Intersectionality, originally coined by Kimberlé Crenshaw to help explain the oppression of African-American women, was highlighted again at International Women’s Day this year along discussions about the lack of prioritising of issues related to ‘women of colour’.
While stats and facts about the positive impacts of gender diversity are widely available, comparable research about intersectional diversity is more scarce. Winitha Bonney, Thought Leader in the advancement of women of colour, believes that these stats also need to be re-visited and their validity needs to be questioned.
Winitha explains, “I always question the stats. A lot of stats will group women of colour under ‘multicultural women’ and that generally includes anyone that is of a non Anglo-Saxon background. The actual definition of a woman of colour is someone who experiences discrimination and bias.”
According to Winitha, business leaders need to be able to put numbers and figures to a problem before being able to develop a solution, and not having research around women of colour is hindering progressive action in this space.
She says, “The reality is we actually don’t have the statistics here in Australia of the true representation of women of colour. That’s the number one problem. In business, you can’t action something you can’t measure. If we can’t measure, we don’t know the true story. A business will always want to know the statistic about something in order for them to take action. If it’s not measured, in their eyes, it’s not a problem.”
Winitha is dedicating time and resources in 2020 to develop accurate statistics about international women’s issues. She also believes that initiatives and events, such as those around International Women’s Day, don’t always do enough to welcome and inspire intersectional women – this is an issue she intends to tackle head on with the launch of #ColourFULL this year.
“There’s been a huge push towards gender equality and gender diversity and women of colour, time and time again are being left out of that conversation. And it’s not just women of colour – it’s also women with disabilities, women of diverse sexual backgrounds, there are so many intersections that are getting left out,” Winitha says.
The cost of exclusion is severe, Winitha believes, and is further exacerbated by cultural traditions.
She says, “The sense is that women of colour start to feel that they don’t matter. A lot of us come from cultures where we have been told to keep quiet, to know our place, to not be more ambitious than our partner, that we’re meant to be wives, mothers and caretakers, that’s we’re supposed to get married at a young age and have a family. So we have these cultural underswellings and narratives around who it is that we’re meant to be. I find that a lot of women who migrate to Australia and see how many opportunities have, and see women that are going against that norm, but they’re not seeing women who look like them.”
Despite the challenges, Winitha believes that the best and only way forward is one with optimism and proactivity. It needs to involve changing what we consider ‘normal’ and never settle for events that create a ‘pity party’.
She explains, “In the future of work, there is a victim mentality – robots are taking over our lives, we have no choice, we’re going to lose our jobs. With the diversity conversation, I truly believe it will only take as long as we as a community, as a culture, as a people, decide how long it’s going to take before we see change.
“I take a view of the world where anything is possible. We have testimonies from all around the world where anything is possible – where individual people have gone out and beaten all the odds. I choose to take inspiration from that. If we tell ourselves a narrative that it’s going to take a long time, it’s going to take a long time. If we truly operate like sisters that have each other’s back 100%, and include allies in that and treat our allies as sisters and brothers, and champion them and they champion us, and we take them on that journey, then I don’t believe that journey is going to take a long time.”
For other women of colour, young people still deciding which career paths to take, and intersectional women not sure of how to step up, Winitha advises to lean into a tribe because “emotions are contagious.”
She says, “Surround yourself with a community and tribe of women of colour that are ambitious. You may not feel that you can achieve what they have at first, but if you associate yourself with that crowd a little bit, if you communicate with them, if you spend time with them, some of that good stuff is eventually going to rub off on you and feed your subconscious mind about your worth and your value.”
About the expert
Winitha Bonney is an expert in the future of work and is Australia’s first and foremost Thought Leader in the advancement of women of colour. She combines over 17 years of research and experience working as an entrepreneur to several startups as well as over 21 years of experience working in the corporate, for purpose and government sectors in various executive roles.
Winitha has multiple tertiary qualifications and over 3 pages of professional development certifications. She is a life long learner who is committed to seeing women of colour succeed in career, business and life.
She is also the founder of #ColourFULL, Australia’s first leadership and entrepreneurship conference and awards night by women of colour for women of colour and allies, and Amina of Zaria, a digital platform and private membership network and community to amplify the voices of women of colour and empower them to succeed in career, business and life.