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June 18, 2020

“Focusing on Women First” isn’t Enough: How to Stop Exploiting Women of Color.

They tell me to lighten up myself and not take things so seriously all the time.

They ask me why I focus on the negatives because life isn’t as bad as I make it out to be.

People heighten their sense of superiority once they hear my background and which suburb I come from.

Yes, my parents came from another country and one of them was a refugee. And yes, they are from a working class and had a nail salon as the stereotype goes.

Yes, I’m Chinese and Vietnamese.

Yes, I’m from Western Sydney.

Then, they see me and treat me as less. They discount my worth all the time. I’ve heard a million times that “things have gotten better so let’s think about that for a moment,” and “women are already a focus and you should be happy that’s even happening.”

Mostly men who are white or of color say this to me as though they know exactly what I go through. They speak as though they know my reality better than I do—the basic message is that I should stop whining and be thankful something is even happening.

I am continuously battling for my worth because I want more change.

They joke and say I’m like one of the “white girls warriors who talk about racism on the internet.”

What I’m struggling with as a person of color isn’t valid and important enough. I would laugh and brush it off lightly but I hide a sense of shame.

White privilege doesn’t allow me to see race in myself, but if I do recognize it, then I should be angry.

The reality is, I won’t have the same opportunities and privileges as men or white women to achieve my dreams, but I’m many steps behind.

I don’t feel ease or have any certainty of what the future holds even if I am hardworking, ambitious, prepared ahead of others, and do the right things.

White people use themselves and their experiences as a point of reference for everyone, including the workplace. And so, they tell me, “We’re focusing on women first.”

I know exactly what it’s like to be in the margin outside the main body of society that’s disguised as being “part of the whole.” I’ve lived on the edge and it took me a while, but I’ve developed the sense of what my reality is.

I’ve observed from the inside out and outside in, and know where the center and the margin stand.

I’m not playing the victim.

In Australia, companies see the value of women rising to top-level positions, proving that we can progress on gender diversity, but there is still a gender pay gap as women, mainly women of color, and it continues to be underrepresented at all levels.

A lot of work must be done to reach gender parity. “Focusing on women first” to address gender inequity and pay gap isn’t the right strategy because it fails to look at the other forms of social discrimination that are interconnected.

The policy only caters to white, middle-class, cisgender women. It’s monolithic and an endorsement of patriarchal white sovereignty and unearned privilege.

First Nations or other women of color don’t feel protected by these policies and often are ghettoized from these initiatives and dominant groups because they are for and ran by white women.

White, middle-class, able-bodied women are the main beneficiaries of these current D&I (Diversity and Inclusion) initiatives.

Women of color are likely to be subjected to further exploitation and alienation through cultural and structural blockades, whereas white women are more likely to feel “normal” and welcomed in everyday institution, public, and social life.

“Focusing on women first” doesn’t fix the pipeline. Instead, access and employment are determined under the precedence of white cultural hegemony over the consideration of other races, socioeconomic status, class, disability, religion, and so on.

According to The Koori Mail in 2019, 63 percent of indigenous Australians inform that there are barriers when looking for employment, such as inadequate training and qualifications, and 47% percent don’t have a clear or decent understanding of workplace rules.

The 2018 Australian Prime Minister’s Close the Gap Report shows that in 2016, female indigenous employment rates were at 44.8 percent.

Companies may believe that female employees are getting equal opportunities based on the mere assumption that they all share the same experiences.

Here’s a way to understand it better:

>> We know that patriarchy, misogyny, and sexism give white men more prerogative and power over all women.

>> On the grounds of anti-black racism, black men have less power than white men, but they have more power over black women based on sexism.

>> White women have more power and unearned privilege over black women due to racial inequality.

These comparisons don’t claim that one person is more of a victim of another. They simply show that types of repressions can be experienced simultaneously because there is no such thing as “single-issue” struggles.

It is established that most indigenous, black, or racialized people, are marginalized and subjugated by governments and cultural institutions because they don’t have any official authority or power, as a result of generational disempowerment, violence, colonialism, and white ideologies.

In Australia, there is possessive rationality claimed by patriarchal white dominance.

A set of meanings derived from white ideologies have naturalized what is common sense, knowledge, and socially constructed conventions that are believed to promote the idea of race neutrality.

The Workplace Gender Equality Agency 2018 reporting data shows that female employees’ remuneration is lower than male employees across all gender dominated industries in the Australian labor market.

White women and women of color deal with denial of professional credibility, disregard, isolation, and lack of focus and attention on the inequities that are a part of their lives. Particularly for women of color, they have a long way to go before equal pay becomes a reality.

When comparing the pay of women of color to white, non-Hispanic men, there is an economic impact with the double burden of sexism and racism.

