Tag Archives: Intersectional Money

How Disableism Has Affected My Finances

In honor of Autism Acceptance Month, Femme Frugality is running a series of Monday articles focusing on the triumphs and challenges autistic people conquer as related to their finances and careers. Today I’m so happy to introcude to you Kristine–a Norwegian money blogger at ecoFrugals–who is here to give us first-hand perspective on what it’s like to face disableism in the workplace as an autistic woman.

Didn't realize autistic people faced so many barriers to entry in the workplace! Passing on to my HR rep so my employer can be more aware of these issues.

Hi, there! My name is Kristine, and I mostly write about frugality, sustainability and personal finance over at ecofrugals.com. I am also autistic–diagnosed in my early twenties with what was then known as Asperger’s. A classic middle child in many ways, my two siblings demanded attention, so my parents were overjoyed to have a child who mostly sat in a corner reading books or solving jigsaw puzzles.

When Femme approached me about writing a post for Autism appreciation month, I was honoured. I had recently written a post about autism and personal finance, but to be honest, I also felt a bit apprehensive. As I do whenever I poke my head out about my diagnosis. I was only diagnosed as an adult, after all. My condition was not such that it warranted special education or speech training.

Still, my experience is also a valid one, so here follows some of my experiences regarding disableism.

Getting A Foot Inside

It starts with the most obvious yet insidious of adult milestones: Getting a job.

I had done “everything right.” At least as far as I understood it. Society and my family told me school was important, so I attended school. They told me science was a safe profession (they were non-specific as to what kind of science), so I studied science. Environmental chemistry, to be specific.

I was told my degree was highly relevant and sought after–it had been requested by the industry after all–and I had several relevant internships. I had followed the rules. Surely, a meaningful job would follow?

That is not what happened.

Privilege & Disableism

While the job market is challenging for everyone at the moment, it is even more so for people with disabilities. I am privileged in that I am white and educated, but lack privilege in that I am autistic.

It can manifest in multiple ways. For instance, my thinking can be rigid. I have internalised that lying is bad, so I do not embellish my CV. In a world where “everyone” embellishes their CV to get ahead, this puts me at a disadvantage before it even gets to the interview.

Once at the interview, if I am lucky enough to get one, there is the risk that I might come off as a little off. No matter how much I practice social skills, I still struggle in high-stress situations with unexpected questions.

In many ways, disableism means I have had to accept that I am never the preferred candidate, unless the job involves a windowless archive with near-zero social interactions (in which case you’re probably one of the only qualified candidates).

No Data, No Answer

As an example of this, I once dropped a grade at an oral maths examination, because the teacher wanted me to calculate the weight of the air in the classroom.

I told him I did not know the weight of a cubic meter of air, and asked if he could provide an estimate. He told me to guess.

I had absolutely no frame of reference for how much a cubic meter of air weighs. I had no way to guess. He insisted I guessed, and I told him I could not. I could have calculated the volume of the air in the classroom if that was what he wanted, but the way he framed the question meant I was missing a variable, and that made me shut down.

That is how my mind works. Trying to “help” me in quiz or Trivia Pursuit just annoys me. I either know, or I don’t.

Keeping Your Financial House in Order

Nearly four years after graduating top of my class, I still do not have a permanent position. People seem to like me just fine, and they compliment my work, but I lack that knack for “chit-chat” and water-cooler talk that makes for great networking. People bring their newborn in to work and I try to compliment them as protocol dictates, but really, I just want to know if they’ve had time to look at x and y work-related subjects yet.

This means I do not feel financially secure in my employment. I hoard savings for the next time a contract will expire and I’ll be back hunting for jobs. In the end, I realised that I would never feel safe with someone else in charge of my paycheck. If I wanted financial peace, I would have to build it for myself.

If you are disabled in some way, but do not receive social benefits, you’ll know exactly what I mean. If you don’t look out for your own financial well-being, no one else will.

Note from Femme: In the US, if you are disabled and receive social benefits, the government hardly watches out for your financial well-being. Only recently have ABLE accounts allowed disabled populations to save without losing benefits. Other countries have more logical and less discriminatory social policies.

