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Economic inequities compound when race and gender intersect

News | Sep 09, 2020 | Back to List

Policies need to center women of color

Vermont Works for Women has launched a social media campaign to shed light on the economic disparities Black women experience, elevate policies and practices that focus on improving economic outcomes for Black women and gender non-conforming individuals, and amplify the voices of women of color.

Throughout the campaign we will be sharing ideas, resources and practices that can change economic realities for Black women. Join us in learning together how we can all better show up for Black women and other women of color.


September 16: Redefining Realness

I believe that telling our stories, first to ourselves and then to one another and the world, is a revolutionary act. It is an act that can be met with hostility, exclusion, and violence. It can also lead to love, understanding, transcendence, and community. I hope that my being real with you will help empower you to step into who you are and encourage you to share yourself with those around you.

Janet Mock, Redefining Realness: My Path to Womanhood, Identity, Love & So Much More
Photo from August feature in Marie Claire: Janet Mock: Up-Front and Unafraid. Quote from Mock’s debut book: Redefining Realness

Janet Mock is a writer, director and advocate.

In her memoir Redefining Realness: My Path to Womanhood, Identity, Love & So Much More, Janet Mock relays her experiences of growing up young, multiracial, poor, and trans in America, imparting vital insight about the unique challenges and vulnerabilities of a marginalized population.

A New York Times bestseller, Redefining Realness is a powerful vision of possibility and self-realization, pushing us all toward greater acceptance of one another–and of ourselves–showing as never before how to be unapologetic and real.

Self-definition has been a responsibility I’ve wholeheartedly taken on as mine. It’s never a duty one should outsource. Of this responsibility, writer and poet Audre Lorde said, “If I didn’t define myself for myself, I would be crunched into other people’s fantasies for me and eaten alive.” Self-definition and self-determination is about the many varied decisions that we make to compose and journey toward ourselves, about the audacity and strength to proclaim, create, and evolve into who we know ourselves to be. It’s okay if your personal definition is in a constant state of flux as you navigate the world.

Janet Mock, Redefining Realness

Mock is currently a writer, director, and producer for the television series Pose, making her the first trans woman of color hired as a writer for a TV series in history. She also recently signed a three-year deal with Netflix giving them exclusive rights to her television series and first-look at feature-film projects, making her the first openly transgender woman of color to secure a deal with a major content company.

Janet Mock was interviewed by magazine Marie Claire about the current movement for Black trans lives, and how she is reshaping Hollywood. Read the full story here.


September 3: Working Together While Celebrating Difference

Audre Lorde was an American writer, feminist, womanist, librarian, and civil rights activist. She was a self-described “black, lesbian, mother, warrior, poet,” who dedicated both her life and her creative talent to confronting and addressing injustices of racism, sexism, classism, heterosexism, and homophobia.

In February, 1982, Audre Lorde delivered the address, “Learning from the 60s” at Harvard University, discussing the importance of intersectionality in activism and revolution to free oneself from oppression. Read excerpts from the speech below.

“Any future vision which can encompass all of us, by definition, must be complex and expanding, not easy to achieve. The answer to cold is heat, the answer to hunger is food. But there is no simple monolithic solution to racism, to sexism, to homophobia.  There is only the conscious focusing within each of my days to move against them, wherever I come up against these particular manifestations of the same disease.  By seeing who the we is, we learn to use our energies with greater precision against our enemies rather than against ourselves.

There is no thing as a single-issue struggle because we do not live single-issue lives.

Within each one of us there is some piece of humanness that knows we are not being served by the machine which orchestrates crisis after crisis and is grinding all our futures into dust. If we are to keep the enormity of the forces aligned against us from establishing a false hierarchy of oppression, we must school ourselves to recognize that any attack against Blacks, any attack against women, is an attack against all of us who recognize that our interests are not being served by the systems we support. Each one of us here is a link in the connection between anti-poor legislation, gay shootings, the burning of synagogues, street harassment, attacks against women, and resurgent violence against Black people.

