Sophie van Gool on her mission to create equal opportunities

09 October 2020 6 min. read

Diversity and inclusion expert Sophie van Gool and her management consultancy Moonshot Diversity & Inclusion are on a mission to close the gender & ethnic gap. The start-up is working with clients to help attract, promote and retain the best talent, using a combination of human intelligence and analytics.

“I encourage people to look critically at the world around them and at their own beliefs,” Sophie van Gool told “Do you believe it’s ‘logical’ that there are more Fortune 500 executives with the name John than that there are female executives? Do you think it makes sense that a person with a ‘white-sounding’ name with a criminal record has a higher probability of being invited to a job interview than a person with a ‘black-sounding’ name with the exact same resume, without a criminal record?”

On the matter of women, Van Gool said: “Or that women in the Netherlands earn an hourly wage that’s on average 14% lower than that of men, and that after correcting for 20 factors, there’s an unexplained gender gap of 7% in business and 5% in government?”

Fortunately, Van Gool also noted that things are – slowly – beginning to change. As the gender equality movement has gained momentum in the past years, she has witnessed more and more attention for the topic, and more external pressure. While she asserted that a few years ago, “it was quite remarkable if male CEOs discussed this topic, now it’s strange if they don’t.”

Sophie van Gool, Moonshoot Diversity & Inclusion

Meanwhile, job candidates, customers and shareholders feel more empowered to demand more inclusive work environments. Still, there is plenty of work to do, as she has seen first-hand in her own career.

Like many graduates, Van Gool looked to the consulting industry for an opportunity to continue improving her skills while being tested by a wide-ranging workload. But, after five years of being a Consultant with Boston Consulting Group (BCG), she began to become aware that the industry she had entered was much less diverse than the work it provided.

Speaking on her time with BCG, Van Gool remembered, “I learned a lot from the variety of the work: in consulting I was often exposed to new topics which I knew nothing about (as diverse as 3D printing and cataract surgery…). I learned how quickly you can become an ‘expert’… [However], after a few years in strategy consulting, I looked around and wondered what had happened to all the women. In the firm, there were 25 partners, out of which just one female. We always talked about it, but not much ever changed. I proposed to do an internal strategy project to tackle it.”

After analysing reams of data, interviewing hundreds of people worldwide, and conducting swathes of research, she realised how interesting and complex she found the topic – and just how badly she wanted to change it. As Van Gool set to work on an MBA at the ESADE Business School, she realised that many companies had similar challenges, and that she could help them. After an entrepreneurship class and a successful meeting with a first client, she suddenly realised she had “accidentally started a company!”

“This was a great experience,” Van Gool went on. “The combination of entrepreneurship (freedom, independence, and trying new things every day) and working on a mission that’s truly important to me motivated me to quit my job and follow this path. My professional life is completely different than before – no more fixed salary, lease car or career path. And also: no boss, no early-morning flights and no night-long work on appendix slides. It’s been a great decision!”

Aiming for the moon 

Formally founded in 2018, the firm which went on to become Moonshot Diversity & Inclusion works with companies to help address their gender and diversity gaps on three key fronts. First, the company leverages analytics of both quantitative data (such as pay data) and qualitative insights (including employee surveys), to show clients how diverse, equitable and inclusive their organisation is, and what the main obstacles to more diversity and inclusion are.

Moonshot also works together with clients to develop strategies and initiatives to make their organisation more inclusive. This can include initiatives in recruitment, such as anonymous hiring, which can make the process more objective, as well as programs to work on a more inclusive culture.

Moonshot - Diversity & Inclusion

Thirdly, Moonshot provides an array of training programs to make people aware of unconscious bias and reduce its impact, inviting people from all departments and layers of the organisation to talk about their experience and listen to their colleagues, and do exercises to minimise the impact of bias.

Speaking on the biases which companies continue to unwittingly endorse, Van Gool explained that many people can feel “uncomfortable and sometimes even offended” when they first start to think about diversity and inclusion. This is because they often “think they are objectively hiring and promoting the best people,” but somehow they always end up with the same middle/upper-class heterosexual white men – and being confronted on such a matter calls on them to face up to the fact they might have been complicit in enforcing the many age-old inequalities which persist in modern business, and society as a whole.

Van Gool elaborated, “In every industry I’ve worked, there’s a story of why this is ‘logical’: because “women don’t like consulting / tech/ cars / traveling / working...” or because “there are not many female students in this field,” or because “it’s our national culture,” etc. When I realised every company, every sector, and every country had these kinds of stories I realised it is nonsense! There are some flaws in the system that make it harder for some people to succeed than for others.”

“If you want to provide truly equal opportunities, you have to critically look at your organisation and take away these barriers as much as possible. It starts with a critical reflection: acknowledging that you are not as objective as you might think, and that meritocracy is a myth.”

According to Van Gool, her background in consulting has equipped her with the necessary tools to encourage clients to face up to their biases, without becoming defensive or offended. On top of combining specialised and fact-based knowledge of diversity and inclusion with analytical thinking and experience in corporates, she has also been able to adapt to different business environments. This has enabled Moonshot to win work from large corporates such as Volkswagen, Stibbe, Coca-Cola and DSM.

Concluding, Van Gool said, “I learned a lot in strategy consulting: from typical consulting skills such as Excel analysis, slide writing and storytelling, to how organisational politics work… Our clients are glad that we speak their language and understand how their organisations and processes work, while bringing specific knowledge and experience on diversity and inclusion.”