Oh, Brother of Mine

Mine is the story of autism from a highly educated and reasonably observant point of view.

My brother, on the other hand, might fit better into a different autistic stereotype. He lives a lot in his own world, doesn’t get the greatest grades, and really just wants to get on with his own life as a factory worker somewhere with rigid routines, playing video games at night and minimum amounts of fuss.

He is generous to a fault. More than once has he spent all his pocket money on gifts and tokens of affection, giving no regard to the fact that he has to eat tomorrow as well.

And I see the same struggles as he is trying his best to get a job. When and if he manages to get an interview, he is honest to a fault, and does not understand that an interview is a place to show off your best qualities.

I do hope he gets a job eventually. He may not be the most independent, but once you teach him something, he will work until you or the clock tell him to stop. In the right environment, he will be a great asset.

Just Pull Yourself Together

Probably one of the most hurtful comments to anyone with a disability–mental or physical–is the idea that it is all just in our heads, and that we can simply imagine away our obstacles with enough willpower.

If you feed off social interaction and feel invigorated at parties, that’s both incredible and alien to me. But please don’t try to assume I can do the same if I just “loosen up” or “let myself go.”

Social interactions with more than the select few people I feel comfortable with, can and will exhaust me. The office Christmas or summer party is my idea of a special hell, and no amount of practice can remedy that.

Act Natural

On a lighter note, I would suggest not trying to tell autistic people to “act natural” or to “be themselves.”

That might work for you, but myself and the other autistic people I’ve met laugh at this notion.

Acting natural for an autistic person might be sitting naked on the floor (because clothes itch or feel weird,) eating jello (smooth texture) while rocking back and forth or groaning repeatedly (“stimming”–repetitive behaviour that calms your down or shows joy/excitement.)

Trust me, I do not act “natural” in public, and you’re probably glad I don’t.

How Can You Create A Safe Space?

If you are hosting or employing autistic staff, hooray! Here are some easy tips to make them feel welcome and safe:

  • Make sure there is a retreat option. A place where we can be alone if we need a break. For most, this can simply be a bathroom that locks.
  • Many autistic people struggle with physical touch and eye-contact. Please do not force this.
  • Do not assume anything is “common knowledge.” I can’t tell you how many times I’ve made an ass of myself because no one thought to teach me the most rudimentary of behaviour.
  • Many autistic people appreciate honest, clear feedback on social mishaps. If you are in a position of trust, this could be relevant, but make sure it is in private and unambiguous: “Please welcome clients with a firm handshake,” (and then show them) not; “You’re greeting people a bit weird.”
  • If they want their work space organised a specific way, does it hurt anyone if you let them?
  • Educating yourself is great, but take the time to get to know the person in front of you as well. Meeting one autistic person means exactly that. You’ve met just one.
  • And please, do not make a public point out of behaviour you might find weird or if we excuse ourselves early. It’s not you–it’s us.

Overcoming Financial Obstacles as a Black Woman

Today I am so happy to welcome Chonce Maddox of My Debt Epiphany for our next installment of the Intersectional Women’s Finances Series. Today Chonce will share with us her experiences with finances as a black woman in America, including overcoming generational poverty and combating the wage gap–twice.

As a black woman in America, there are so many financial obstacles. Love how she overcame so many!

Growing up I was always told that I had to work twice as hard and be twice as good in order to be successful.

As a black woman in America, I learned about racism, stereotypes, and this nation’s horrific past as I aged.

I never thought much about how being a black woman affects my finances until I started becoming more conscious about improving my financial situation.

Getting Hit Double Time By The Wage Gap

The gender wage gap is something I used to pretend didn’t exist. When I entered the workforce, I didn’t like to talk about money or earnings as I thought it was unprofessional.

When I got a job, I didn’t negotiate or even question my starting rate because I didn’t want to be seen as greedy or unappreciative of the opportunity.

Then I read this statistic and realized that there’s a minority wage gap as well:

According to a study conducted by the American Association of University Women (AAUW), black women made 62% for what non-Hispanic white men were paid in 2018. This means that it can take a black woman nearly 8 extra months to be paid what the average white man earns.

