International Women's Day is about more than gender

Cordelia Osewa-Ediae, BT Group Diversity and Inclusion

International Women’s Day is always an opportunity to celebrate the achievements of women. The day also reminds us that there’s still a lot of work to be done before women’s equality becomes a reality.

Many of us are doing our best to eliminate the equality gap between men and women. However, there’s still a tendency for women to be seen as a homogenous group. A group that shares common experiences and challenges.

Without doubt, women do share common challenges and experience. For example, in the UK, men are still more likely to be employed than women. Between October to December 2019, the employment rate for women was 72.4%, compared with 80.6% for men. Women are also more likely to be in lower paid, part-time and insecure jobs.

However, while women share similar experiences in our society and at work, our experiences vary greatly. Interestingly, the way women’s experiences vary is further heightened when aspects of their identity like ethnicity and disability are factored in.

If we truly want to achieve women’s equality, we need to recognise that women face different challenges in society and the workplace because of different aspects of their identity. This is where the concept of ‘intersectionality’ comes in to help us drive real change.

Intersectionality refers to a person’s intersecting social identities (different parts of their identity) that might cause them to face multiple forms of discrimination or disadvantage. For example, a Muslim woman with a Bangladeshi heritage – and from a low income background - might face racism, sexism, Islamophobia and classism in the workplace and society.

Recognising intersectionality helps us understand how different parts of a person’s identity can cause them to face different types of disadvantage or discrimination. As change agents, we must recognise that while all women face similar challenges, some face more disadvantage than others.

In the UK, one in nine mothers have reported that they were either dismissed; made compulsorily redundant, where others in their workplace were not; or treated so poorly they felt they had to leave their job. 10% of UK mothers have also said that their employer discouraged them from attending antenatal appointments. These experiences illustrate why it is critical for us all to recognise and acknowledge the intersecting parts of women’s identities if we’re ever going to achieve women’s equality.

If we wish to see a world where women are truly equal, leaders and employers must avoid policies, processes and practices that adopt a ‘one size fits all’ approach and ignore intersectionality.

Research has shown that the likelihood of a child succeeding in life is still largely determined by their family’s income and social position. Some women have to overcome unbelievable hurdles in life. If we do not acknowledge the disadvantage some women face because they have the intersecting challenges of disability, ethnicity, mental health, poverty and gender; we fail them.

As we celebrate IWD2020, let’s all pay more attention to the intersecting identities that might be causing some women to face even more disadvantage in society and our workplaces. Failure to do so will only see us achieving a hollow victory - with some women achieving equality while some are left behind.