What is the Same But Different project?
Same But Different is a creative project from Business in the Community’s gender equality campaign, in collaboration with photographer Leonora Saunders, which celebrates and shines a light on the diversity of women in our workplaces. In the UK, imagery and language about women in work tend to focus on the experience of just a few – typically white women working in corporate roles – whilst reinforcing unrealistic expectations of what it is to be a woman who works.
The reality is that women are not one homogenous group. Women do not all share the same experiences and challenges inside or outside of work. They do not all have the same perceptions or experiences, simply because they are women. Their sex or gender may be the same, but their identities, successes and struggles are different.
Same But Different brings to life the concept of intersectionality for employers. Intersectionality is a way of understanding the intersection where different parts of our identity meet and how this can result in different, unique forms of privilege or exclusion. Intersectionality means that a black woman’s experience of the workplace may be different to that of a white woman. A middle-class woman may face inequality, but it may differ from that of a working class woman. A disabled woman’s experience of exclusion may not be the same as that of a woman who is not disabled.
Through Same But Different we want to tell the stories of those women whose voices are often least heard, challenging the ways in which working women are portrayed and perceived in the UK today. We will use their stories to help employers to better understand their experiences.
Our online exhibition uses stunning imagery alongside narratives to share twenty of these stories. We have then created on online platform where all women can tell their unique stories. We want to gather stories from women everywhere, about their identity and what it really means to be a woman who works.
Originally exhibited at City Hall, London during early March 2017, the project is now available to view online, where you can also share your unique story. Visit the Same But Different image gallery >>
Why this matters in your workplace?
If we are to achieve equality between men and women in positions of power and influence and across society as a whole, it is crucial to understand the barriers to equality that all women face.
Everyone’s experiences at work and in life are influenced by multiple aspects of their identity, such as race, age, sexual orientation, class, gender identity, disability, income, culture, religion and health.
Unfortunately, the experiences of many women remain unheard. Their unique challenges and successes, which are often influenced and impacted by their multiple identities, are rarely acknowledged by employers. We are asking employers to recognise those multiple identities, and how they may be influencing employee experiences of the workplace.
We know that many employers are struggling to achieve gender balance in their workplaces and we believe that taking an intersectional approach will support them to achieve more change, and faster.
What we know
Business in the Community’s ground-breaking research, Project 28-40 , showed that women from minority groups have very different experiences and perceptions of work:
- 12% of all respondents experienced sexual harassment. But for these women it was even higher: bisexual women (19%), disabled women (16%) and mixed race women (15%)
- 52% of all respondents experienced bullying and harassment. But for these women it was even higher: disabled women (71%), black women (69%), bisexual women (61%) and ay women (54%).
- Gay women are more likely (19%) to feel that having children will not affect their career progression, compared with 12% of straight women. They are also less likely (63%) to be nervous about the impact of having children on their career; 75% of straight women are nervous.
- 70% of black women rated getting to the top of their career as ‘very important’ or ‘important’, compared with 47% of white women.
- Asian women were more likely (60%) to feel that there are few female role models in their workplace, compared with 52% of white women.
Other research also demonstrates that unless we take an intersectional approach to policy making, minority groups will continuously be failed. For example:
- Gender has a strong impact on women's earning prospects, but class, education and occupational backgrounds are stronger determinants of a woman's progression and potential earnings. (IPPR 2013)
- Poverty, ethnicity and gender magnify the impact of austerity on BAME (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic)women. Individuals in the poorest households lose most from tax and benefit changes, but in every income group BME women will lose the greatest proportion of their individual income. (Women’s Budget Group & Runnymede Trust 2016)
- Disabled women are twice as likely to experience domestic abuse and are also twice as likely to suffer assault and rape. Older victims experience abuse for twice as long before seeking help as those aged under 61 and nearly half are disabled. (SafeLives)
What this means to employers
Many women do not feel that employers’ efforts to tackle gender inequality necessarily include them. Yet they may actually be having more negative experiences of the workplace – and consequently their employer – according to how they identify.
Often, employee networks and other diversity & inclusion initiatives can be dominated by majority groups; for example, women’s networks over-represented by white women, or BAME and LGBT networks that are male-dominated.
A lack of visible role models for certain groups of women may be inadvertently sending the message that they do not belong here, and may even deter some women from applying to or developing with an organisation.
It is also possible that stereotypes based on race, gender, religion etc. may be influencing employees’ bias and discriminating behaviours at work. As shown above, we know that experiences of bullying and harassment in the workplace are worse amongst minority women.
The opportunity for employers
We believe that taking an intersectional approach to tackling inequality is urgent – and that it presents an opportunity for employers to start a dialogue within their organisations:
- Engage with all employees, in order to better understand the challenges that they encounter, but also their strengths, their priorities and their needs.
- Take more tailored, inclusive and effective action to improve your talent pipeline and maximise the benefits of a diverse workforce.
- Learn from more positive experiences of some women – the data above show that minority women sometimes have different, more positive stories to tell about career ambition.
- Help your leaders and managers to recognise employees as individuals with unique experiences and barriers, not as homogenous groups.
Same But Different teaches us that we all need to sit back and listen; we need to hear the voices of all women, if we are to truly to ensure that all women are part of the conversation about work and equality.
Throughout 2017 and beyond, Business in the Community will be working with its members – publishing research and toolkits, and tailoring our advisory services – to develop an intersectional approach to inclusion. For more information, please speak to your Diversity Adviser.