Identity is a complex matter. It involves questions of ethnicity, gender, age, sexuality, disability, culture, class, religion, and more. Where those categories meet or intersect is where your identity arises.
This idea gave rise to the concept of “intersectionality.” With an origin story in feminist circles, intersectionality was used to highlight the unique struggles faced by women of colour, who deal with both misogyny and racism. The idea, however, has broader implications.
When applied to people with disabilities, it can be very insightful. For example, most people with disabilities have to contend with ableism in its many forms. Alongside that, women with disabilities often face misogyny, and this double bias can affect them in their personal and professional lives.
With all this in mind, here are three things employers can do to foster work environments that overcome the double bias of ableism and misogyny.
Become familiar with the “social model”
The first step is to build general awareness, a state that can be fostered through an understanding of the social model of disability. This model gives priority to environmental factors rather than individual factors.
Rather than defining disability as something inherent in a person, the social model places emphasis on the way the world is built and the way people think. For example, buildings without access ramps and employers who harbour outdated assumptions are at odds with the creation of inclusive workplaces.
Identify points of exclusion in the built environment
The second step is to focus that awareness on the built environment. Employers can ask themselves, “is this workplace built in such a way that people with disabilities can access everything they need?” If it is, that’s great. If not, then some changes need to be made.
This may, for example, mean ensuring that restrooms are easily accessible or including quiet rooms in the workplace. If a company relies on certain websites or apps to do business, it may mean ensuring those apps and sites are accessible to vision-impaired employees.
Paying attention to these environmental factors is key for inclusive workplaces.
Identify points of exclusion in social attitudes
The third step is about focusing awareness on social attitudes. Employers and employees must become aware of the built-in attitudes they have about women with disabilities. The two key issues to focus on are ableism and misogyny.
Ableism is largely based on outdated stereotypes, patronising pity, and a lack of understanding. To lessen the harms of ableism, employers need to reflect on their assumptions. For example, a lot of people might unintentionally assume that a disability is the most important part of a person’s identity. Or, they might view disability as always being a bad thing.
Misogyny, like ableism, is also based on outdated stereotypes – stereotypes about what women can or ought to do. In the workplace, misogynist ideas can lead to low job satisfaction, poor job performance, and a weak sense of belonging within a company.
To combat this, employers and employees can become aware of misogyny, be vocal about their commitment to eliminate it in the workplace, and include training sessions on unconscious bias.
For women with disabilities to overcome double bias in the workplace, employers and employees must work together to reduce misogyny and ableism. It might be difficult, and it may take a long time, but with the steps above, we can work cohesively towards a more inclusive work environment for all.