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In October last year at TEDWomen, I had an experience that added a whole other dimension to my understanding of what we’re up against as a community in our work around diversity and inclusion. Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw began her talk by asking all members of the audience to stand. She said she would, one by one, run through two lists of names. If the name of someone they didn’t recognised was said, they were asked to sit down. By the time she reached the end of the first list, about half of the audience was still standing. After just five names in the second list, there were only four people standing.

She revealed that those on the first list were the names of African Americans who had been killed by police over the last two-and-a-half years. The second list was also African Americans who had been killed over the last two years, with only one thing distinguishing the names that people knew from the names that they didn’t know: gender. Kimberlé was highlighting the ‘intersectionality’ between race and gender, and how, “if you’re standing in the path of multiple forms of exclusion, you’re likely to get hit by both”.  The term ‘intersectionality’ was relatively new to me, but the theory of intersectionality was actually introduced by Kimberlé back in the 1980s.

When we talk about disadvantage in the workplace, we often focus on the major areas independently — gender, sexuality, religion, age, disability and racial background. Those who sit at the intersection of two or more of these diversity factors may feel that their multiple traits are seen independently but not together.

Added to these are other factors such as caring responsibilities, height and weight, mental health, physical health, unusual first or last names, mental or physical disability, and those that are ‘on the spectrum’.

One example is a woman who is also from a different racial background. We know that women in general are paid about 20% less than men in the United States. However, research in the United States shows that women of colour experience increased pay discrepancy of 35% and 45%. Currently, I believe there is no equivalent research in Australia.

There is solid evidence that when seeking employment, the factors of gender, racial background, age and sexuality may exclude candidates without due diligence being applied to their skills or merit. Many organisations have moved to blind assessment of candidates where their name, gender, ethnicity and even the name of educational institutions they attended, and contact details are removed.  Although the discrimination is unconscious, the removal has been shown to lead to more diverse selections.

On our own soil, we recently heard from Mariam Veiszadeh at the Sydney book launch of Inclusionary Leadership. Mariam is one example of intersectionality between race and gender intersectionality, something she calls the ‘double whammy’ effect. Mariam talks about intersecting social identities on the video.

Xplore’s focus for the past 15 years has been on driving gender equality, but conversations like this reaffirms our recent commitment to inclusion more broadly.

As Australia is one of the most multicultural and diverse countries in the world, it’s critical that we seek to bring greater awareness and understanding to the range of characteristics that impact an individual’s experience in the workplace, so we can ‘embrace’ everyone for who they are so they feel that they belong.

Diana Ryall

Diana is a leading voice and advocate for Gender Equality in Australia and Founder of Xplore.
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