An Exploration of Gender and Disability in the Workplace

Wright, Gemma Louise (2015). An Exploration of Gender and Disability in the Workplace. MRes thesis The Open University.



Intro: Intersectionality argues that individuals who have multiple minority identities, such as gender and disability, have been found to experience unique difficulties in socio-cultural environments, such as employment. Statistics show that women with disabilities have been found to experience more difficulties in securing employment and more disadvantages once in employment compared to non-disabled women. This study aims to further our understanding of the intersection between gender and disability in terms of both recruitment and mainstream employment in the United Kingdom.

Method: This cross sectional, qualitative study was based on semi-structured interviews with seven women, who had various physical disabilities and had experience of various types of mainstream employment.

Findings: Thematic analysis identified numerous themes based on the experiences discussed in the interview data:
1) discrimination in recruitment processes,
2) career changes as a result of individual impairments,
3) accessibility to work environment, and
4) support, which was a central theme to emerge split between: a) support given which included accommodations and co-worker support, and b) support needed which centralised on the current lack of understanding and empathy the disabled women experienced in employment.

Discussion: The specific work environment can impact on the type of experiences disabled women face and the difficulties experienced resulted from a combination of accessibility issues, lack of support and the limitations of the women’s disabilities. Difficulties attributed to disabilities in the workplace were found to be enhanced by experiences specific to women, such as pregnancy. Conclusion: Overall, it appears that although there is evidence that the intersection of disabled women’s combined identities affected their experiences, disability was arguably the more salient identity. Furthermore, it appears that the disabled women's self-identity was often in conflict with projected stereotypical social-identities, especially in certain socio-cultural employment environments. Career changes due to impairment, accessibility to workplace and a lack of support were the most shared experiences across the interviews.

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