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Why Equality in the Workplace Needs to Include Intersectionality

Black feminist, philosopher and lawyer Kimberlé Crenshaw coined the term “intersectionality” in her 1989 essay Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex: A Black Feminist Critique of Antidiscrimination Doctrine, Feminist Theory and Antiracist. To paraphrase and put simply, intersectionality is the consideration and discourse of how race, sexual orientation, gender, ability & disability and religion impact social advocacy and theory, but most importantly, feminism.

In Audre Lorde’s essay The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House (1984), Lorde reminds us that white American feminist theory is indeed racist feminism as it seldom deals with differences (age, class, queerness and sexual orientation, race etc.) nor the resulting difference in the aforementioned groups’ oppression despite women who fall under those groups being integral to society.

It’s no secret that most industries in the UK are overly occupied by straight cis able-bodied white men and women – especially the former. This is why many companies initiate diversity days, panels or activities. These days are often headed by straight cis white women or, you guessed it, straight cis white men. Their goals are to encourage diversity within the company or to celebrate the little diversity they have within the company. The higher the rank, the more it’s just white men taking up space, so “diversity” often means a couple white women.

What we want to strive for is inclusion. Inclusion means to include members of society who have been casted aside. Whilst we all know meritocracy is a myth – courtesy of colonisation, imperialism and white privilege – it is still possible, but it should always include ethnic minorities, disabled people, LGBTQ+ people, working class people, people of all ages, women and any overlapping categories. We know there are copious amounts of women (and men and non-binary folk) who identify as any of those categories that are capable of and skilled in every job the world has to offer, so why only employ straight cis non-disabled white men and women? Why allow them to be the gatekeepers of everyone’s jobs and careers?

It is also no secret that pay disparities between men and women across the globe are rife, hence why women’s equality days have been introduced both nationally and in the USA. With that said, women of colour still make less than their white female counterparts, so there are also black, Asian and Latinx equal pay days for women over the year.

In 2018, The Office for National Statistics published a graph of median gross hourly earnings between genders from several ethnic groups. There is a staggering 18.5% pay disparity between white British women and men, with women making £10.89 per hour whilst men make £13.37. According to the ONS, there is a 3.3% pay disparity between Black British/black Caribbean/African men and women. Women making £10.63 per hour whilst men make £10.99. In 2019, The Financial Times published a report stating since 2013, white British workers have earned on average 3.8% more than workers from ethnic minorities (except employees of Indian and Chinese backgrounds, who earn more). The report suggests employees of Pakistani and Bangladeshi origin are paid up to 20% less than white British employees.

As mentioned above, the US also suffers from pay disparity, which shows women earning 21% less than men. Women of colour make even less than their white female counterparts; in 2019, PayScale published a report. This is heavily recorded within the entertainment industries, for example, in 2019, Adele Lim (co-screenwriter of Crazy Rich Asians, 2018) quit the sequels for Crazy Rich Asians after being offered one eighth of what her co-writer Peter Chiarelli was offered ($800,000-$1 million).

In 2018, comedian Mo’Nique called for a boycott of Netflix after they offered her $500,000 for a comedy special after paying her black male and white female counterparts (Chris Rock, Dave Chapelle, Kevin Hart, Amy Schumer) multimillions. Comedian Wanda Sykes announced she was offered less than half of what Mo’Nique was offered.

In 2017, Hawaii Five-0 stars Daniel Dae Kim and Grace Park (both of Korean background) both quit the show after discovering their pay gaps compared to their white co-stars. When negotiating pay, the final offer for Park (the only main actress) was lower than Kim’s.

In 2018, Octavia Spencer announced she’s staring in a new movie with her good friend and The Help (2011) co-star Jessica Chastain. She mentioned telling Chastain about the pay disparity between women of colour and their white counterparts. Chastain then ensured that both the women would earn the same amount for the upcoming movie. This is the kind of support we seek from our white sisters to ensure equality and equity between us. We’re stronger when we look out for each other.

The straight cis non-disabled white men and women in power need to strive for a homogeneous society where we all embrace our differences (whilst getting hired meritocratically and getting paid equally) instead of upholding this hegemonic patriarchal society. Representation is important. Being paid our worth in a capitalist society is important.

This post is in no way to incriminate our white sisters, but it is to show that because of the society we live in, what affects you, affects those of us who fall under the aforementioned social categories even harder. We call for our cis non-disabled white sisters to be our allies, to use your power to our advantage and to help us volumise our voices when we’re being silenced.

Happy International Women’s Day and happy Women’s History Month to our wonderful sisters who fall under any and every category of society.

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