It's a big word: "Intersectionality".
But it's increasingly the word being used by diversity experts and employers to describe the multi-faceted and complicated nature of identity. The idea is that our identities live at the intersection of our gender, class, sexual-orientation, age, race, and any number of other classifications. Therefore, if you're a black woman, trying to classify your experience as that of being "black" or "female", respectively, doesn't capture the complexity of being both.
Slack recently reported their diversity figures and shared some of their data at the intersection of race and gender. They specifically made mention of intersectionality -- noting that the majority of their black engineers were female -- something Valentina Zarya of Fortune magazine thought was an important difference compared to other companies' diversity reporting.
What difference does intersectionality make? One example is a topic we often hear about at Fairygodboss: the controversial gender wage gap. The high level stats you often hear are that women, on average, make 78 cents for every $1 a man makes, on average.
However, many activists and economists point out that women of color make even less on average: with Hispanic women making 54 cents, black women earning 64 cents and Native American women earning 65 cents. On the other hand, women in same sex relationships make 79 cents and Asian women make 90 cents on the dollar.
While intersectionality is probably a ways away from being a mainstream idea, social science researchers have been talking about it for decades. Just take a look at the Wikipedia page on intersectionality and you'll see a long list of citations from academic literature.
We admit it's not something we have had an easy time grappling with at Fairygodboss. It's complicated enough to identify the most important issues for women in the workplace without having to dissect the problem even further by all the other potential dimensions of identity.
But of course, we get it. Romy and I are always talking to Diversity & Inclusion professionals who emphasize the importance and complexity of the issue of a diverse workforce.
And personally speaking, I'm obviously not just a woman, but an Asian woman -- so I can see how stereotypes and assumptions about both aspects of my identity have played out in my professional life (they both have benefits and detriments, depending on the situation).
So what are we going to do about it? Well, we're taking baby steps. In the coming weeks, we plan on adding a new question to the job reviews portion of our site -- we'll be asking women an optional question about their ethnicity. This data will not be shown anywhere on our site and we will use it only for analysis purposes at the aggregate level.
Over time, we'll report on the data and whether we see that the intersection of race and gender impacts the perceptions and experiences of women at work in terms of job satisfaction, and gender equality overall. And depending on how this goes and what you say, we will probably keep going deeper on the question of intersectionality.
Fairygodboss is committed to improving the workplace and lives of women.
Join us by reviewing your employer!