When I landed my first job out of college, I started out earning $28,000 per year. I was the only woman in the office. Even though I liked my boss and he seemed fair, I couldn’t bring myself to ask my white male coworkers what they were earning to see if I was being compensated fairly.

Instead, I made sure I spoke up for myself and earned my worth. Each year, my boss gave each employee an annual review and offered a pay raise.

I made sure I came prepared to negotiate a higher hourly rate each year.

What Would Be At Stake If I Settle For Low Wages

The gender and racial pay gap is messed up no doubt. But I know I can’t sit around not doing anything about it. I choose to speak up, back up my claims, and demand what I’m worth.

Now that I work for myself, I have the freedom to charge clients whatever I want. Sometimes, it feels super awkward to ask for a raise or raise my rates, but I know it’s the right thing to do as the cost of living and inflation goes up every year.

It was also a mindset shift I had to make. I knew that if I didn’t start earning more, I would never break out of generational poverty.

My parents grew up in the inner city. Their parents didn’t have any wealth and couldn’t afford to send them to college so they didn’t go.

My parents did a great job raising me as best as they could. But they worked blue collar jobs and couldn’t afford to financially fund a college education for my sisters and me as well.

Honestly, I wasn’t expecting a full free ride to college but some savings would have been helpful. Instead, I knew I’d have to take out student loans. I was fine with it and knew it was necessary if I wanted to take a different approach to getting ahead.

For minority groups with low wages, I feel like so much is at stake. For starters, it’s harder to save and invest when you aren’t earning as much as a man or someone as a different race.

If you choose to go to college, you’ll likely have to take out student loans and it will be harder to pay them back upon graduation due to your low wages.

Having low wages and taking longer to build wealth will really slow things down in terms of getting your nest egg in order and leaving something behind for your children to build on.

Just look at how the average African-American household’s net worth compares to other races.

More Stress, More Work

In terms of black culture, it’s common for women to juggle household tasks, raise children, and maintain a full-time job (if not 2 jobs).

Both my mother and mother-in-law work two jobs. I did, too, at one point. This is not specific to African Americans alone or even women for that matter, but it is more likely.

According to research from the National Institutes of Health, historically, the labor force participation of Black women has been higher and more stable than that of White women.

This doesn’t mean that black women are earning more, but it can mean more stress. According to the study, black women have not reached economic equity with other ethnic/gender groups and tend to be more stressed as a result of the burden.

As a former single mom, I can relate to that stress. However, knowing these statistics and deciding to do something about it is what has allowed me to propel forward.

I know I’m at a disadvantage and the odds are stacked up against me. There’s the gender and race wage gap along with discrimination in the workplace.

However, I believe that there is more than one way to reach success. If I can’t get in by the front door, I’ll try the back door or the window. There are still many career-fields and opportunities for black women to succeed and improve their finances and I hope to explore more of them.

Chonce is a personal finance blogger and freelance writer who enjoys sharing debt stories (as she and her husband work their way out of $40,000 in debt) along with talking about saving, budgeting, conscious spending and improving your financial house. In her spare time,she enjoys working out, playing sports with her son, cooking, and thrifting.

Stranger in My Native Land: Asian American Money

Today, Revanche of A Gai Shan Life  joins us for our weekly Friday series on women’s money issues in honor of Women’s Money Week, which will take place January 1-7, 2017. Revanche covers the xenophobia and racism she has encountered in her lifetime as it pertains to her finances as an Asian-American woman.

Please use the hashtag #WMWeek17 when sharing this story.

I never would have thought of the ways that prejudice can make Asian-American women feel like strangers in their native country--especially financially.

Stranger in a Strange Land: My Native Country

As a first generation American, I see my home country through different eyes than most. Not because I don’t consider myself American. Of course I am, as much as anyone who isn’t a First Nation native can be – I was born here, a natural citizen.

But I have dark eyes, dark hair, dark skin and no nose bridge to speak of, so the correct answer to “where are you from?” can be Japan, The Philippines, China, Cambodia–anywhere but here. California, or Los Angeles, are unacceptable answers. I can’t be from here. I’m not white.

