Intersectionality in STEMM

Athena SWAN has two explicit principles that address intersectional identities:

  • Principle 7: We commit to tackling the discriminatory treatment often experienced by transgender people.
  • Principle 10: All individuals have identities shaped by several different factors. We commit to considering the intersection of gender and other factors wherever possible.

Within the Athena SWAN application attention to the needs of staff with intersectional identities in STEMM should be incorporated throughout the application. Analysis of policies will also be addressed in-depth in Sections 6, 7 and 8.

Specific resources for considering intersectional experiences:

Addressing intersectionality for the Athena SWAN Bronze Institutional Award

Bronze Athena SWAN applications will present critical reflection on existing policies, practices and programs, with the aim of working progressively towards increasing the education, recruitment, promotion and retention of staff and students who have intersectional identities within STEMM.

Institutions will also reflect on the training and resources provided to students, faculty and staff to increase awareness of intersectionality issues. Institutions will evaluate the appropriateness of existing gender equity policies for racial, ethnic and religious minorities, sexual minorities, people with disabilities and others with intersecting identities who face systematic disadvantage.

The Bronze Institutional Award application does not require quantitative data on intersectional identities as the purpose is to undertake a critical review of polices (higher Athena SWAN awards require more data-driven analysis on intersectionality). If, following consultation with staff, students and advocacy groups, the institution decides to collect data on gender and race, and additional intersectional identities, robust consideration must be given to anonymity, confidentiality, data protection and secure storage.

Intersectionality issues to consider for the Bronze Institutional Award include how to work collaboratively and evaluating policies, programs and practices should. This includes critical review, analysis and consultation with staff. For example:

  • Revision of existing policies, practices and programs to address specific impact and effectiveness for underrepresented groups
  • Identifying and addressing specific gender equity issues that may impede inclusion of intersectional groups in STEMM
  • Development of effective evaluation strategies and methodologies to address gaps and needs
  • Anticipating the learning and career needs of people with intersectional identities
  • In consultation with underrepresented groups, design of new policies and programs as appropriate
  • Increasing inclusion and gender equity outcomes of underrepresented groups

Consultation

Examination of policies should be done through active collaboration and consultation with staff members, institutional leaders and students with intersectional identities, and/or with representative groups internally and externally who can offer expert advice, including:

  • Racial, ethnic and migrant equality organisations
  • Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex and asexual (LGBTQIA ) groups
  • Disability support and advocacy organisations

What is intersectionality?

Intersectionality is a concept describing how gender equity is impacted by other socio-economic factors, such as race, culture, sexuality, disability, age, class, location and more.

Professor Kimberlé Crenshaw popularised the term intersectionality in 1989 by demonstrating the limits of existing gender equity and racial discrimination legislation. A lawyer by training, and Law Professor at the UCLA School of Law and Columbia Law School, Crenshaw showed that Black women were not adequately covered by existing laws and workplace policies, which effectively partitioned experiences of gender and racial discrimination. In reality, minority women experience gender inequalities alongside other forms of discrimination, not separately. To put it another way, gender inequality is amplified and complicated by experiences of racial inequality, and other forms of exclusion.

At its basis, intersectionality explores the simultaneous effects of gender inequity and race. In recent decades, intersectionality has been used to demonstrate how the interconnected experiences of gender and race affect other forms of disadvantage. This includes sexism and racism alongside homophobia, transphobia, discrimination against people with disabilities (“ableism”), ageism, class disadvantage and beyond.

Why is intersectionality important in STEMM?

Research shows that women from racial minority backgrounds suffer from “double jeopardy” in STEMM. That is, they experience sexism and racism, as well as racialised sexism because they are women of colour, not simply because they are women, and not merely because they are racial minorities.

Gender equity and diversity are pivotal to innovation in science, technology, engineering, mathematics and medicine (STEMM).

Professor Edmund, theoretical astrophysicist, co-organised a diversity summit for MIT in 2012. He notes that faculty saw “tensions” between diversity and excellence. He disagrees, and argues that the perceived tension between equity and diversity, “reflects underlying problems that detract from our excellence.”

Research shows that workplaces committed to being simultaneously proactive about gender equity and other forms of diversity are more productive. Organisations where leaders model and actively support gender equity and diversity are 45% more likely to expand their revenue and 70% more likely to break into new markets.

Research by Moin Syed shows that if we only look at one variable at a time – either race or gender – we don’t get a complete picture of how women in general are faring in STEMM, let alone women in specific racial groups. Looking at these two variables together within specific STEMM disciplines, it becomes clearer that there are different patterns of inequity that require different policy interventions.

For example, there is a perception that Asian scientists, though underrepresented relative to White researchers, are more likely than other minority groups to join science careers. Yet using an intersectionality lens, the reality is that Asian women are half as likely as Asian men to be in STEMM. Then again, among engineering majors, Asian women are slightly more likely than White women to want to pursue a major in engineering. Keeping Asian women (and other minority women) in engineering is another story, as they face multiple institutional barriers. The programs and policies that work for Anglo-Australian heterosexual women in STEMM, for example, may not work for Asian transgender counterparts.

An intersectional framework helps institutions better tailor STEMM policies, research programs, mentoring, community involvement, academic and financial support for scientists from underrepresented backgrounds.

A stronger understanding of the connections between gender, racial and other intersectional issues will therefore lead to better outcomes for women in specific STEMM areas.