The Institute of Women’s Policy 2018 Research finds that in the United States, the gender pay gap for all women, compared to white men’s earnings, was 19.9 percent, yet black women’s percentage in earnings rose to 34.7% and 38.4% for Hispanic women.

To truly reach diversity, inclusion, and gender equality, the concept of intersectionality must be understood and measured to include all women in corporate practice.

Here’s what we need to know about intersectionality:

>> Professor and civil rights advocate Kimberlé Crenshaw coined the term 30 years ago and only recently it has gone viral.

>> Professor Crenshaw explained that the discourse of contemporary feminism and anti-racism fails to consider the intersections of patriarchy and racism, therefore it only shows two-dimensional experiences of women of color.

>> Intersectionality considers that all oppression is associated where social categories like disability, gender, geography, race, religion, and socioeconomic status beget overlapping and complex structures of discrimination and disadvantage.

>> In the 1970’s Combahee River Collective statement explaining internationality, feminists wrote, “We find it difficult to separate race from class from sex oppression because in our lives they are most often experienced simultaneously.”

>> Although there is an increasing awareness of this concept, it remains confusing to some.

>> Many conservatives hold the view that because one is considered a minority, they get special standards along with special treatment.

>> It could be argued that it’s a form of feminism that tells how one is oppressed and how it can be dangerous because it prescribes what you’re allowed to say or think. As a result, intersectionality could be easily seen as perilous and the promotion of victim mentality.

>> Intersectionality isn’t about building a hierarchy amongst races—it’s about trying to demolish it altogether.

>> It helps with analysis of power imbalances and observance, and can be used as a tool to eliminate the imbalance.

Here are some of the problematic assumptions that hinder progress toward gender equality:

>> “To achieve equal opportunity and equal pay, we need to look at the differences between the broad categories of males and females because that is where the issue lies.”

>> “As an individual, I don’t hold racist views, therefore there is no direct disproportionate impact on others through the laws, policies, or practices that I come up with.”

>> “She is a woman and she faces the same problems as any other woman in society.”

>> “I am a woman and I attend women conferences, workshops, and networking events, but it isn’t my responsibility to be an advocate for people of color.”

>> “I am a part of a racial minority group and I am aware that oppression exists through my experiences in this country, but the LGBTQ+ community doesn’t deserve the same support, treatment, or rights.”

The catch-all category of “women” being used everywhere cannot define the entirety of relationships to power.

Here’s what we can do:

Recognize your white privilege because it’s been bestowed prenatally. Some white people don’t take racism too seriously, whereas people of color understand the requisites of being able to read the white system. Many white people tend to live out our lives without any idea of the experiences we face.

Center more people of color when supporting diversity and inclusion. This can create an all-inclusive transformative experience. An initiative developed just for a shared gender identity will still decenter others, and is only an additive to white privilege. It doesn’t mean we should exclude white women, but we must consider the needs and wishes of all women.

Listen to the ways your issues affect people of color and prioritize different inclusive solutions. We’re all disproportionality affected. The truth is that workplaces will introduce solutions that cater to the privileged and tell us that their solutions work for everyone in the room including people of color. The solutions don’t recognize our unique needs. Work out how specific issues affect people from one or more marginalized groups in different ways.

Show up at the events and spaces that people of color have organized. Hear them out and bring your tables to them. Does anyone often go to community-led events that are organized by people of color? White people can’t expect people of color to show up at their events if many of them opt out of events led by people of color. Go further and ask yourself, “is there diversity in attendance in a workplace’s women event? Are there people of color and other people? If there isn’t, then why is this the case?”

Pass the mic to the voices that need to be heard. You cannot be our voices, but you can use your privilege to help us send out and amplify our messages. Workplaces should offer the chance to those who are directly affected by specific issues instead of speaking on their behalf to address it. They should be actively open to giving more opportunities to others who have intersectional experiences. Step back and listen.

To be clear, I’m not asking to give up one’s privilege and it’s not something I can or want to take away.

To promote action, bring about positive social change, and improve the lives and health of women, companies must expand their base knowledge that is applied to policy, research, and practice.

But, diversity doesn’t stop there. The term is evolving beyond gender, race, and sexual orientation shown in The Guardian’s Growing Beyond studies.

In the United Kingdom, they expect that 25 countries have been identified to lead global growth offering commercial opportunities for businesses such as Egypt and Vietnam.

The 2019 Australia International Business Survey shows that from a total of 593 businesses engaged in international business activities, it is operating across 90 markets with 75 industry-subsectors.

For companies to capitalize opportunities, they will need people with a unique range of experiences and insight into these untapped markets. If they want to achieve this, then it’s going to take more than just allowing women to have a seat at the table.

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