Why does this matter? In some cases, it makes no difference. What harm do I suffer if the cabbie wonders if I’m from that one country he visited, or the other country whose cuisine he likes?


In most other cases, however, it matters a great deal, indeed.

The Financial Costs of Being a Target

It matters when you’re a target to profit from, based on your race. I saw this play out most immediately with Mom and had to get involved at a very early age. Her accent meant that vendors would dismiss her, disregard their own policies, overcharge, and fail to deliver. She had an accent and that made her stupid and unimportant, they decided.

Angry and frustrated sitting beside her listening in to one such conversation, I got on the phone, all of 9 years old but speaking in English unaccented, demanding that they honor the agreed-upon terms. Magically their inability to do so melted away. From then on, I made the phone calls, whether to renegotiate contracts, dispute billing errors or just to get simple information.

Being an Asian-American Woman in the Workplace

It matters when you hear and understand anti-immigrant rhetoric–when you realize that white or European immigrants are now acceptable, but the people who look like me or my friends are “immigrants taking the good jobs.” No matter that I’ve been a star in the workplace since I was 17; to those people, my race and my skin color define me, not my professionalism, work ethic or performance.

As Taylor pointed out, it’s tough enough to make it in the workplace as a woman with the wage gap. As a woman of color, racial stereotypes further impacts your ability to earn a living. So it matters a great deal when employers and colleagues consider you a “minority quota hire” on sight.

It matters when your first manager has a (well-known, internally) obsession with Asian women so his hires were dismissed as objects of his obsession. Work performance made no difference; they couldn’t earn raises or promotions because they were hired based on their appearance–nothing more–so far as the management was concerned.

A Long Way to Go to Eradicate Racism, Xenophobia and Prejudice

Twenty years later, the racism we face is still astonishing. Not more than a year ago, we were calling a mechanic’s shop regarding services and the shop owner declared he wouldn’t help people with accents. We don’t have accents, but he was suspicious and wanted to be sure, you see, that he wouldn’t have to deal with a lesser form of American. “Those people”, he calls them.

My white friends rallied to the cause, of course, offering to call him with their Canadian, British, Australian, and Scottish accents.

My perceived youth, completely normal for an Asian, still comes up when my performance is evaluated, more than my results. I still have to jump through more hoops than any other manager to ensure that I’m being taken seriously as a professional because my years aren’t worn on my face.

I am always mindful of the active racism that lingers in many fellow citizens when I look out for our money. I always get a second and third quote for services.

I’m not bitter about my particular journey, but I am frustrated that this is all old hat. I’m frustrated that my child will also be held up to a standard that takes into consideration zir racial appearance first, zir skills and results second–or last.

It’s not just Asian Americans

Despite all the barriers I’ve faced, the level of racism that I encounter on a daily basis is mild. Asians are the “model minority” so we don’t come in for the same degree of hate that other non-white minorities experience. We’re dismissed, demeaned, underestimated. But we’re considered harmless in the end. If you’re Hispanic or black, you always have to appear calm and collected, otherwise you’re a harridan or an angry Black woman.

I don’t have to imagine what it’s like to be them, I hear their stories and, to this day, I can only shake my head when people declare that we’re post-racism. The recent election, and the surge in hate for Jews and minorities since, clearly points up the fact that many Americans are in favor of racism.

Racism isn’t limited to the white residents of this country, of course, I’ve witnessed racism between non-white races, towards one another, and that also contributes to the wider harms done to our fellow citizens.

Xenophobia and racism are complex issues in this country and it’s critical to know that they are both present in the structure of this country.

It’s critical to know that people who object to hiring for diversity, stating they shouldn’t have to “lower standards,” are telling us what they believe: only a heterosexual white male can meet standards because that is the standard. Not skills, not experience, but race and sex. Anyone else, therefore, is naturally lowering the standard.

It’s critical to know that minority, women, disabled, LGBTQIA, any otherwise not standard issue white male candidates do indeed have the necessary talents and skills necessary to do the job. It’s our job to remove artificial barriers to finding them when you recruit new hires.

