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Leslie Abbey and  Miriam Warren headshot

Agency Begets Equity: A Holistic Approach to Help All Workers Succeed

Agency, or the opportunity to make decisions, take purposeful action and pursue goals safely, is closely linked to a person's ability to fully participate and excel in the workplace. From major employers to community groups and individuals, we all have a role to play in improving agency at work.
Hot Bread Kitchen - women working in the kitchen - enhancing agency and equity

Hot Bread Kitchen is a New York City-based nonprofit organization that creates economic opportunity for immigrant women and people of color with training and job placement in the food industry. (Image courtesy of Hot Bread Kitchen)

In the last installment of this two-part article series, we uncovered the connection between agency — as in, the opportunity to make decisions, take purposeful action and pursue goals safely — and one’s ability to fully participate and excel in the workplace. We know that women and people who identify beyond the gender binary are often denied the agency enjoyed by their male counterparts. But with so many systemic obstacles in play, how do we support the women in our workplaces and drive lasting change? 

Here, we’ll examine how workforce developers like Hot Bread Kitchen and organizations like Yelp collaborate on a holistic approach to building women’s agency, and the role you can play in supporting these efforts. 

Building women’s agency through a holistic approach

What sets Hot Bread Kitchen apart from many other nonprofits and programs is our encouragement of women’s agency through an individualized, holistic approach. Our program members are the drivers of their own success; Hot Bread Kitchen is a supporter following each of them on their journeys. Our offering for immigrant women and people of color in New York City includes a slate of services like culinary skills training, food business entrepreneurship assistance and social services support

These services do not always seem directly related to workforce development, but they ultimately promote workforce retention by addressing people’s core needs. This, in turn, promotes long-term economic mobility, as opposed to just building the skills to land that first job.

Without the fundamental support that so many of us take for granted — think: transportation, reliable childcare, food, a safe and stable home, clothes to wear to work, somewhere to shower each day — it is virtually impossible to sustain a career, let alone get ahead in the workplace.

To solve this, Hot Bread Kitchen provides a wide range of offerings that are tailored to each individual’s needs. Examples include English-language instruction contextualized for the food industry, support for accessing childcare vouchers, healthcare referrals, and prepaid MetroCards. Our members receive a cash stipend each week they are with us, which they can use as they see fit to meet their financial needs. These offerings don’t just supplement our career programs; they enable women to put our instructional programming to good use.

Additionally, our work to place program members in jobs is highly individualized. Hot Bread Kitchen takes into account each member’s scheduling needs, family commitments and professional goals when connecting them with that first job in the food industry. To that end, we prioritize working with employers that offer set schedules with guaranteed hours, paid leave, retirement benefits, health insurance, above-average wages, paths to advancement and more.

These foundational supports can’t just be available at organizations within Hot Bread Kitchen's network in New York City. Employers must make them available to all workers in order to ensure equity — especially in fields that have long been male-dominated. 

The importance of community partners

All of Hot Bread Kitchen’s programs are possible through partnerships with organizations like the Yelp Foundation, a critical member of our ecosystem of support for program members. Because we specialize in workforce training, we rely on community partners for expert, tailored delivery of the supplemental services that comprise our approach. Partners provide supplies, benefits, and educational experiences like financial coaching, mock job interviews, professional attire and much more.

In addition to providing qualitative support for our members through interviews and coaching, the Yelp Foundation provides a multi-year grant and has built a meaningful connection and ongoing relationship with Hot Bread Kitchen. In turn, Hot Bread Kitchen’s food entrepreneurship program, HBK Incubates, helps support the community by introducing and supporting new small businesses and boosting the local food industry in the devastating wake of COVID-19.

How Yelp is working for equitable agency

Yelp is also among the companies looking to support women’s agency, because it aligns with our values and propels our community forward. This starts with how we support the women and gender-nonconforming individuals in Yelp’s internal community: our employees. The company not only offers employee resource groups (ERGs) and remote work, but also benefits like healthcare (including reproductive health services and paid travel expenses for employees who live in states where the right to reproductive health services has been limited or prohibited by law), as well as caregiver reimbursement, wellness-related paid time off, back-up daycare services, mental health care, and career coaching, to name a few. All of this adds up to greater personal agency for women and gender-nonconforming employees.

