Sara Sanford, MPA, PMP®

Founding Board Member, Executive Director, Gender Equity Now (GEN)

Sara Sanford is the Executive Director of Gender Equity Now (GEN) and the architect of the GEN Certification, the first gold standard for gender equity in U.S. businesses. She was a popular speaker at 2018’s TEDx Seattle and was recently recognized as one of this year’s Women Who Lead by the Puget Sound Business Journal.

Sara inspires audiences to believe that equity and equality are within reach. She helps organizations embrace the idea that changing mechanics, rather than mindsets, can create lasting change at scale. Unlike many trainings on diversity that bring awareness of the barriers to equity but fail to educate attendees on what steps to take next, Sara’s presentations emphasize tangible solutions that business leaders can incorporate into their organization’s culture, starting right now.

In collaboration with the University of Washington, Sara conducts research on what drives equity within organizations. Working previously in the financial services sector, Sara saw that ignoring the needs of underrepresented clients and talent meant leaving money on the table. She has pioneered programs to integrate equity into business strategy, giving organizations a competitive advantage that unlocks both social and financial returns.

Earlier in her career, Sara worked in the nonprofit and public sectors, driving initiatives for equity in K-12 public classrooms and sustainable development efforts in Central America. She also helped Fortune 500 businesses shape their Corporate Social Responsibility strategies to have greater impact on the immediate needs of their surrounding communities.

Watch Sara’s popular TEDx Talk

Feedback Slice

“Sara is providing the kinds of seminars I would want to attend and wish I had access to throughout my career. There is an energy to them that is different than any other offerings I’ve seen before. It’s a breath of fresh air when so many programs are just repeats of each other.” – Kristin Graham, Head of Global Employee Communications, Amazon Web Services

“Such a wonderful workshop! We’ve gotten so many positive messages from our members about how much they took away…” – Caitlin Hardy, Deputy Director, Fleet Operations, Holland America

“The attendee feedback that we are receiving is extremely positive and continues to pour in! Everyone felt you were engaging and they really enjoyed the program and interaction with you.  We appreciate your time, talents and the sharing of your insights to create a high quality PLUS Foundation event.” – Laura Palmer-Turnacliff, Event Planner, Professional Liability Underwriting Society

“Our team has been referencing Sara’s talk every week since she spoke here. I would recommend her to any organization that’s looking to deepen their equity and inclusion strategies, and any event that wants to inspire its audience members to action.” – Abraham Rodriguez, Equity and Inclusion Manager, Sound Transit

Summary of Workshop and Speaking Offerings

#NotATraining: It’s Not Personal, It’s Systemic

So far, approaches to workplace equity have been scattered and progress has stalled. U.S. businesses spend $8 billion each year on trainings that don’t work and actually backfire. The cycle of recruiting women, asking them to Lean In, and conducting diversity trainings misses a crucial understanding of the problem: It’s not personal. It’s systemic.

In general, there is a lack of clarity over what works – what behaviors, mechanics, and processes should be tracked to catalyze progress towards workplace equity. GEN has identified these systems and created the first standardized certification for gender equity in U.S. businesses.

In this session with Sara Sanford, Executive Director of GEN, attendees will become familiar with an equity maturity model that quantitatively defines what equity looks like and identifies cultural levers that can be adjusted to create systemic change. This is not a training on personal behaviors. It is an opportunity to plan for equity like any other critical business function, identify measurable opportunities for improvement, and implement sustainable cost-effective solutions that yield social and financial returns.

Women and Wealth

Women make up 47% of the American workforce, women-owned businesses represent trillions in economic activity, and women now control over half of personal wealth in the U.S. The majority of financial advisors and professionals in decision-making roles in financial services, however, are still men. Despite data showing that women-owned hedge funds have delivered higher annual returns than all other hedge funds from 2000 to date, women make up a scarce 10% of all mutual fund managers and fewer than 30% of all advisors. Attrition is chipping away at the number of female advisors at a time when their complementary strengths and like-minded perspectives are in demand.

