This Women's Day Let's Talk About Intersectionality
Updated: Apr 2, 2020
Whenever I step into a room ready to discuss diversity and inclusion, it’s hard not to note that the majority of people who show up in the audience are women. Us women are more aware of the importance of inclusion, as we are the more disadvantaged gender that has had the need to fight for our rights throughout history; the right to vote, work, drive a car, to dress how we please. And the list seems never-ending.
When discussing gender equality (keep in mind that gender is not always binary), everyone in the room seems to understand and be on board. This is a fight that benefits everyone since, after all, women make up half of the global population. And then I begin to address race. Or disabilities. Or LGBT+ rights. Or religion. That’s when it starts to get uncomfortable, even amongst us women.
Conversations, actions, and strategies of diversity and inclusion still largely focus on advancing gender equality. As universal and as important it is, we must understand that true equity and equality cannot be achieved unless we are ready to discuss, understand, and consider intersectionality.
I can always read the slight terror on the audiences’ faces when bringing up intersectionality. Truth is, we live in a world where far too many of us are still extremely intimidated to talk about race, disabilities, LGBT+ rights or other aspects of diversity. And that’s what intersectionality addresses.
Intersectionality takes into account the multiple systems of discrimination and how they overlap and are compounded. For example, black transgenders face various forms of discrimination that are specifically unique to their own attributes. I myself, as a Muslim woman of Middle-Eastern heritage in Europe, already have societal disadvantages because I’m a Muslim and a woman. I also face disadvantages that Muslim men or non-Muslim white women don’t face. The way that these disadvantages of race, religion and gender interact are what defines intersectionality.
More and more companies are paying attention to diversity and inclusion, but often with the narrow focus on “women first”. A well-known example of this is the gender pay gap. The gender pay gap in the EU stands at 16% and has only changed minimally over the last decade. In Finland, it’s 83 cents for every euro a man earns, whereas in the US women make approximately 72 cents for every dollar that their male colleagues make. These numbers, however, don’t paint the complete picture. Research in the US indicates that black, Latina, and Native American women make far less than their white counterparts. The pay gap between white women and women of color in the US is the fastest-growing wage gap. It doesn’t get any better in the EU, and interestingly enough, according to a study done in the UK, Pakistani and Bangladeshi men have particularly severe pay gaps, especially those born outside the UK. As for the Nordics, there has been little or no research made regarding how intersectionality affects the gender pay gap.
But intersectionality in working life goes beyond pay gaps. We need to look at who gets hired, promoted, supported and acknowledged. All factors that lead to structural inequities throughout working life. Let’s face it. When we usually talk about women’s rights we talk about straight white women’s rights. But we have to broaden our understanding and knowledge about what D&I means. If we want to advance diversity and inclusion, we need to take note of the experiences of marginalized groups, to correct collective biases and break down systemic barriers to ensure equal opportunities. If we focus merely on gender, then we will end up benefitting a group of people that is already much further ahead in society. True inclusion addresses racism, ageism, accessibility, gender identification and many other overlapping categorize of marginalization. This Women's Day have your organization get curious and learn about intersectionality, as only by understanding it, are we able to make real lasting change.
Author: Sara Salmani
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