Can anyone of us here still afford to believe that efforts to reclaim the future can be private or individual? Can anyone here still afford to believe that the pursuit of liberation can be the sole and particular province of anyone particular race, or sex, or age, or religion, or sexuality, or class?

We share a common interest, survival, and it cannot be pursued in isolation from others simply because their differences make us uncomfortable.  We know what it is to be lied to. The 60s should teach us how important it is not to lie to ourselves.  Not to believe that revolution is a one-time event, or something that happens around us rather than inside of us. Not to believe that freedom can belong to anyone group of us without the others also being free. How important it is not to allow even our leaders to define us to ourselves, or to define our sources of power to us.

Change is the immediate responsibility of each of us, wherever and however we are standing, in whatever arena we choose.

You do not have to be me in order for us to fight alongside each other.  I do not have to be you to recognize that our wars are the same.  What we must do is commit ourselves to some future that can include each other and to work toward that future with the particular strengths of our individual identities.

Read Lorde’s full address here.


August 31: Breaking Concrete

Interview of Ashley Michelle Fowler is part of Change the Story initiative in Vermont

Ashley Michelle Fowler of Essex Junction, Vermont discusses the impact of her gender identity on accessing opportunities in the workplace and community during this interview conducted as part of the Change the Story VT initiative.

For Black women, they experience not only the gender inequity Fowler describes in the video but also racial inequity, increasing the barriers Black women have to overcome to access equal opportunity and advancement in the workplace.

Break Concrete: Black Women At Work is a podcast started by Cheryl Lyn Bentley exploring the unique experiences of Black women professionals as they navigate race and gender in the workplace and break through the concrete wall to professional advancement.

Break Concrete is a digital resource and community for Black women to elevate their voices, develop tools and language to tackle challenges that come, and celebrate successes.

We all have heard of the glass ceiling– the invisible barrier impeding women’s professional advancement. For Black women, sexism shaped by racism creates additional hurdles many have regarded as a concrete wall. The concrete wall is solid and opaque. It cannot be easily shattered and requires additional work and energy to scale.

~Cheryl Lyn Bentley
Break Concrete: Black Women at Work podcast logo
Break Concrete: Black Women at Work podcast

August 13: Black Women’s Equal Pay Day

Today marks Equal Pay Day for Black Women – or the date in the new year in which Black women have to work to finally earn what white men made in 2019.

Black women earn an estimated $941,600 less than white men over the course of a 40-year career, according to the Center for American Progress. This gap is inequitable and undermines the economic stability of families.

The gender pay gap is wider for most women of color.

“People living intersectional realities… experience the compounding negative effects of multiple biases on their earnings. Unfortunately, these women are often left out of the broader conversation about the gender wage gap owing to the limitations of available data. Much more data—disaggregated by sex, race and ethnicity, gender identity, sexual orientation, disability status, and more factors—are needed to understand precisely where pay disparities exist and where efforts must be targeted.”

What causes the wage gap?

  • Black women face gender and racial discrimination;
  • Women are overrepresented in low-wage jobs and underrepresented in high-wage jobs;
  • Women do the majority of home and caregiving responsibilities.

In order to close the gender wage gap, workers need paid leave, work flexibility, and affordable childcare. 84 percent of Black mothers are the primary, sole, or co-breadwinners for their family. The wage gap impacts not only women, but children and families.

Black women in the workforce identified several benefits they need for economic security, in a survey commissioned by The Time’s Up Foundation.

From Time’s Up article “Gender and Racial Inequity During Crisis: Black Women and the Pay Gap”

August 10: A perspective from Kiah Morris on racism in Vermont, Black Lives Matter movement

Morris served as a Vermont State Representative from 2014 to 2018 and was the second African-American woman in Vermont history to be elected to the legislature. She resigned in 2018 following racist harassment from a self-avowed white nationalist in Bennington, Vt.

