- 11 Feb 2022
This guidance was developed by MindTribes in close consultation with the Commission for Gender Equality in the Public Sector. The guidance includes advice on how to apply intersectionality for each of the obligations, podcasts showcasing the voices and lived experiences of women facing intersectional barriers, and case studies demonstrating practical actions.
The Gender Equality Act 2020 (the Act) requires Victorian public sector organisations to progress gender equality in the workplace and our community.
Section 6(8) of the Act outlines that “gender inequality may be compounded by other forms of disadvantage or discrimination that a person may experience based on Aboriginality, age, disability, ethnicity, gender identity, race, religion, sexual orientation and other attributes.” For the purposes of this guidance, the Commission refers to this concept as “intersectional gender inequality”.
By recognising intersectional gender inequality, the Act aims to address discrimination, disadvantage, and inequity. It encourages defined entities to create equitable workplaces and deliver services where all people are supported to be respected, safe and empowered in environments that are accessible and responsive to their unique and changing needs.
This web page includes some initial guidance and ideas for how defined entities can apply intersectionality to their work under the Act. It also includes podcasts and case studies to help you engage with the stories, challenges and opportunities of this work.
The Commission will add to this guidance, in partnership with experts and defined entities, as we learn over time.
What is Intersectionality?
The concept of intersectional disadvantage or discrimination is sometimes called “intersectionality”. It explains how people may experience overlapping forms of discrimination or disadvantage based on attributes such as Aboriginality; age; disability; ethnicity; gender identity; race; religion; and sexual orientation. Note, in this guidance, we refer to these attributes as the “intersectional attributes”.
Intersectionality recognises that the causes of disadvantage or discrimination do not exist independently, but intersect and overlap with gender inequality, magnifying the severity and frequency of the impacts while also raising barriers to support.
The concept of intersectionality was coined by Professor Kimberlé Crenshaw in 1989. In developing ‘intersectionality’ as a concept, Crenshaw cited a court case where a group of African-American women argued that a manufacturing company had refused to hire them on the basis on their race and gender. However, the court ruled that the company was not guilty of discriminatory hiring practices based on race, because they had hired African-American men to work on the factory floor.
The court also ruled that the company had not discriminated on the basis of gender, as they hired white women for office-based roles. What the court failed to consider was the intersection of race and gender and the compounded discrimination faced by African-American women.
Every person has multiple, intersectional identities. For some women, their intersectional identity may provide a degree of privilege, but for others, it may result in more discrimination. Some women are at higher risk of different types of discrimination, such as racism, class oppression, homophobia, transphobia, ageism, or ableism.
The intersectional approach suggests that tackling disadvantage in one group may not address discrimination and marginalisation experienced by all other groups equally. Therefore, work to prevent gender-based inequality cannot be completed in isolation from work to address other forms of discrimination.
Duty to promote gender equality
Defined entities have a duty to promote gender equality when developing policies and programs and in delivering services that are to be provided to the public, or have a direct and significant impact on the public.
Defined entities should apply an intersectional gender lens when taking action to comply with this duty. An intersectional gender lens means taking a perspective that considers people’s overlapping attributes (such as age, gender, sexuality, race etc) to understand the discrimination or disadvantage they face.
Examples of work that could benefit from an intersectional gender lens include:
- providing gender analysis training
- developing and reviewing policies, programs, and services
- procuring goods, services, suppliers or consultants
- developing contracts
- assessing the provision of funding or grants
- recruiting, developing or promoting staff
- developing processes and strategies
- communicating with stakeholders and the community.
Building organisational awareness is key to gaining employee buy-in, support and engagement with proposed actions to address intersectional gender inequality. Organisations should use a multipronged approach via executives and senior leaders, employee-wide engagement, and through the voices of employees with intersectional attributes. Examples could include:
- Executives and senior leaders should make a public commitment to build a diverse, intersectional workforce, and reduce discrimination or disadvantage. This can be achieved through a written statement on a website or a video of senior leaders committing to intersectionality, and publicly promoting current work underway that uses an intersectional lens.
- Executives and leaders should demonstrate their commitment through role modelling inclusive behaviour and actively engaging in actions that make a tangible difference to tackling intersectional gender inequality.
- Organisations can engage employees through initiatives that build organisational awareness of intersectionality, such as celebrating and leveraging commemorative days to create awareness.
- Organisations can promote understanding of intersectionality and develop an awareness of biases, barriers, disadvantages, and discrimination (systemic and individual) through training programs and workshops.
- Organisations should also review imagery and language in internal and external facing publications. This will communicate widely across the organisation that the entity is inclusive of all people with intersectional attributes.
