Working in unprecedented times: Intersectionality and women of color in UK higher education in and beyond the pandemic

Mwenza Blell, Shan Jan Sarah Liu*, Audrey Verma

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated existing inequalities and inequities. Injustices within the labor market mean that the lives particularly of women of color have been negatively affected by the crisis in multiple ways. Guided by standpoint epistemology, we take an intersectional approach and use autoethnographic methods in which we draw on our personal experiences within the United Kingdom's higher education institutions during the pandemic. We illustrate how institutional decisions, approaches, and policies enacted in the wake of COVID-19 exacerbate inequalities and inequities. Three themes stand out from our experiences: (1) meritocracy and the problem of cumulative (dis)advantage, (2) the lack of racial awareness in management decisions, and (3) the operations of power and silencing. We show that universities justify decisions by deploying discourses of meritocracy and ignoring context and the ways women of color staff are persistently disadvantaged due to structural racism and sexism. We find that universities are likely to indicate that their response policies treat all staff absolutely equally without candidly assessing the intersectional impacts of the pandemic on minority staff, which consequently prevent the achievement of equity. We also describe the ways in which the pandemic exposes cultures of institutional silence and silencing when women of color speak up. We conclude with glimpses of hope for resisting the downward pressures of the pandemic crisis toward cultivating more equitable futures.

Original languageEnglish
JournalGender, Work and Organization
Early online date21 Oct 2022
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 21 Oct 2022

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • covid-19
  • higher education
  • intersectionality
  • race
  • United Kingdom


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