes a trained Disrupt Design facilitator, pre-workshop consult, and post-workshop recommendations. We can also custom build a workshop manual and leadership training. 

How many participants can be in the workshop?
While there is no minimum, we recommend a even number of participants for partner work, as well as an equal distribution as possible of all hierarchies, genders and ethnicities in each session. If your organization has a lot of employees, we recommend putting them into groups of no more than 16-22 participants and planning for a maximum of 2 sessions a day. 

Will you sign an NDA?
While we encourage all our clients to be open about their efforts as leaders in the issue, we understand that is not always possible and are happy to sign an NDA and keep our engagement confidential. 

What kind of ongoing support can you offer post training?
We try to impart the knowledge and tools needed so you can continue on your own journey post-workshop.

However, we also offer ongoing digital learning platforms, leadership training and tool development. Many of our clients have us back for top-up training as their teams ask for it! 

We all really enjoyed the toolkit and the conversations that came out of it... some really personal information came from the associations that we had with certain words.
— Workshop Participant



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It helped people be put in a situation they have been in, or have never been in before, and to give them a confident perspective on how to approach a question.
— Workshop Participant