Listen to former VT State Rep Kiah Morris’ full interview on Vermont Conversation with David Goodman, where she addresses the realities of systemic racism and microaggressions in Vermont.

There’s so much more to what we think about when we say racism than just the most blatant thing that hurts your heart the most. Because for those that are impacted, it is a death by a million cuts. It is a system of ways that consistently break into one’s spirit and tell you that you do not belong.

Kiah Morris

Aug 6: Intersectionality

Interview is part of The Change the Story initiative in Vermont

intersectionality : the complex, cumulative way in which the effects of multiple forms of discrimination (such as racism, sexism, and classism) combine, overlap, or intersect especially in the experiences of marginalized individuals or groups

Professor Kimberlé Crenshaw coined the term “intersectionality” in 1989 in an academic paper titled “Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex.”

The paper focuses on three legal cases that dealt with the issues of both racial and sex discrimination. In each case, Crenshaw argued the court’s narrow view of discrimination was an example of the “limitations of … single-issue analyses.” In other words, the law seemed to forget that black women are both black and female, and thus subject to discrimination on the basis of both race, gender, and often, a combination of the two.

Crenshaw’s theory went viral in the mid-2010s, with the Women’s March in 2017.

With this, the meaning behind the term intersectionality shifted from its original use. Now, it is often used to call for an intersectional approach for the advancement of all human rights.

It asks individuals and movements working to address one form of oppression to take the others into account. For example, efforts to eliminate gender disparities will require examining how women of color experience gender bias differently than white women.

Content sourced from Jane Coaston’s article “The Intersectionality Wars” at Vox


July 27: Sometimes just being yourself is a revolutionary act.

I feel like my entire life has been a protest. My production company is my protest. Me not wearing a wig at the Oscars in 2012 was my protest. It is a part of my voice, just like introducing myself to you and saying, ‘Hello, my name is Viola Davis.’

Oscar and Emmy award winning actor Viola Davis recounts her struggle to find meaningful, career defining roles as a Black woman in Hollywood and her journey in finding her voice and making a career for herself, in spite of discrimination and a lack of representation within the industry, in the July cover story of Vanity Fair.

Congratulations Viola on the cover! Be on the lookout for her portrayal of Michelle Obama in the upcoming series First Ladies, which is being produced by JuVee Productions, the company run by Davis and her husband.


July 23: It’s about time to value young women of color in leadership

Ted Talk by Activist, Educator and Writer, Brittany Packnett Cunningham, in 2016

In her Ted Talk, Brittany Packnett reflects on what it is like to be a woman of color in a leadership position.

Packnett describes often being the only BIPOC female leader in the room, having to actively work to overcome stereotypes and being overlooked by folks looking for “who is in charge” because she doesn’t fit the archetype of leadership in America: white, affluent, educated, heterosexual male.

Packnett urges organizations and boards to re-think what powerful leadership looks like, and expand it to include people of all identities, especially women of color.

All women are powerful, but women of color, we face unique odds and seemingly insurmountable challenges that we still decide to face down every single day and thrive despite them.

Brittany Packnett Cunningham

By not elevating women of color to leadership positions within organizations, we are robbing society of their unique perspective, contributions and impact.

We can have the will and make the choice to create workplaces, institutions and a country that values women of color for all we bring and judges us on the merit of our work, that pays us equitably for the labor we provide, and promotes us according to our contributions.

Because women of color lead powerfully, and it’s to everyone’s benefit.

Brittany Packnett Cunningham

For further learning: Brittany Packnett’s Ted Talk in 2019, “How to build your confidence — and spark it in others”, is a must listen for educators and anyone who works directly or indirectly with youth. Watch it below.


July 20: Diversity/Inclusion in the Workplace

75% of organizations that have racially inclusive decision-making teams and leadership, 75% of them exceed their financial targets. And yet, when we look at corporate leadership, in our for example in the Fortune 500, only four CEOs are black. And zero of those four are women…

If we know that looking at the bottom line, inclusion is better for us. We meet financial targets… We succeed in innovation… We experience higher revenues…

Why still do we perpetuate unequal systems that are clearly not only disadvantageous to us as a society, but also to use as businesses?

