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White Women, Help Others Shine: Understanding Intersectionality

By Nicole Chininis

Throughout my life, I’ve been surrounded by powerful, independent women. Not just in my personal life (Hi, Mom!), but with incredible, history altering women like Gloria Steinem, Kamala Harris, Tarana Burke (creator of the “Me Too” movement), Serena Williams, heck- even Beyonce and Taylor Swift. As I reflect on these women and their accomplishments, I think of how much more we have to do, especially for those in our everyday life. How do we continue to help other women shine?

If you talk to any woman, no story is the same. Everyone would tell you about different struggles in their life that have made them who they are. As a CIS white woman, I often think about how my experience is different from my BIPOC and LGBTQ+ -identifying sisters, or in other words, intersectionality. Intersectionality is a term first coined in 1989 by law professor and social theorist, Kimberlé Crenshaw. Crenshaw described intersectionality in her 2020 interview with Time as, “[…] a lens, a prism, for seeing the way in which various forms of inequality often operate together and exacerbate each other. We tend to talk about race inequality as separate from inequality based on gender, class, sexuality or immigrant status. What’s often missing is how some people are subject to all of these, and the experience is not just the sum of its parts.”

So, why is it important that white women step back from the spotlight? One of the beautiful things about women is their unique way to uplift other women. Calling each other queens, sisters, or complimenting each other in the bathroom is uniquely ours. However, white women are a powerful bunch through white privilege, and often they are not aware of the strength of their power and the inequities it creates. As white women, we must realize that all women will struggle until all women are included on the path to equity. What can we do as white women to help other women stand out, especially in the workplace?

  1. Notice Difference: It’s important to continue to reflect on our own status and privilege and how it affects others. We share many of the same struggles as other women, but how are we different? How are my experiences different than my Black female colleagues? Or of that of my trans colleague who just came out as a woman?
  2. Help Others Shine: This is the time to collaborate with other women in other resource groups or other teams throughout the company. Let others get the spotlight who may not often get it. Maybe create a panel on the female experience by showcasing BIPOC and LGBTQ+ experts in the field. The possibilities are endless!
  3. Continue to Include: Our understanding of intersectionality is always evolving to include all women (trans, BIPOC, LGBTQ+). Take note of how things are evolving and continue to welcome those of all identities to the table.

And above all, keep learning! Our ability to learn and grow as individuals, and to be OK with not knowing, is the key to continuing to relate to others through difference, and to build our muscle of inclusivity and awareness. I know I learn every day, and I plan to never stop.

Nicole Chininis is Project Manager for IBIS Consulting Group, focusing on topics surrounding cross-cultural experiences and identity.