- Organisations should promote the voices of employees with intersectional attributes on internal forums (such as Townhalls, Panels of Speakers) and in both internal and external media. This will normalise their visibility and representation and encourage greater inclusion.
- Organisations should support staff–led networks that provide a safe space for employees who may experience intersectional gender inequality. Ensure employee groups have executive sponsorship and provide adequate funding and other resources if they are a volunteer group.
- Organisations need to highlight the views of their employees with intersectional attributes (with their permission) and share widely the de-identified intersectional data collected, to better inform decision-makers on staff’s experiences, and guide their responses.
Organisations can also work towards applying an intersectional gender lens to their duty to promote gender equality by strengthening intersectional community and stakeholder engagement. Examples could include:
- Organisations should conduct meaningful consultation that obtains intersectional perspectives from within the community. Identify the groups of people with similar intersectional attributes in your gender equality stakeholder map, such as community groups representing different intersectional attributes (Aboriginality, age, disability, ethnicity, gender identity, race, religion, sexual orientation, and other attributes).
- Collaborative and inclusive relationships with these groups will provide insights into engagement and possible actions that can be taken. It will also allow intersectional community members to raise concerns regarding the impact of service delivery to them.
- When engaging with community groups, ensure that appropriate feedback mechanisms are in place.
Colleen shares how to use research in the market to promote a greater understanding of women with a disability.
Michelle, a transwoman, shares in her interview, “Don’t judge me by what I am, but by who I am” and discusses how making others aware of the struggles can reduce bias.
Tanvi, identifying as a woman of colour, calls for everyone to, “Remove the Blindfolds”. Tanvi wants the real issues of women of colour to be heard and understood.
Read about how an organisation used its year-end celebrations to engage employees with intersectional attributes to share diverse stories.
Applying intersectionality to gender impact assessments
Applying an intersectional approach to a gender impact assessment requires thinking about the different experiences of people in the communities that your organisation serves, and considering how their experience of gender inequality may be shaped by other aspects of their identity.
You can read introductory guidance for applying intersectionality to obligations under the Gender Equality Act 2020.
Our Leading Practice Resources page contains a list of useful external resources for applying intersectionality.
Determining when a gender impact assessment is required
Organisations should apply an intersectional approach when considering what policies, programs and services require a gender impact assessment.
As described in this guidance note, this means thinking about the reach and depth of impact of your work when considering whether its impact is ‘significant’.
- Some policies, programs or services may reach a small part of the population, but target people who may experience particular disadvantage or have particular needs – for example, services for people with disability, older people, or survivors of family violence.
- Some policies, programs or services may have a small impact on most of the community, but impact on health, wellbeing, social, environmental, economic or cultural outcomes for a specific group or groups – for example, access to services for Muslim women or safety of LGBTIQ+ youth.
In these scenarios, a gender impact assessment is required.
Conducting an intersectional gender impact assessment
Once you have determined a gender impact assessment is required, an intersectional approach can be applied at all stages of the process. This guidance aligns with the steps in the gender impact assessment toolkit.
Colleen prompts our thinking when it comes to gender impact assessments that consider the needs of people with a disability.
Aisha talks about the complications that arise with the use of interpreters and how to go about community consultations safely and positively in the Muslim community.
Nevena shares how she notices how gender-binary public spaces can be.
A TAFE decided to perform a gender impact assessment on a scholarships policy. Read how the scholarships manager provided a case for change and how the analysis revealed a lot more than they expected regarding the needs of women with intersectional attributes.
Applying intersectionality to workplace gender auditing and analysis
Taking an intersectional approach is to workplace gender auditing is necessary to understand whether your organisation’s systems, structures, policies, and practices are working to promote workplace gender equality for all.
"Intersectional data" (in this guidance) is data that is separated by gender as well as attributes other than gender, such as Aboriginality; age; disability; ethnicity; gender identity; race; religion; or sexual orientation.
Breaking down or “disaggregating” the data in an intersectional way is important. It helps us understand how someone’s experience of gender inequality might be compounded by the discrimination or disadvantage they may experience based on other attributes.
If available, intersectional data must be used for your workplace gender audit (s11(3)(b)). If this data is not yet available, you should consider how you can collect this in the future and include this as an action in your Gender Equality Action Plan (GEAP).
In collecting, analysing and reporting this data, organisations need to be sensitive to employee safety and privacy considerations and allow employees the discretion to self-identify.
Considerations for future data collection
If intersectional data is not yet available, you should consider how you can collect this in the future and include this as a planned action in your Gender Equality Action Plan (GEAP).
You might find that your entity does not yet have the systems capabilities to collect and store some types of data. You might not yet have the culture or level of trust required to support the collection of data deemed sensitive and personal.
