Inspirational Woman: Hephzi Pemberton | CEO & Founder, Equality Group

Hephzi Pemberton

Hephzi Pemberton is an entrepreneur and angel investor, who runs a strategic consultancy and search firm called Equality Group.

In partnership with leading Finance and Technology firms, they help source diverse executive leadership talent and consult on how to create a more inclusive culture to nurture and develop executives through to their full potential.

Equality Group also regularly publishes research and insights across the inclusion and diversity space. Recent reports include ethnic minority representation at board level, the problems of bias, authenticity at work and a wide range of diversity-related topics.

Tell us a bit about yourself, background and your current role

I am the CEO and founder of Equality Group, a strategic consultancy that helps firms hire diverse leadership talent and fully integrate social sustainability, diversity and inclusion into the fabric of their organisation. If you want to know more about why I started Equality Group, watch this video, where I outline the importance of inclusion, diversity and social sustainability to the long term success of business and why this has become part of my life’s work.

Our main goal at Equality Group is to see the Finance and Technology industries transformed with diverse leadership at the top and inclusive practices and cultures throughout. All of which combines to create a more sustainable business environment that benefitted the many, not just a few.

My childhood was spent growing up in busy vicarages and parishes between multiple locations from Leeds to the Democratic Republic of Congo (then Zaire) to Cambridgeshire. All of these moves had one thing in common: community. I have always loved living in the heart of diverse communities and being part of them. I am the eldest of a five children family and home life was always busy and social.

Although I studied Medieval Literature and Languages at Oxford, I knew I wanted to go into business from a young age. One of my earliest mentors was a successful businesswoman, who invited me to intern with her for a number of summers and showed me how exciting it was to create and build a business. However, before starting my own, I wanted to be trained in some of the fundamentals. Lehman Brothers gave me an opportunity to go into Investment Banking, which seemed like a good first step, although it didn’t last long. I left five weeks before the bankruptcy, not because I knew what was going to happen, but because I didn’t want to be a banker. I moved to New York, met my first co-founder and started Kea Consultants a year later. That was my first business and was an asset management recruitment firm that went from strength to strength over seven years. Once the business was established and the team was operating independently, I decided to sell my half of the business to focus on what came next. At the same time as selling my business, I had a baby boy and began a lengthy and painful divorce process. The rest of that story I am happy to share over a glass of wine or a cup of tea to anyone who wants to hear more or who is going through a similar experience. One of the most effective ways to get through that type of challenge is a support network.

Alongside my business-building work, I have been an angel investor in technology start-ups for the past decade. My strong belief is that if we want to see more diverse founding teams, then we need more diverse investors. I believe that I have a responsibility as a successful female entrepreneur to invest in other diverse founders. So far, I have had reasonable success with an average 6x return on two investments, two failed investments and five yet to exit.

Outside of work, my passions are my wonderful family and friends, literature of all shades and subjects, running through London parks or along coastal paths, musicals from across the eras and long, hot baths with a good book.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

To some extent I did make a plan – I have always had a sense of where I would like to go, but I am less fixated on exactly how I get there.

Have you faced any challenges along the way?

Yes, there have been many challenges along the way. Recessions seem to be a pattern in my business career, as it is often when I start a new business. Although it is a very challenging environment, it offers huge opportunities for change, adaptation and innovation. I seem to thrive in those times, and find good people to build teams and relationships with who share a common vision.

What has been your biggest achievement to date?

On a professional level, starting two successful businesses, one which I have already sold and another which I plan to build to an even greater scale. On a personal level, motherhood and getting out of a toxic marriage.

What one thing do you believe has been a major factor in you achieving success? 

The teams that I have been able to build in each of my businesses have been far and away the most important factor in my success. A great team can achieve so much more than one outstanding individual. It’s also a lot more fun building and growing a business with others than by yourself.

How do you feel about mentoring? Have you mentored anyone or are you someone’s mentee?

Mentoring is incredibly powerful and absolutely essential when it comes to greater inclusion and diversity. As excellent research from Dobbin & Kalev at Harvard has shown, it is one of the most successful ways of increasing diversity within companies. On a personal level, I have been incredibly fortunate to have five wonderful mentors over the past two decades. I have mentored many entrepreneurs and investment professionals through my career, and continue to mentor the founders I invest in as an angel investor.

If you could change one thing to accelerate the pace of change for Gender Equality, what would it be?

Equal parental rights as mandatory across the public and private sector; better government funding for early years childcare (see Denmark and Sweden for inspiration) and bring back the gender pay gap reporting with harsher repercussions where no progress has been made.

If you could give one piece of advice to your younger self what would it be?

Don’t worry too much about the future, just focus on what you need to get done now and enjoy it! Even the hard parts where you don’t know what’s going to happen will come good. Remember you are more capable and more adaptable than you think, and you will surprise yourself with what is possible.

I still give this same piece of advice to myself today. The recent pandemic and lockdown has really taught me that lesson of focusing on each day as it comes and how to savour the joy and the fun of the moment.

What is your next challenge and what are you hoping to achieve in the future?

We have big plans for Equality Group to grow and impact the Finance and Technology industry for greater social sustainability. This is going to be a decade-long business of growth and impact, which is needed more than ever before. As I wrote here, there is a wave of change happening in the business community, and we are excited to be part of that. A final quote that I keep in front of me each day is from Nelson Mandela: “everything seems impossible until you do it”. This is a guiding principle for us at Equality Group and gives us the hope and determination that the change we work towards will happen.

WeAreTheCity has a back catalogue of thousands of Inspirational Woman interviews, including Cherie Blair, Paula Radcliffe MBE, Caprice Bourret, Anna Williamson and many more. You can read about all our amazing women here.

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