Why we need to get specific when discussing gender issues

Article by Sheree Atcheson, Global Director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion at Peakon, a Workday company

business inequality, woman and man climbing the career ladder, gender inequalityOrganisations have been forming diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) strategies for some years – but many with little success.

Historically, focus has tended to fall on gender diversity, and improving this by creating more equitable and inclusive workplaces for women. But while these initiatives are well-intentioned and should be recognised, in many cases they fail to work for all women – merely some. It’s clear that the main beneficiaries have been predominatly non-disabled, heterosexual, financially-privileged White women.

Why is this? And why does this continue to happen?

Where we are now

Globally, we’re in a state of unrest. Our world continues to be shaken by a global pandemic, which has disproportionately affected those from marginalised communities. Black people are twice as likely to catch Covid-19, and studies have shown that there are clear reasons for this, including discrimination, access and use of healthcare, and occupation.

When we look at Black women specifically, recent data shows that Black women who get infected with the coronavirus have higher risks of complications and mortality, in comparison to their non-Black counterparts.

And this kind of discrepancy isn’t limited to Covid-19 healthcare. Analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data indicates that the financial impact of the pandemic has been disproportionately felt by Black, non-Hispanic women. Towards the end of 2020, this group was twice as likely to be behind on rental payments as White, non-Hispanic women.

Intersectionality is key here. Women are not a monolith; they exist in all spaces, which are complex intersections of race, sexuality, class and countless other factors. Using myself as an example, I cannot exist as a woman, as a person colour or as someone from a poorer background separately – these attributes are all connected and part of my identity.

Too often, organisations and the media try to push a narrative that doesn’t exist; that all women are treated equally.

The focus on “gender equality” isn’t very equal

At the end of last year, CCN stated that the U.S. economy lost 140,000 jobs in December – all of them held by women. While clearly a damning statistic in its own right, further investigation revealed that these jobs were actually all held by Black and Latine women. White women made significant gains.

This kind of discrepancy can be seen again if we look at leadership within the Fortune 500. Last year, 37 female CEOs were appointed at Fortune 500 companies, which was progress from 24 in 2018 and 33 in 2019. We saw a number of articles celebrating this milestone, however, only three of these CEOs are women of colour – and none of them Black or Latine.

These instances demonstrate the importance of being specific when discussing gender issues. If we’re not, we risk missing the opportunity for truly progressive discussion, and leaving the problems faced by different categories of women ignored and unaddressed.

Delve into the data

Data is the key to truly understanding the varying challenges faced by different groups of people – including those broadly categorised as “women”. By analysing trends in hiring or promotions data, employers can see straight away whether they’re demonstrating preference to a particular group, for example heterosexual, White women. This data-driven approach ensures that inherent biases are recognised, leading to the development of more effective DE&I initiatives.

But collecting and analysing data is just the first step in a long process. Businesses must then use these insights to carve out a bespoke strategy and assess what is working well, and what needs to change. For example, if they find that their hiring numbers are skewed towards women from similar backgrounds, they need to look at ways to challenge and address this with hiring managers, widen the recruitment net, and diversify applicants.

It’s imperative that organisations then use data to measure the impact of their DE&I initiatives. This goes beyond tracking whether diverse groups (including groups of women) are being brought into and promoted up the business. Employers need to consistently listen to their employees, and hear the concerns voiced by different communities, in order to also measure inclusivity. Some anonymous feedback tools, like Peakon Include, also enable employees to volunteer demographic information, giving employers a clear, real-time view of how different groups are being supported by their organisation.

This data helps us to see more than the impact of gender or race alone on the workplace experience. Looking at statistics on a deeper level enables employers to see the effects of intersectionality, and understand how multiple factors are impacting the employee experience for many.

It’s time for action

There have been several positive policy-led initiatives to foster equality in UK workplaces. Mandatory gender pay gap reporting was a significant step forward, and it looks increasingly likely that we’ll see similar measures introduced to expose and tackle ethnicity pay gaps. Organisations need to see these measures as starting points, however. They must resist the urge to look at different identity signifiers in isolation, and study the intersections also. They need to proactively make the changes their employees want to see and adopt the right technology to drive this.

About the author

Sheree-Atcheson-1Listed as one of the UK’s Top Most Influential Women in Tech & an international multi-award winner for her services to Diversity & Inclusion in industry, Sheree (@nirushika) is a Board-Appointed Global Ambassador, Women Who Code; Contributor, Forbes.

As a passionate advocate for gaining/retaining women in the industry, she launched & led the award-winning U.K. expansion of Women Who Code, since 2013.

As an industry leader, she has spoken at many global events, conferences and leadership sessions and is regularly profiled for her work, Sheree & her work have been featured in many publications, such as Forbes, FastCompany, Evening Standard, HuffPost, Business Post, Marie Claire, Wired, ComputerWeekly, The Guardian, Sunday Telegraph, Newsletter & many more.

The aim of her career is ensuring people are aware of the fantastic opportunities the industry has to offer & make certain that all humans are able to benefit from these & reach their full career potential.

Follow Sheree on Twitter, Instragram and LinkedIn.

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