The best way to deal with data gaps in the immediate term is to document them in a deliberate and systematic way. Over the next reporting period, you should think about how you can improve your data collection and consultation processes to better understand intersectional gender inequality in the workplace.
The collection, analysis and reporting of data throughout the audit must be kept confidential to protect the privacy of employees.
This is particularly important when taking an intersectional approach, as the more intersectional attributes per employee are collected, the easier it becomes to identify individuals and risk their exposure.
When collecting personal information at the onboarding stage or as part of HR records, we recommend ensuring that the intention behind the collection of data is clearly articulated through a collection statement, and that questions are non-mandatory. Staff must always have the option not to disclose.
Analysing the data, disaggregated by intersectional attributes, will identify which groups of people should be the focus of your strategies. Furthermore, the analysis will provide insight into the systemic barriers to access, inclusion and equity for people who experience intersectional gender inequality. The results will also indicate what past actions have had the most positive or negative impact on groups with similar intersectional attributes.
Aggregated quantitative data often misses the nuances and specific concerns of people with intersectional attributes, who may become “lost” in the overall gender data. However, small sample sizes or false assumptions can easily lead to flawed data analysis, misinterpretation, and incorrect conclusions. Therefore, intersectional data should be supplemented by qualitative data analysis, to validate conclusions and ensure that less representative minority experiences are not overlooked.
As best practice, it is worth identifying any gaps in data for groups of people with intersectional attributes and if so, determine if these gaps need to be addressed immediately or in a future data collection exercise. Also consider what other metrics or measures can be substituted for the gaps in data and what improvements can be made to future data collection activities.
Gender disaggregated data provides one option for analysing data, but without breaking this down to other demographic attributes such as age or cultural background, the specific issues and concerns of people with intersectional attributes may not be visible.
To assist with intersectional quantitative data analysis, organisations should:
- Conduct data comparisons – comparing the data of people with intersectional attributes against the data of men and women who represent the majority. Comparisons will help you identify unusual patterns and trends in the data.
- Consider the sample size – when data is disaggregated by intersectional attributes, the sample size will decrease. Calculating the “margin of error” of the sample size, for each group being reviewed, will help avoid drawing incorrect conclusions and exaggerating effects based on a small (statistically insignificant) sample size. For example, if 1 of 2 Indian women with a disability in a department of 100 people have experienced discrimination. To present the findings as: “50% of Indian women with a disability have experienced discrimination”, would misrepresent the actual situation.
- Conversely, do not assume that there are no underlying issues if the results appear to be insignificant or within the margin of error, as the sample size may be too small.
As far as possible, use diverse sample groups that represent the many people with intersectional attributes, to ensure that different perspectives are considered. As required for the GEAP, engage in meaningful consultation with communities, peak bodies, and other external stakeholders of representative groups to gain their unique perspective and represent the voices of those with lived experiences.
Always focus on “what was said”, not “who said what” when analysing commentary to determine major themes and correlations.
Ensure psychological support is available
It is important that individuals feel psychologically and culturally safe in sharing data that reveals their intersectional attributes. (Psychologically and culturally safe means being able to represent your true self without fear of negative consequences for your mental and emotional health or career.)
In some cases, your data analysis will identify ‘good news stories’. In other cases, your analysis will identify current and/or longstanding gender and intersectional inequalities. Regardless of your findings, it is important to remember that work on gender equality can raise issues for anyone in your organisation, at any time.
Whenever you discuss issues of gender in the workplace, remind employees of your Employee Assistance Program and other local support services available to them. Having appropriately skilled staff who can respond to disclosures and refer people to services as part of your consultation process is also important. Access to psychological support for those who engage in the analysis process is also an important consideration.
Amanda, an Aboriginal queer woman, discusses the challenges of asking Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to identify when collecting data.
Read the case study to understand how an organisation took steps to improve their intersectional data collection and mobilised internal communications to communicate with staff about data.
Applying intersectionality to Gender Equality Action Plans
Defined entities will continue to develop and refine their implementation plans to make meaningful progress across the key indicators over the next four years. The following information provides some guidance to support organisations to progress their work by considering intersectionality in ongoing consultation and adapting strategies and measures across key indicators.
Amanda calls for senior leaders to succession plan and promote Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women into their roles within the next 5 years.
Heather discusses how identified gaps, for example where older women are being excluded, should be addressed with actionable plans.
Nevena suggests better training for HR staff on how to handle harassment complaints from trans and gender diverse women.
Read how this defined entity, responsible for urban planning, followed the 6-step process to complete their GEAP and how they worked through their Gender Equality Audit Data.