How Your Racial And Gender Identities Can Overlap And Affect Your Career

This article was originally published by Forbes.

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My friend Linette Lopez is a Senior Finance Journalist at Business Insider. She says, “Every time I meet with a new source, I have to pay a 15-minute tax in which I explain to them why they're sitting across the table from me and not a 50-something-year-old white dude named Barry.”

Linette and I have a lot in common. We’re both women in our thirties who prioritize professional fulfillment and see our career as a significant part of our identity.

One thing we don't have in common is that Linette identifies as Afro-Latina. I identify as white.

While I have to overcome bias against women or young(ish) professionals, I don’t personally know what it’s like to navigate racism or the confluence of these and Linette’s other identities.

Women’s empowerment literature is designed to be useful for women, but that advice is not universally applicable. If you recognize the ways your other identities impact your career and professional life, you’ll feel more grounded in your own in experience and recognize what rings true for you – and what doesn’t.

Fair warning: this data may leave you justifiably furious and/or disheartened.

Introducing some of this troubling data in her phenomenal book Keep Marching: How Every Woman Can Take Action and Change Our World, my friend and founder of MomsRising, Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner, writes, “All I really remember is thinking, Oh, $hit, accompanied by a sinking feeling that women still had a lot of work to do...apologies in advance if what you’re about to read makes you a bit nauseous and more than a little bit irate.”

Stick with me through these depressing data points, and you’ll be better equipped to navigate negotiation with eyes wide open. Feel free to yell in the process.

Race and Ethnicity

Feminist legal scholar, critical race theorist, and civil rights advocate Kimberlé Crenshaw created the concept of “intersectionality”, which addresses the way different types of discrimination can have a cumulative negative effect on an individual.

Originally used in 1989 to describe the experience of black women, Crenshaw explains intersectionality by saying, “One of the main points of intersectionality is that you can’t just take the experiences of a Black man and a white woman and put them together to describe a Black woman’s experience. A Black woman’s experience is not the sum total.”

The compounding effects of racism and sexism have long-term implications for women of color over the course of their career.

From a structural level, according to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research while it will take white women until 2056 to make pay equity with white men (based on current models), black women will not reach parity with white men until 2124, and Hispanic women won’t see it until 2248. People who are of mixed racial identity may not see themselves represented in the data.

When investigating individual experiences in their book What Works for Women at Work: Four Patterns Working Women Need to Know, researchers Joan C. Williams and Rachel Dempsey found that women of color were more likely to report each of the key patterns of bias they studied.

While the above data points reflect the different ways others engage with us based on race, it’s also worthwhile to note how our race and culture impacts how we grew up and were socialized to engage with the world around us.

Cultural norms and expectations about femininity vary among different cultures, and what may be perceived as a healthy independence in one culture may be seen as disrespectful of one’s elders in another. For example, a friend who identifies as Asian acknowledged the ways her heritage made her less likely to question authority – a quality that, in some ways, is imperative when it comes to navigating our careers and advocating for what we deserve.

Maternity

The strongest trigger for bias is whether a woman has kids. Moms are 79% less likely to be hired and half as likely to get promoted. For the 81% of women who eventually become mothers, the wage gap is even bigger than it is for women across the board, and it’s even worse for mothers of color.

According to data cited in Keep Marching, compared to white non-Hispanic dads, white non-Hispanic moms make 69 cents, black moms make 51 cents, Native American mothers make 49 cents, and Latina mothers are paid 46 cents.

Why? Maternal bias (or the “mommy penalty”) means that moms are seen as both less competent and less committed at work.

One former client had spent several years taking care of her kiddos and was ready to dive back into work. As we discussed relevant experiences she’d had since she was fully employed, she described how she helped promote a children’s performer called something like “Jimmy the Singing Clown”. After I shared the data on maternal bias, she decided to change how she described the work to something akin to “marketing support for musician James Frahm.”

A college professor of mine stopped wearing her wedding and engagement rings and removed all pictures of her family from her phone when she was in the academic job search. She described an industry notorious for discriminating against women with families, and she wanted to completely avoid the risk. She’s a sociologist, and the irony was not lost on her that social scientists are exactly the group of people who study this sort of discrimination.

These types of contortionist moves and the need to spend so much energy obfuscating a key aspect of our lives is infuriating and insulting. As with navigating all potential biases, women have to make their own choices about how transparent they want to be in their professional lives.

Finally, structural inequality and interpersonal discrimination can have significant implications on individuals’ confidence. Joyell Arvella, the racial and gender justice strategist, describes “imposter syndrome” and internalized unconscious bias as closely connected.

Speaking from her own experiences and the patterns she’s witnessed, she says racial and gender discrimination creates a lot of “unhealthy mental anguish, anxiety, and depression.” It raises self-doubt another level of when you’ve experienced ongoing discrimination. For Arvella, imposter syndrome is influenced by the ways she experiences internalized racism and sexism in her own work, as she grapples with how to create safer work environments for other black women.

Digging into these depressing data points may be disheartening, but it can be powerful to consider and recognize the biases different groups of women may face. Above, we’ve talked through two identities specifically – race and ethnicity as well as maternity – but those are just a few examples. What other identities impact your experience?

Think also about identities that you wouldn’t see on a typical intake form. If you’re in the roller derby and toughness is part of how you see yourself, you may recognize the ways confidence and strength can be an asset in a career conversations as well as a potential challenge if you come off as abrasive.

Perhaps you’re always the one making sure friends and family have their needs met and you think of yourself as a caretaker. You may want to both use that collective orientation in professional settings and be aware of the ways it can prompt you to lose sight of your own priorities.

Or maybe you’re playful and silly in your communication style. Your comedic identity may benefit you tremendously, putting people at ease. It could also keep them from taking your requests seriously.

It’s also important to remember that identity varies from person to person and situation to situation, and one identity may feel more present than another at any given time.

Consider your multiple, overlapping identities, how do you feel they inform your experiences as you navigate your career?