August is Intersectionality Awareness Month
August is the beginning of Equal Pay Day for women of color. Equal Pay Day is the biggest indicator of equality between men and women. Equal Pay Day represents the number of days into the new year a woman must work in order to make the same amount of money a white man made in the previous 12 months.
Often times, what's not discussed is the pay gap between white women and women of color. It's not until the 2nd half of the year that the pay for women of color catches up to white men. Just 2 years ago, Equal Pay Day for black women was in July. While pay equality for white women is slowly reaching parity, the pay gap for women of color is increasing.
Until we pay special attention to people at the intersection, the gap will continue to increase.
In short, Intersectionality occurs when a person identifies with two or more marginalized, oppressed, or underrepresented groups.
The word Intersectionality was coined by Kimberle Crenshaw in 1989, but the concept of Intersectionality has been around for a while. We can trace Intersectionality back to Sojourner Truth's time! Are you familiar with Sojourner Truth's 'Ain't I A Woman' speech given at the women's convention in the 1800s? What's so groundbreaking about this speech is Sojourner Truth's awareness of the mistreatment of black women, AKA being at the intersection of race and gender. Sojourner Truth talks about being treated differently than white women but also how she is treated differently than black men. This is Intersectionality.
WHY IS INTERSECTIONALITY IMPORTANT?
Early researchers of Intersectionality believed that you could combine the experiences of a black man with the experiences of a white woman to better understand the experiences of black women. Ummm! WRONG!!
Instead of thinking about Intersectionality like math, where 1 + 1 = 2, we should think about it more like chemistry! Think back to your school days where you learned about chemistry. You probably started off by learning about the individual chemical elements, like oxygen and hydrogen, from the Periodic Table of Elements. If you took a more advanced chemistry class, you might have learned how the individual elements came together to create compounds, like H2O. This is exactly how we should think about diversity!
It's important for us to understand the individual elements. It's important for us to understand the experiences of black people, women, people with disabilities, and so on. It's even more important to understand how diversity elements combine and create unique experiences. People at the intersection of multiple marginalized identities are falling through the cracks at many organizations. This is unacceptable!
WHAT IS INTERSECTIONALITY?
INTERSECTIONALITY AT WORK
Intersectionality is more than a concept. Creating a diversity and inclusion initiative rooted in intersectionality means that we look at an issue (for example pay inequality), determine the group that is disproportionately impacted, and develop strategies that lift the most disadvantaged group. Most strategies, when developed with the most disadvantaged in mind, are beneficial to everyone experiencing that issue.
As we learn more about what diversity and inclusion really mean, our definition of intersectionality must expand. While intersectionality originally focused on the intersection of race and gender, it has expanded to include all marginalized identities. The Table of Diversity helps us see marginalization beyond- but very much inclusive of- race, gender, and sexual orientation. The question goes from 'are you diverse?' to 'how diverse are you?'
We all experience a level of marginalization, it just depends on which room you enter. It's up to each one of us to recognize the privilege we possess and use our privilege to break down barriers that prevent others from achieving success.