Externally, Yelp is committed to advocating for gender equity and forming partnerships with organizations like Hot Bread Kitchen, which allow us to share our expertise and resources. Yelp also uses our unique platform to encourage users to patronize women-owned local businesses and help women find necessary healthcare — an issue that is intricately connected to women’s ability to succeed at work and make decisions about their personal and professional trajectories.

Chef Diamond does a demo at Hot Bread Kitchen - enhancing agency and equity
Chef Diamond (center) gives a demo to trainees at Hot Bread Kitchen. (Image courtesy of Hot Bread Kitchen)

We all have a role to play in supporting agency and gender equity

At both Hot Bread Kitchen and Yelp, our shared goal is not only to promote the empowerment of the women and gender-nonconforming people our organizations work with, but also to drive change throughout our communities and society as a whole. Here are actions we can each take, through our organizations or as individuals, to advance equity for all workers.

Individuals and employees

Focus on supporting — and voting for — legislation that promotes equity. All workers need paid time off, sick leave, healthcare (including full-spectrum reproductive care), paid family leave, set schedules and hours, living wages, affordable childcare, and other essential services to succeed at work and lead healthy lives.

Advocate for policies and practices that promote women’s agency and gender inclusion with your employer, with the same focus as above. This is especially important for business leaders and workers with the means and resources to influence the enactment of workplace policies, or directly offer protections and benefits to workers.

If you directly employ service workers (e.g., your own nanny, housekeeper or landscaper), do everything in your power to afford them a living wage and the same resources to which you’re entitled from your employer.


Take a page from Hot Bread Kitchen’s playbook and focus on centering participants’ voices when designing programs. Offer holistic, flexible support that helps people sustain a career and build long-term economic mobility.

Partner with companies and organizations that can supplement and enhance the programs you offer.

Advocate publicly to shift typical workforce development approaches to a model that recognizes the needs of the whole person.


Create a work environment that values women’s agency and gender inclusivity as part of the fabric of the employee culture by creating or stabilizing your organization’s leadership pipeline — and supporting leaders with professional development resources once they get there.

Offer employee benefits that provide the resources all working people need to succeed, and make them accessible to all employees in your organization, regardless of their role.

Partner and collaborate with, and donate to, organizations like Hot Bread Kitchen that are doing the work of enhancing women’s agency and gender equity from the ground up.

The bottom line

As women and as leaders of both a nonprofit and corporate organization, we hope our readers feel empowered to take action — both personally and professionally — to promote agency for the women and gender-nonconforming family members, colleagues and employees in their lives.

Featured image: Wini Lao for Hot Bread Kitchen

Leslie Abbey and  Miriam Warren headshot

Leslie Abbey, Esq. (she/her) is an organizational leader and entrepreneur who has committed her career to supporting families and youth, social justice, and data-driven strategies to improve social service outcomes. As Hot Bread Kitchen’s CEO, Leslie is overseeing execution of the organization’s three-year plan to support 1,000 breadwinners across New York City and expand its programs to all five boroughs. Prior to joining Hot Bread Kitchen, past experiences include: Deputy Executive Director and Chief Operating Officer of Covenant House New York, Chief Program Officer at Lantern Community Services, and positions with New York City Administration for Children’s Services (ACS). A critical thinker with a passion for building programs that improve social service outcomes and the experience of users of public systems, Leslie is also a founder of two nonprofit organizations: Family Legal Care (formerly LIFT) and  Anthos|Home.

Miriam Warren is the Chief Diversity Officer at Yelp and Board Chair of the Yelp Foundation. She joined Yelp in 2007, serving in a variety of marketing and operational roles, including leading the company’s expansion efforts internationally as Vice President of New Markets. Presently, Miriam heads a team working at the intersection of culture, employee engagement, social impact and diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging.

Read more stories by Leslie Abbey and Miriam Warren