It’s critical to know that we have to actively dismantle our biases that point to hiring the people who look the same or fit the same “culture”, that manages to consistently avoid admitting minorities beyond the token woman, or token Asian, or token Black man, that consistently builds and maintains racist structures in which managers can refer to their colleagues as racial slurs.

These are complex issues. I can hardly do them justice here, but they’re worthwhile to tackle.

This country was built on the bones of Natives, with the blood of immigrants, and we must grow beyond what and where we are.

We have to start somewhere. We can’t avoid it simply because we aren’t able to solve it overnight.

Lived Experience, Bravery and Fear

Today, Taylor Milam  joins us for our weekly Friday series on women’s money issues in honor of Women’s Money Week, which will take place January 1-7, 2017. Taylor’s story reminds us that financial decisions aren’t always about math—there’s a lot more to life than numeric calculations.

Please use the hashtag #WMWeek17 when sharing this story.

Wow, I love how she shares her experience as an LGBTQ+ woman through the lens of lived experience.

When I think about my relationship with money, there are a lot of things that come to mind—my relationship with my parents, feelings about myself and what I “deserve,” my career path and the people I love. What I don’t often think about, though, is the fact that I’m in a same-sex relationship.

But the truth is that it’s all connected. Who we are—our family, our history, our relationships and our health all interconnect with our money. In some ways, they are irrevocably combined. But despite the interconnectivity, there are some things that are impossible to quantify or explain with numbers.

Personal Finances as a Woman in a Same-Sex Relationship

According to the statistics I can tell you that my partner and I will each earn $1 million less than our male counterparts. I can also tell you that because we are in a relationship with each other (two women,) the gender wage gap will doubly affect us and we will not be able to “earn” back part of the difference in pay from a male partner.

I can also tell you that even though it’s cheaper, it often feels (and actually is) more difficult and unsafe to live in a small, rural town when you’re gay. My $1500 one-bedroom apartment in Southern California would cost me $470 in Wichita, Kansas and $750 in Louisville, Kentucky.

But what I can’t adequately tell you is what it’s like to be stared at and jeered at when you walk down the street with the person you love. I can’t explain what it’s like to be fearful that your relationship status could cost you your job. I can’t assign a value to those experiences and worries.

Making Choices Contextualized by Lived Experience

In many ways, it is impossible to quantify the experience of being gay.

It’s an experience that I’ve struggled to write about because I’m not sure what to say. It’s not an experience that I chose, but it’s one that I live. In the same way that I can’t control where I was born or how I look, I can’t control who I fall in love with, but it’s a part of my life nonetheless.

My relationship is a beautiful part of my life that brings me more joy than is possible to explain, but it comes with a financial price. It comes with strategic choices about what to mention to colleagues, which neighborhoods are accepting and what cities would be welcoming to our future children.

But these financial choices aren’t based in numbers or facts. They are based on lived experience, bravery and fears.

And sometimes, those are the most important financial concepts to talk about…even if you’re not exactly sure what to say.

Heteronormativity at Work

Toxic workplaces present very real problems for employees. Discrimination based on your gender identity, gender, or sexual orientation can affect decisions to stay with an employer or leave, leading to an unnecessary loss of talent and productivity.

Here today to share her perspective is ZJ Thorne, a personal finance blogger and self-employed woman.

Heteronormativity at work is damaging and can lead to loss of talent.

Gentle Readers,

Heteronormativity impacts our work environments. It impacts your workers and friends. Many straight and cisgender people are not even aware it exists. Many LGBTQIA people buy into portions of it that serve their more mainstream lifestyle. Many LGBTQIA people buy into portions that harm other segments of our community.

A simple definition is in order and we’ll borrow from wikipedia, for simplicity’s sake, if you don’t mind. “Heteronormativity is the belief that people fall into distinct and complementary genders with natural roles in life. It assumes that heterosexuality is the only sexual orientation or only norm, and states that sexual and marital relations are most (or only) fitting between people of opposite sexes. Consequently, a “heteronormative” view is one that involves alignment of biological sex, sexuality, gender identity and gender roles.”

