You Cannot ‘Inspire Inclusion’ Without Intersectionality

Another year, another International Women’s Day. I love this day and believe it to be extremely important, but I won’t lie—I grimaced while writing this because I knew I would struggle to put my meandering thoughts on a page coherently.

Why? Truthfully, I think it’s hard to write about what inclusion means to me when it seems that the world has taken so many steps backwards for women. Like what, you ask?

Off the top of my head, things like the wage gap haven’t shifted much in the past couple of decades in many countries. (Plus, it’s shown to be getting worse for women in their 30s and 40s.) There is also increasing pressure for people to return to the office full-time, arguably putting additional pressure on mothers who are still primary caregivers.

Fashion brands too are constantly being called out for not keeping to their inclusivity pledges. For instance, in my home country of New Zealand, there has been a lot of online chatter about influencer events or trips being made up of solely white, young, cisgender women promoting products at extravagant, expensive brand events during a cost-of-living crisis.

And then, of course, there are things like ongoing gender-based violence; the roll-back of women’s rights to choose since the overturning of Roe v Wade in the US (including the latest IVF legislation in Alabama); the rising threat to trans women; and the specific and unimaginable dangers facing women and girls in Palestine as the conflict and displacement continues.   

Why does this all matter? Because if inclusion is the goal, intersectionality is the football field we’re all playing on. There may be multiple facets of our lives that subject us to discrimination but the effects of this discrimination compound and multiply based on a variety of other factors. For example, a woman may face gender prejudice—but an Indian woman in Singapore may face racial and gender prejudice. And the truth is, we can’t claim inclusion until all women are equal—not just the women we know and are friends with or work with.

It’s easy sometimes to turn away from what’s happening elsewhere—in itself a privilege—and shout about inclusion in IWD social media posts. Still, without addressing the intersectionality of the inequity plaguing women, we’ll never get there.

Brands can say that many of the issues listed above don’t necessarily affect their direct consumers in Singapore or across the SEA region, but I don’t see it this way. I don’t think a single woman out there doesn’t think about at least one of these issues daily. So, it can sting even more when we don’t see brands even attempt to navigate them or purposefully shift away from tough conversations. 

When young consumers and the all-important Gen Z target audience say they want inclusion, diversity, and authenticity from brands, intersectionality is what they’re talking about. And I get it—it’s hard to address. It goes against the grain of how our society has been set up for ‘success’ and challenging it can have negative consequences for brands entering these conversations.

For many, it’s not worth the effort, and the risk of being ‘cancelled’ is too high. One study by Savanta found that only 22% of Gen Z consumers say their perception of a brand would be negatively affected if they noticed they remained silent during a crucial social moment. So why bother? However, 29% said they would not buy from a brand not committed to DEI.

Ultimately, while silence may not harm brands too much, it would equally not be able to win a brand more business and improve loyalty. There’s an opportunity to understand intersectionality and recognise the unique values, lived experiences, and causes of the communities that brands engage with.

Brands can hit the right balance between addressing more significant social issues and respecting their audiences’ diverse beliefs—and it will only happen if they stretch beyond performative gestures. That’s what ‘Inspire Inclusion’ means to me at this moment. No individual or brand will get it 100% right, but when the world feels like it’s taking a step in the wrong direction for women, don’t you want to be the one helping turn us back around?

This article first appeared on Campaign Asia.

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