Rosanna Duncan l Palladium - Mar 13 2024
The Radical Truth Behind Women’s Economic Inclusion and Success

Rosanna Duncan, Palladium Chief Diversity Officer

“Economic disparities persist between men and women globally, with women generally facing lower pay, higher levels of informal employment, and more unpaid care work than men.” UK Parliament 2024

Each year, Women’s History Month presents us with an opportunity to reflect on our role and responsibility as both individuals and organisations in promoting gender equality and inclusion. This self-reflection is key, because if we’re going to actively engage in the process of building true inclusion for all women, we must recognise that not all women are mirror images of ourselves.

Depending on the country and the context, the depth of these disparities varies greatly. Add ethnicity, socioeconomic background, and disability status - just to name a few diversity characteristics - into the mix and disparities only widen. Economic disparity for a white woman in Australia is not the same as the disparity experienced by First Nations women. And a middle class woman in London will have different experiences than a woman with a disability and the same socioeconomic status.

In the U.S., over the course of the average Black woman’s career, the lost income caused by the pay gap adds up to almost a million dollars compared to white men. In the UK, Black, Bangladeshi, and Pakistani (BBP) women fare worse than white women and BBP men across pay and labour participation.

Women without the golden thread of privilege (however privilege might be defined where you are) continue to be economically excluded – left behind in employment, health, housing, and education.

Bringing Everyone to the Table

Conversations that are gender focused but ‘diversity neutral’ in every other way, enable us to unwittingly batch the progress (and lack of progress) of all women together. We convince ourselves that economic inclusion is happening at a similar rate for all, when in reality, it’s happening slower for some – or not at all.

According to the International Monetary Fund, empowering women to reach their full economic potential not only supports the key goal of reducing gender inequality; it also has tremendous significance for the advancement, competitiveness, and future-readiness of economies worldwide.

When we talk about ‘women’ as if they are a homogenous group, it’s easy for us to celebrate the successes we can relate to and ignore the failures we don’t see, don’t understand, or are simply too uncomfortable to talk about. When we overlook characteristics that intersect gender, it can make the discussion easier, but ultimately, it’s less effective and less likely to elicit real change.

Instead, if we want true economic inclusion for all women (and not just a privileged few), policy makers and organisations need to stop viewing women as one homogenous group. Women versus men is a place to start, but this is only the beginning of the journey.

What’s the next step?

It may be radical, but we must accept that economic success is not all about hard work.

Whilst nobody can deny that hard work can pay off for many people, the reality is that due to inequality and bias faced by some, and the privilege enjoyed by others, level of effort does not necessarily equate to economic inclusion and workplace success. Accepting this is one of the first steps toward understanding why we continue to see women of similar backgrounds enjoying higher levels of economic inclusion and those from ‘other’ groups not having the same level of success.

Step up to the Challenge

Once we understand and accept the challenges, we are more likely to find the solutions.

I’m asking you to challenge the decisions made around you, especially those in the workplace.

Are the women who are enjoying the most success around you representative of the communities you work in? Consider their education, socioeconomic background, nationality, ethnicity, disability, or Indigenous status. If you are not seeing diversity that intersects gender around you, then challenge your leaders, Human Resources, and Talent Acquisition colleagues to explain why this is.

If our work towards finding solutions, during Women’s History Month or otherwise, is to have real meaning and impact, inclusion (economic and otherwise) must be achieved for all women.