Women’s History Month 2024: Dissecting The Intersection of Gender and Disability in Employment 

Women’s History Month serves as a vital platform not just for celebrating the monumental contributions of women across diverse fields but also for illuminating critical issues that continue to affect the lives of women worldwide.

The United Nations estimates that about 75 percent of women with disabilities are unemployed, and those who are employed often earn less than their male counterparts.¹ This gap highlights significant challenges that go beyond the need for recognition and call for deliberate and practical solutions.

 

What is Intersectionality? 

Intersectionality, a term originally coined by Kimberlé Crenshaw, is a framework that helps to understand the compounded experiences of being part of multiple historically disadvantaged groups. It acknowledges that various aspects of a person’s identity, such as gender and disability, do not exist in isolation but intersect, affecting their experiences in complex ways.²

For women with disabilities, this intersectionality often translates into dual discrimination in the workplace—a result of biases against both their gender and their disability. Intersectionality reinforces the idea that disability disclosure is an intersectional embodiment of complexity and contradictions across the spectrum of diversity. This framework’s application is emphasized as a means of countering hegemonic ideas and creating more inclusive and liberating places.

 

A Historical Perspective 

Historically, these women were often confined to roles that were undervalued and underpaid, if they were employed at all. The predominant societal view was one of incapacity and dependency, overshadowing their potential as capable contributors to the workforce.

However, the past decades have witnessed a gradual but significant shift. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) has been a cornerstone in reshaping opportunities for women with disabilities in the workforce.³

ADA also spurred initiatives for inclusive employment and mandated accessibility in technology, significantly contributing to a deeper understanding of the needs and capabilities of women with disabilities. This shift, complemented by various gender equality laws, has been pivotal in challenging long-standing biases and enhancing the professional landscape for women with disabilities.

 

The Intersection of Gender and Disability in the Employment Landscape 

Despite the advancements made, women with disabilities still face unique challenges in the workforce today, ranging from pay gaps to deeply rooted societal biases.

 

Wage Gap

Women with disabilities experience a discernible pay disparity in skilled trades and other professions when compared to non-disabled women, according to a 2023 report covered on the U.S. Department of Labor Blog.⁴ This wage disparity reflects not only potential unequal pay for similar work but also the limited range of job types often accessible to women with disabilities.

This challenge is also prevalent in other parts of the world. A Statistics Canada report reveals that while earnings of men and women with disabilities were found to be lower than people without disabilities, women with disabilities earned 20 percent less than men with disabilities.⁵

 

Accessibility and Accommodation

Effective workplace accessibility may involve more than physical modifications; they may require assistive technologies, flexible scheduling, and diverse communication methods. However, many employers may hesitate to implement these accommodations, often due to concerns about cost. The Job Accommodation Network (JAN) has addressed this by tracking the costs of reasonable accommodation, finding that most accommodation is free. The average one-time expense, when applicable, is around $300 or less.⁶

Furthermore, a study on “Employer and co-worker perceptions of the accommodation process for employees with disabilities” illustrates the broader benefits of such accommodations.⁷ They not only support employees with disabilities but also others in the workplace, fostering a more inclusive and adaptable work environment.

 

Discrimination and Bias

According to a report by the United Nations, women with disabilities are reported to face discrimination three times more than women without disabilities.⁸ This disparity isn’t confined to statistical metrics alone. It permeates through various facets of professional life, notably reflected in the glaring underrepresentation of women with disabilities in leadership roles. Take, for instance, a revealing study spanning 19 nations in 2017, which found that only 2.3 percent of women with disabilities occupied legislative or managerial positions, in contrast to 2.8 percent of men with disabilities.⁸

The gap becomes even more glaring in the Asia-Pacific region, where the absence of female parliamentarians with disabilities is striking across many countries. These biases extend beyond representation, affecting hiring practices where misconceptions about their abilities can lead to an overlook of skilled professionals who could contribute significantly to organizations.

 

Social and Emotional Barriers

The findings of a cross-sectional study examining loneliness, social support, social isolation, and well-being among working-age adults with and without disabilities revealed that individuals with disabilities, particularly those facing cognitive or intellectual challenges, report higher levels of loneliness and social isolation compared to their non-disabled peers.⁹ This is often a result of limited social circles and fewer avenues for engagement.

In a related report by Human Rights Watch, women with disabilities face the same human rights infringements as non-disabled individuals, their experiences are intensified by increased social isolation and dependency.¹⁰ Women with disabilities, when compared to non-disabled women and their male counterparts with disabilities, often have lower educational achievements, career advancement, financial stability, and social networking opportunities.

Workplaces can help combat this challenge through social inclusion practices and networking opportunities. And it’s even easier when an organization is headed and led by an equal-opportunity or supportive employer.

 

LET PEAK PERFORMERS CONNECT YOU WITH AN EQUAL-OPPORTUNITY EMPLOYER  

Peak Performers is a non-profit staffing firm committed to reshaping the disability employment landscape. We believe in the potential of every individual, including women with disabilities, to thrive in the workforce.

By joining our talent pool, you gain access to a network of inclusive employers who prioritize diversity and inclusion in their hiring practices. Whether you’re looking for an ideal accounting, office, or IT job, take the first step towards a rewarding career journey by partnering with us.

And by becoming a client, you’ll be expanding your DEI impact by hiring people who may come from multiple disadvantaged groups. Connect with us today to learn more about our staffing services.

 

References 

1 “Advancing Women and Girls with Disabilities.” U.S. Agency for International Development, www.usaid.gov/what-we-do/gender-equality-and-womens-empowerment/women-disabilities. Accessed 29 Jan. 2024.

2 Coombes, Hannah. “Intersectionality 101: What Is It and Why Is It Important?” Womankind Worldwide, 15 Oct. 2020, www.womankind.org.uk/intersectionality-101-what-is-it-and-why-is-it-important. Accessed 29 Jan. 2024.

3 “Commemorating 30 Years of the Americans with Disabilities Act.” U.S. Department of Labor, www.dol.gov/agencies/odep/ada30/timeline. Accessed 29 Jan. 2024.

4 “Data Spotlight: Employment of Women with Disabilities in Skilled Trade Professions.” U.S. Department of Labor Blog, 21 Mar. 2023, blog.dol.gov/2023/03/21/data-spotlight-employment-of-women-with-disabilities-in-skilled-trade-professions.

5 McDiarmid, Carrly. “Earnings pay gap among persons with and without disabilities.” Statistics Canada, 27 June 2023, www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/pub/89-654-x/89-654-x2023002-eng.htm.

6 “Costs and Benefits of Accommodation” JAN (Job Accommodation Network), 4 May 2023, askjan.org/topics/costs.cfm.

7 Bonaccio, Silvia, et al. “The Participation of People with Disabilities in the Workplace Across the Employment Cycle: Employer Concerns and Research Evidence.” Journal of Business and Psychology, vol. 35, 2020, pp. 135–158, link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10869-018-9602-5#citeas. Accessed 29 Jan. 2024.

8 “Facts and figures: Women and girls with disabilities.” UN Women, www.unwomen.org/en/what-we-do/women-and-girls-with-disabilities/facts-and-figures. Accessed 29 Jan. 2024.

9 Emerson, Eric. “Loneliness, social support, social isolation, and wellbeing among working-age adults with and without disability: Cross-sectional study.” National Library of Medicine, 5 Aug 2020, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7403030/. Accessed 29 Jan. 2024.

10 “Women and Girls with Disabilities.” Human Rights Watch, www.hrw.org/legacy/women/disabled.html. Accessed 29 Jan. 2024.