Silo-busting, take two

In my last post, I wrote about the regrettable tendency to act as though older people and people with disabilities form two separate groups. When groups within companies don’t share information or knowledge, it’s called a “silo mentality.” It reduces efficiency and compromises the culture. Siloing is just as damaging in the social justice sphere, where it fosters disconnection and marginalization.

Swapping silos for intersectionality

The antidote is to think and act intersectionally—a clumsy word for a powerful idea. Black feminist Kimberlé Crenshaw coined the term intersectionality in the 1970s, to address the ways that different forms of oppression—like racism, sexism and ageism— interact and combine to undermine us all. It’s also a way of thinking about the relationship between identity and power: how people and institutions use identity—old, for example, or disabled, or fat, or Muslim, or crazy—to withhold or confer advantage. In Crenshaw’s words, in an article called “Why Intersectionality Can’t Wait,” “intersectionality isn’t just about identities—race, gender, class—but about the institutions that use identity to exclude and privilege.”

These relationships explain why the poorest of the poor, everywhere in the world, are old women of color. Add disability to the mix, and vulnerability increases even more. It’s why, as Crenshaw wrote, “We simply do not have the luxury of building social movements that are not intersectional, nor can we believe we are doing intersectional work just by saying words.”

Many humanitarian efforts leave people with disabilities behind.

A vivid example came my way this week in an eloquent article by Kate Bunting, the CEO of HelpAge USA called “Putting inclusion into practice.” A term that came out of disability rights, inclusion means giving people with disabilities (PWD) full access to society, whether by providing closed captions or building wheelchair ramps or simply inviting PWD into the conversation.  Inclusion is core to HelpAge’s mission to improve the lives of the world’s poorest olders, and Bunting wants it to be a mainstream humanitarian priority.

We’re not there yet, because we don’t collect much information on older people and what data we do collect isn’t broken down by age or disability. Without data, we can’t design programs with those populations in mind. “What this translates to in practice,” she writes, “are distribution centers reachable only by those who can walk there; food only for those capable of digesting it; and emergency warnings understood only by those who can see and hear.” During wartime or emergencies, this makes PWD, many of whom are older, the last to receive resources and the first to die.

The global discussion of gender-based violence omits older women.

Guess who else is underrepresented in data collection? Older women (because they face both sexism and ageism—hello, intersectionality). “Women over 50 have long been ignored both statistically and anecdotally —as if there is a magical age that means a woman is no longer vulnerable to violence and discrimination,” writes Bunting in another powerful post called “#MeToo has no age limit.” No longer reproductively useful, women over 49 are systematically excluded from studies of gender-based violence and health. Again, the lack of information makes it impossible to create interventions that address their needs, even though violence against older women— physical, sexual, and emotional—is an urgent health and human-rights issue. As Bunting points out, women over 50 make up nearly a quarter of women around the world, their share of the population will only grow, and many live in developing countries where social or legal recourse is inadequate or nonexistent.

Governments and organizations are beginning to heed this HelpAge call: “Remember to include older women. Remember them in your work. Remember them in your policy objectives. Remember them in your development programming,” Bunting writes. “They have said, ‘Me too.’ We just haven’t been able to hear them because we never asked.”

None of us are free until all of us are free.

What can the rest of us do? Bust out of our silos. Ask honestly whether we’ve been reaching out to those with less privilege, to people who don’t look like us, or live far away, or don’t seem to have much in common with us. At heart, there’s only “us.” I used to say that ageism was the only form of discrimination that affects everyone, but in fact all oppression burdens us all. Like the T-shirt says, “None of us are free until all of us are free.”

A movement against ageism is underway. If we want it to leave no one out—to be genuinely inclusive—it has to engage people at the margins of society, the ones whom people in power deliberately overlook because they can get away with it. It’s no surprise that queer women of color are leading the charge. They’re the ones, in the words of Rutgers professor Brittney Cooper, “who meld race, gender and queer politics into an expansive, inclusive, and just vision of the world.” That world is better for all of us. It’s the world I want to inhabit and that I’m learning to work towards. As a white woman of privilege not used to abandoning her comfort zone, I have a long way to go.


One thought on “Silo-busting, take two

  1. Your comments are spot on. Silos are also an example of dysfunctionality aiding institutional blind eyes
    Further to ageism is age discrimination and consumers using the financial industry to try to build up nest eggs for later years and a failure to recognize discriminatory practices and policies systemically endoursed by the very oversight who are supposed to police or provide restitution for wronged consumer investors. If you google a US article about how minsorites are discriminated against by the banks and financial industry. You will find similar patterns for those using the services to tery to build up nest eggs for their later years re fe drain high fees, subpar services and problematic terms of engagement signed before consumers can even open accounts to invest eaerly and often
    The harm accumulates over time (rather than a one time hit by a frauster which is devastating in itself.
    The only reason to use banks or stand alone financial service providers by retail investors is to build up nest eggs for their later years and to unbundle assets accumulated over a life time to top up government pensions…in Caanada the banks have a huge footprint in the securities industry but our regulatory oversight turn a blind eye to many protocols that are very harmful financially in impact to retail and their financial security later in life..and entities like ont securities commission fcac simply shoehorm oversight to funded by industry parties like obsi and iiroc who do nt screen for discriminatory practices let alone for many areas of non compliance they are supposed to per their own laws…but cherry pick….there are many types of discrimination involved here and different contextual situations apart from employment eg contracts and service providers….
    So in addition to the emotion harm and lack of adequate protection freom oversight there are real financial consequence. And this interplays with other protected grounds such as gender and race. Which given increasing longevity and dwindling defined benefit indexed pension plans mean you will see real poverty in seniors despite their best effort growing. It is already showing up at food banks
    These people saved early and often and are not dumb but are labelled as such
    To use another example re the sears wind down in Canada. Former employees not only have had their health care benefits uct off. But must stand in line behind all ther secured creditos before they get to pick over the remains. Which means like Rosa Parks in the Jim Crowe era and our Viola desmond…the laws sanction this type of discrimination (age is a ground as much as race and gender etc)
    Further our laws allow underfunding of pensions. In Ontario it is 85 percent is the benchmark to meet. How is this any different from gender wage gap. And compounding financial insecurity later in life….so it goes way beyond emotional…just as it does when you study financial and career outcomes for race for an example. And it astarts as soon as a person opens an account to investor for when they are older….but the impact is only felt just at the point the persaon turns to their nest egg and discovers it won’t last as long as they need it to because the banking industry has their fingers picking through. There is no way a more informed entity lije our CPP or OAS would find this acceptable nor a large fund like teacher pension. If faced with the same subpar services fes and other headwind that retail have to use then just how robust would their pension funds be. I wanted to draw this to your attention

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