10/18/23 · Law

According to a research project, Spain's Equal Treatment Law does not provide enough tools to combat the discrimination and vulnerability experienced by women at work

Creating equality plans from an intersectional perspective would increase social justice and allow companies to harness the full potential of their female employees
Ten steps to create equality plans from an intersectional perspective
uoc researcher fabio zamarreño analyzed more than 50 equality plans

UOC researcher Fabio Zamarreño analyzed more than 50 equality plans (photo: Cowomen / unsplash.com)

Foreign women, racialized women, unemployed women, homosexual women, women living in rural Spain and women with disabilities. The list is long, and yet many Spanish equality policies and instruments treat women as a single entity that fails to represent the enormous amount of diversity in society.

This is the premise behind A veces pienso que no encuentro mi lugar: Propuesta para el análisis y la incorporación de una perspectiva interseccional en los planes de igualdad de género [Sometimes I think I can't find my place: A proposal for the analysis and introduction of an intersectional perspective in gender equality plans], the doctoral thesis written by Fabio Zamarreño Méndez, a course instructor for the University Master's Degree in Human Resources Management and the University Master's Degree in Political Analysis at the Universitat Oberta de Catalunya (UOC). The thesis was co-supervised by Milagros Sáinz, leader of the Gender and ICT (GenTIC) research group at the UOC's Internet Interdisciplinary Institute (IN3).

Zamarreño's thesis analyses the employment situation of foreign, racialized and lesbian women, as well as women with disabilities, in the province of Barcelona. In addition, it examines the presence of intersectionality in academic literature, legislation and equality plans. Finally, it proposes a way to create equality plans using a multidimensional approach so that they consider the specific vulnerabilities and needs of all women.

Intersectionality: a key approach

The term "intersectionality" is used to describe an analytical approach whereby factors such as poverty, ethnicity, social class and sexual orientation are understood to play an interrelated part in systemic inequalities and social injustice, such as gender inequality.

However, according to Zamarreño, the equality plans in the province of Barcelona fall short in this respect. None of them includes a robust approach to intersectionality, and the legislation fails to provide tools or aids for organizations to do so themselves. This leaves a void in the academic, legislative and organizational spheres.

Zamarreño said: "Only a small group of women benefit from the improvements made by workplace equality plans. Besides, women are treated as a single, unreal and abstract entity that in no way represents the immense diversity of working women."

He added: "Other forms of discrimination or hardships that intersect with womanhood are left out and there are no tools to address them. This prevents working women from developing their full potential and companies from finding the talent they need. It is a breach of social justice and has a negative impact on the well-being of most women in organizations."

According to Zamarreño, the publication of Spain's comprehensive Law 15/2022, of 12 July, on equal treatment and non-discrimination was a major step forward for equality plans compared to before. However, he argues that it does not provide enough tools for companies to make changes that truly take into account all the situations of discrimination and vulnerability that affect women.

He said: "This legal framework not only mentions intersectionality, but explains the concept in considerable detail, which is a huge step forward and confirms my thesis that this notion is going to shape the future of equality laws and policies. However, the conclusion I've drawn from my analysis of this law is that it does not provide the necessary tools to implement such a complex concept. This leaves companies at a loss, especially smaller companies that lack the material and human resources needed to carry out initiatives like this, as they are usually focused on their own survival in today's ever-hostile economic landscape."

Moving towards an intersectional approach

For his thesis, Zamarreño analysed a sample of 52 equality plans in the province of Barcelona. Only one mentioned intersectionality at all, and "only theoretically in the introduction". Another four had data broken down by gender and nationality or disability, but did not present an intersectional perspective.

Zamarreño said: "None of the equality plans had comprehensively or consistently applied an intersectional perspective, which runs in stark contrast to the fact that the 2022 Equal Treatment Law urges them to do so. The disconnect between the two realities is evident. Creating a plan that unravels the full complexity of people is difficult and requires substantial financial and human resources, which is perhaps why there have been no serious attempts to address the issue so far in Spain."

Ten ways to reduce the vulnerability of women in the workplace

To move forward in this direction, Zamarreño studied the employment situation of foreign, racialized and lesbian women, as well as women with disabilities, in the province of Barcelona and developed a process for creating equality plans from an intersectional perspective. Below are ten of the measures he considers necessary to meet the needs expressed by the thirty women and six human resource managers that he interviewed:

  • 1. Create a harassment protocol that provides for an aggravating circumstance in cases where people are in a situation of particular vulnerability.
  • 2. Penalize the sexualization of any person, as well as the exoticization of migrants and racialized people.
  • 3. Set up programmes to promote sisterhood among diverse women, such as the employee resource groups in the United Kingdom and the United States.
  • 4. Enable language courses for migrants, and validate the studies of overqualified foreign people more efficiently.
  • 5. Ensure that different types of women are represented across all work areas, not just in the most precarious and manual jobs, such as cleaning and care work.
  • 6. Run empowerment programmes that help the most vulnerable women to recognize their potential, especially women with disabilities.
  • 7. Create an inclusive written and visual language that features women of diverse backgrounds, and draw attention to them so that they may serve as role models for younger generations.
  • 8. Provide spaces for LGBTI visibility and for people with disabilities.
  • 9. Make improvements in the area of work-life balance, as the most vulnerable women struggle the most in this regard.
  • 10. Ensure that all employees are aware of the equality plan.

Zamarreño's proposal focuses on the intersection of vulnerabilities that affect the greatest number of people: gender, race or ethnicity, place of origin, disability and homosexuality. However, he calls for further research into as many vulnerabilities as possible, as well as the creation of equality plans that cover all the needs of the working population.

More specifically, he said: "People from rural areas, older people, trans people, people with mental disorders, people from disadvantaged social classes, people at risk of socio-economic exclusion or from single-parent families, among many others who experience serious employment difficulties."

Improvements on the horizon

Improving the conditions of women in vulnerable situations is impactful in numerous ways, including socially and economically. Treating these women with organizational fairness would mean a friendlier and more competitive business environment. Among other things, it would prevent situations involving physical and verbal violence, absences from work, lower employee productivity and issues that make it impossible for employees to work as a team.

Zamarreño said: "If we want a society and workplaces that are fair, equitable, and where all people have equal opportunities, we certainly need to implement an intersectional perspective in our equality plans. We mustn't overlook the talent of all these women whose needs are currently unknown and who are therefore unable to perform at their best."

Creating equality plans from an intersectional perspective would also mean bringing greater attention to those who live in situations of inequality and promoting cultural change. What do these women need in order to improve their situation? According to Zamarreño, they first and foremost need to be taken into account.

He said: "First, they need to be asked about their situation. Second, they need to be listened to; the academic, legislative and organizational systems need to consider what they have to say. Finally, they need their vulnerability to be explained and respected and resources to be allocated in a way that allows organizations to embrace intersectionality for themselves. And, as with almost everything else, there needs to be a will to treat this issue as a priority."

This UOC research project supports United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) 5, Gender Equality and 8, Decent Work and Economic Growth.


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The UOC's research and innovation (R&I) is helping overcome pressing challenges faced by global societies in the 21st century by studying interactions between technology and human & social sciences with a specific focus on the network society, e-learning and e-health.

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