As a former financial services professional and current contributor to Jackson National’s platform for thought leaders, Sara helps financial services firms understand how they can prosper by prioritizing equity and belonging as business imperatives.

  • Focus On Female Clients: The barriers female clients face on the road to financial well-being are different than those faced by men. To serve female clients, advisors must demonstrate an understanding of their particular financial planning needs. Women are living longer than their male counterparts, inheriting more of the wealth, demanding more information on investment strategies related to their children’s future, and investing with a different approach to risk. Workshop participants learn to connect with female clients by understanding the criteria they prioritize when choosing and working with an advisor.
  • Focus on Female Talent: While women clients can, and do, work with male advisors, sometimes they’d just like to talk to someone with a similar perspective or familiar background – especially divorcees and widows. According to research from Pershing, 24% of female clients whose husbands died stopped working with their family’s male advisor and switched to a female advisor, and 29% of female divorcees did the same. Sara works with financial services firms to understand how to recruit, retain, and develop women as professional leaders in their practice.

Negotiating While Female 

Should women feel free to negotiate as often as men? Yes.

Are they treated differently than men when they negotiate? Also yes.

Does that mean women shouldn’t negotiate? No.

It means that women will benefit more from using different language and tools when negotiating.

As the Executive Director of GEN, Sara’s research has focused on how bias plays out in the workplace and how certain processes and behaviors can counter it. This research led to her identifying methods that women can use to face biases and shift power dynamics in their favor. Acknowledging the unique barriers women face when negotiating, Sara provides actionable tools for treating negotiation as a process of discovery and tactical empathy to get your opponent on your side. Participants walk away with the following:

  • Practical one-liners for shifting the power balance in your favor
  • Tips for getting confident and comfortable with negotiation through everyday ‘mini challenges’
  • Guidelines for using the ‘F word’ (fairness) to diffuse tension and foster empathy
  • Calibrating questions to move the conversation closer to what you want
  • Dealing with objections – you want to hear them!

Past participants have used these skills to successfully renegotiate salaries, job titles, promotions, remote work schedules, and childcare subsidies.

Sara is also available to deliver workshops on the following topics:


  • How to Find, Partner, and Benefit from Sponsors
  • How to Become a Sponsor
  • Finding Your Path to Leadership
  • Financial Literacy: Closing the investment gender gap
  • How to Not Sell Your Story Short


  • Mentorship vs. Sponsorship: Learning the skills to develop your female employees
  • Unpacking Unconscious Bias
  • All in the Family: Highlighting and retaining the strengths of (your business here) parents
  • The Round Table: How to run meetings and discussions that draw out everyone’s perspectives
  • Rewarding Values-Based Action: Moving from ‘diversity’ to ‘inclusion’ by recognizing proactive employees

Sara’s speaking engagements include:

  • 15 Minutes of Brilliance Keynote Speaker at Living Future Institute’s Annual UnConference
  • #MeToo: What Does it Mean for the Insurance Industry? Parker, Smith & Feek
  • Featured Speaker and Workshop Leader at Lean In’s Equal Pay Day Event
  • Beyond Good Intentions: Designing for Workplace Equity, Holland America and Women in Maritime
  • #NotATraining: Equity – It’s Not Personal, It’s Systemic, Travelers’ Insurance and the PLUS Foundation, Columbia Tower Club
  • Sound Transit Inclusion Lab: Featured Speaker and Workshop Facilitator
  • TEDx Seattle: Improving Gender Parity Through Corporate Accountability
  • Women in Digital Organization: Negotiating While Female
  • Sun Valley Forum: Equity and Environmental Resilience Keynote Speaker
  • Fulfillment by Amazon: Intersectionality – What Is It?
  • Martinez Foundation Gala 2012 (Speechwriter for Executive Director Holli Martinez)
  • Carleton College Graduation Speaker