Feminism raises all sorts of associations – some of which are rather negative. Even within the feminist landscape, there is a lot of discussion about the term and whether using it still makes sense the term has been coined by a homogenous group of women whose initial claims were based on a very narrow notion of womanhood - centered around white, middle class women.
Feminism for corporates?
Outside of the feminist realm, feminism is often perceived as a very loaded term. As the term is so political it somewhat discourages people from reflecting about the underlying ideas and concepts, although they including learnings that could be highly beneficial for corporate strategies
The feminist movement has undergone a strong learning journey during the last fifty years. Second wave scholars have rightfully pointed out that the feminist movement within the US and European countries has been focusing on white-middle-class women and their realities of lives for too long, neglecting lived realities by marginalized women. Further, third wave scholars have rightfully addressed the fact that feminists have excluded – and continue to exclude non-binary and trans individuals, thus reproducing a very narrow definition of what it means to be a woman.
Today, within the academic realm, we refer to an intersectional understanding of gender that understands gender as a spectrum and acknowledges individuals’ overlapping identity markers. This understanding needs to bleed into the working culture in order to enable sustainable change for the better.
Diversity goes beyond the category of women
Yet, within the German corporate and political world, gender is often used as a synonym for women. Sometimes, diversity is then also used as a synonym for gender, resulting in the claim “more diversity” – which inherently means more women. Although having more women in leadership would make a company more diverse, it is highly problematic to reduce the diversity discourse to enhancing the number of women in boards.
Not only does this logic enhance a binary understanding of gender, it also leaves no room for other important identity markers that play into gendered experiences and need to be considered in companies’ diversity strategies. Having a better understanding of the gender dimension in your company needs to entail a wider scope of diversity dimensions that affect women’s positions.
An intersectional understanding of gender at the workplace is also the basis of a more nuanced understanding of diversity. You can have a highly international team that shows very little diversity in all other parameters beyond nationality such as age, educational background, gender, ethnicity and many more. Discussions about experiences at the workplace are often separated on the line of identity markers – which is very much flawed.
Diversity goes beyond internationality
In my work, I often I encounter managers proudly talking about their international team, concluding that “we don’t have any problem with diversity”. When confronted with the question about the places of origins of the team members’, they happily outline Northern European and American countries. Everyone has a very similar socio-economic background, academic education and career path. On paper, such a team looks quite diverse, however it cannot benefit from cognitive diversity.
Thinking about diversity today is different than just a couple of years ago. Digitalization has brought those of us privileged enough to have access to the internet closer together. Young citizens thus self-identify through common values and shared belief systems of their peer group on an international basis.
Followingly, Lisa, a middle-class 25 year-old sociology student from Berlin who is into feminist literature might think similarly than Maria, a middle-class 25 year-old sociology student who is into feminist literature in Mexico city. They are exposed to similar media, read similar books and might even be part of the same filter bubble on social media. Contrary, Lisa might have very little common ground with Margarethe, a German who lives in a rural area and has not studied at all, nor been exposed to feminist theory.
It is necessary to consider the different dimensions of diversity: diversity does not always show – it can also be hidden. Someone with a non-academic background can make a team more diverse – in terms of bringing in new ideas and perspectives - than someone with a different passport.
Diversity is at your doorstep
When managers tell me that they are failing to become more diverse because they cannot hire internationally, I wonder which understanding of diversity this entails. Of course, international employees are a valuable asset – however companies do not rely on internationals to become workspaces characterized by heterogeneity.
Instead, think about your teams’ limits. What can you currently not offer? In which aspects are you all rather similar? Persons of different ethnicity, religion, cultural upbringing, sexuality, gender, age all add valuable perspectives to your team. You will be surprised how much diversity you can find at your doorstep.