Today is equal pay day. Today we acknowledge that full time women earn 14.2% less than full time men for doing the same work. Today we also address the stark reality that people of colour, in particular, women of colour are even worse off when it comes to the pay gap. These statistics should not just raise concern for non-profit organisations and humanitarian advocates, rather, leading organisations in every industry should be taking steps to address the social inequity that exists in our workplaces.
So how can law firms integrate intersectionality into their diversity, equity, and inclusion policies in 2021? Before, we answer that question, lets address what is intersectionality?
What is intersectionality?
In simple terms, intersectionality is a framework that takes into account the number of overlapping identities of individuals and how the intersection of these identities results in unique experiences. Examples of identities include race, culture heritage, socio-economic status, gender, sexual preferences etc.
In order words the experiences of an Indian, brown woman are going to be relatively distinct from the experiences of an Australian, white woman. The combination of gender and ethnicity creates a complex convergence of oppression for that individual. Therefore, by adopting an intersectional lens we can appreciate the interwoven prejudices that individuals face.
“So what?” you may say. Well, having an understanding of intersectionality, allows us to combat social inequities and systemic oppression within our workplaces. How?
Here we set out three simple steps that every law practice can implement.
STEP 1: RAISE AWARENESS
The first step is to talk to your employees, staff, colleagues about intersectionality. Unpack the language. Have discussions about rejecting notions such as ‘all women feel the same’, ‘all Indians are like …’, ‘all migrants are…’. The more your staff talks about intersectionality the more they will understand the importance of the concept and how to apply it.
STEP 2: EMBED INTERSECTIONALITY IN YOUR PRACTICES
Make intersectionality a part of your firm’s culture. For the legal industry to truly evolve it is crucial that not only our lawyers appreciate intersectionality, but every person working in the firm should be practising it. This starts from your receptionist who is the first point of contact for your clients.
Develop client questionnaires that incorporate intersectionality – questions asking about ethnicity, birthplace, socio-economic status, cultural practices, traditions, country of birth, gender, pronouns etc. Then use that data in how you approach your client’s legal or migration matter. For example, if your client is a stay-at-home mother, with limited education, English as a second language, and has now landed in some legal dispute regarding breach of contract. When preparing your case, make sure you talk about how the overlapping of her identities lead to the choices she made and the impact it had.
STEP 3: APPLY INTERSECTIONALITY INTO YOUR LEGAL AND IMMIGRATION MATTERS
As lawyers we are conditioned to practising by the book, as our predecessors have for many years. We are discouraged from finding new ways to practice.
Shed away that old skin.
You will be amazed at how many judges will welcome your fresh perspective on pleading cases and writing submissions. Whilst most lawyers will refine their submissions with boring fonts, long paragraphs, and meaningless headings, to become soulless, emotionless creatures, your submissions will jump out of the large pile of papers laying on the judge’s desk as he squints his eyes on a late Friday evening. In reading the fresh, breathing document that tells him the experiences, the cultural practices, the stigmas that your client has had to bear to finally choose her course of action that has landed her in this dispute, the judge will thank you for giving him some real perspective on why people behave the way they do.
– Mannie Kaur Verma