Xusana Davis, Executive Director of Racial Equity, State of Vermont
Xusana Davis spoke at the Vermont Business for Social Responsibility’s (VBSR) Town Hall on Racial Justice. Watch the recording above for her full remarks.

VBSR has compiled a list of Anti-Racism Resources for Vermont Businesses. They are also developing a series of virtual educational programming on anti-racism. Stay tuned.

“As a business leader, you have incredible influence, which is why it’s so important you be leaders in your community on racial equity. This is your moment to act.”


July 16: Work in America is failing women of color.

Black women in the workplace are…

Business practices need to change, to create equitable pay and opportunities, and safe work environments for Black women.

What is your company/organization doing to be a part of this change?

Certified B Corporation has compiled a list of resources for tackling racism as business leaders.

Certified B Corporations are businesses that meet the highest standards of verified social and environmental performance, public transparency, and legal accountability to balance profit and purpose. Society’s most challenging problems cannot be solved by government and nonprofits alone. The B Corp community works toward reduced inequality, lower levels of poverty, a healthier environment, stronger communities, and the creation of more high quality jobs with dignity and purpose.

Anthea Kelsick, Co-CEO of B Lab U.S. & Canada, released a statement to the B-Corp community about the need to take action to dismantle systemic racism.

As a network of business leaders that is currently majority white, we sit in a structurally privileged position to learn from others, to transform ourselves, and to be leaders of change. 

We don’t have to be perfect to start. But we do need to be vocal and bring explicit conversations about race and racism to all of our stakeholders – the people inside our companies, our customers and our communities. Let’s ask ourselves — what am I doing today?

Anthea Kelsick

The Alchemist Brewery, a registered B Corp here in Waterbury/Stowe VT, just released their action plan to combat systemic racism, developed in partnership with Vermont Partnership for Fairness and Diversity.


July 9: ‘Black women best’ Why putting Black women first may save us from economic disaster

By Anna Gifty Opoku-Agyeman, co-founder and CEO of The Sadie Collective, a nonprofit organization addressing the underrepresentation of Black women in economics and related fields, and co-founder of #BlackBirdersWeek

Despite historically low unemployment rates in March, within a month of the pandemic, Black women’s unemployment rate has climbed to 16.9%, suffering the greatest job losses as compared with other groups.

Black women are bearing the brunt of this economic crisis, and keep in mind that Black women were already underpaid upwards of $50 billion in forfeited wages before the pandemic, according to economist Michelle Holder. These findings illustrate an ugly truth: COVID-19 is laying bare the structural inequities that compound when race and gender intersectinequities that may be best addressed through re-centering economic policy on Black women.

Employers should shift their thinking on paid sick and parental leave, subsidized child and elder care, and work flexibility to help Black women, who are disproportionately facing COVID-19-related deaths in their communities. This shift can inevitably help all workers regardless of background. When the policies shift to focus on the outcomes of Black women, everyone benefits.

If the economy is working for Black women, then the economy is working for everyone—an ideology that Janelle Jones, Managing Director of Policy and Research at the Groundwork Collaborative, coined as Black women best.

Black women are the core of the nation’s economy, holding the front-line jobs and running small businesses, and they are more often the single heads of households in their communities. If they are elevated through policy, including everything from paid sick leave to stimulus programs targeted directly toward them, the economy at-large will benefit.


July 7: Buy Black

July 7, 2020 is #BlackOutDay, a nationwide campaign which aims to use economic power to support the Black community. Where consumers spend their money matters and tomorrow, supporters of the #BlackLivesMatter movement are being challenged to not make any purchases in stores or online, unless it’s from a Black-owned business.

For a list of BIPOC-owned businesses in Vermont, visit: https://bit.ly/3e5bTie

Additional organizations include Sudfund Vermont and Living Proof Mentoring.


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