Who Am I?

Differences Make a Difference—Part I Women are not all the same. I write and give talks about women in organizations, but I know that generalizations about women are inaccurate. Of course, we are all different, but I agree with Joyce K. Fletcher and other researcherswho say we also have experiences in common as women in organizations. I believe we may all benefit from better understanding our commonalities as well as our differences. However, it’s complicated. Our individual experiences in organizations are influenced by how gender interacts with race, class, ethnicity, level of employment, sexual orientation, nationality, and even personal history—just to name a few possible variables. One concept that has helped me visualize the ways all these differences interact is the metaphor of a hologram or prism offered by Evangelina Holvino, a scholar on this topic. Holvino suggests that we imagine a prism with gender at the core and many intersecting sides representing race, class, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and nationality. The prism is transparent, and as we turn it we see not only all the differences simultaneously but also each angle displaying a particular combination. Placing gender at the core helps us focus on how gender influences many of our experiences in organizations. Gender is central, according to Dr. D. Lynn O’Brien Hallstein, because “women have been systematically devalued and excluded in all capitalist patriarchal systems.” Rotating the prism can help us explain ourselves to others and understand one another. For example, to tell you more about who I am, I would rotate the prism to focus on aspects besides gender that are important for you to know about me:

  • I am a white woman.
  • I am in my 60s (but see myself as about 45).
  • I am Jewish.
  • I am upper middle-class.
  • I recently lost my mother.
I can describe myself in many more ways: For example, my grandparents were immigrants. I am a heterosexual. Different aspects of my prism come into focus at different times. I rotate my prism to convey what’s important to me and where my sensitivities might be at any particular time. Why is this important? Placing gender at the core of our identity has value because gender connects many of our shared experiences in organizations. The paradox is that we cannot truly connect around a shared identity as women until we can also understand and acknowledge our individual differences. The place to start is with understanding ourselves. What facets of your prism are most important for someone to perceive to understand who you are?]]>

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