Many people think that sexuality has no place at work. It’s already there. Permeating everything. People wear wedding wings, talk about their spouses, have photos of their children, bring their spouses to work functions, discuss fertility issues and trying for a baby at work, etc. Human Resources wants to know your marital status to update your tax forms and potentially include your spouse and progeny on your health insurance and other benefits. When you name beneficiaries for your life insurance, you are showing who matters to you.

What they mean when they say sexuality has no place at work is that they do not want homosexuality mentioned at work. They mean they don’t want gender identity addressed at all. They are comfortable hearing women talk about how hot Channing Tatum is, but a woman mentioning how beautiful Michelle Carter’s powerful muscles are makes others uncomfortable. Best to say nothing, really.

Heteronormativity shames workers via dress codes and bathrooms. You may not even be hired because of your non-normative presentation. You may be called into HR because the unnecessarily gendered dress code specifies that men must wear a tie, but you are not a man. Your outfit is tailored, clean and well-pressed, but you are being different from other women and that makes HR uncomfortable. Your work product is stellar, but you make people uncomfortable.

You don’t even have to be out at work (many people are not) for heteronormativity to impact you.   You would not even have to come out if people would stop assuming your sexuality and gender identity and being wrong about it. Heteronormativity forces the closet on us and then demands that we correct their misconceptions.

“Up to 43% of LGBT employees say that they’ve experienced discrimination in the workplace because of their sexual preferences, even though 25% of them haven’t made their sexual preferences known.” via Brandon Gaille.

When you assume that people are straight and cisgender because they have said nothing on the matter, you are being heteronormative. You are also missing out on important information about people and their lives. You are making it awkward. Stop.

Companies Should Take Heteronormativity into Account

There are still no nationwide protections against LGBT discrimination at work. You can literally fire a person for discovering that they are transgender in most states. You can fire a person for being bisexual or asexual in most states. Your workers know this and are afraid. They are not able to relax, because they are not safe. One middle-manager who is homophobic can ruin their life and personal finances.

“For the Fortune 500 companies that have internal policies which forbid LGBT discrimination, 96% of them state that their workplace policies have led to greater productivity and a general increase in overall morale.” via Brandon Gaille.

Whether you realize it or not, sexualities and gender presentation are regulated by social norms and institutions. When you are congratulating a married heterosexual for their birth announcement, you are likely congratulating them for sexual activity. However, when a same-sex couple announces a pregnancy, the questions they receive are often inappropriate and invasive. You would never ask a straight woman how she got pregnant even though we know that IVF and sperm donors and infidelity are real sources of pregnancy. People ask gay women how they got the sperm. They ask about the donor. They ask if you slept with a man just once, since it’s the “easiest” way, you know. Har har.

There are benefits to employers to combating heteronormativity and making it safer for their LGBTQIA employees. In one five-year study, the results showed that employees working for out gay managers actually had 25% higher employee engagement. The study found that “Gay leaders value their employees as a whole, because they, themselves have experienced what it’s like to be judged for one thing, rather than valued for who you are.” via StartOut.

There are many LGBT entrepreneurs and they are doing what they can to protect their employees. According the National Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce Diversity Initiative, there are 896 certified LGBT businesses. There even are more businesses that have not gone through the certification process. The Diversity Initiative’s numbers go up every year.

“From 2005 to 2014 more than 1 million jobs created by LGBT entrepreneurs left discriminatory states in favor of inclusive states. Of those, 78 percent moved to California, New York and Illinois. States with policies unfriendly to the LGBT community lose many if not all of their nascent growth entrepreneurs.” via StartOut.

Heteronormativity and homophobia have existed in all but one work environment I have enjoyed. Even now, I have a coworker who corrects me when I mention my girlfriend. She literally interrupts me to say “your friend.” Seriously. I live in a relatively liberal area, but still get this disrespect of my relationship.

Tiring of the heteronormativity that told me that I was wrong and did not fit, I created my own business. This business serves the LGBTQIA community with knowledge and empathy. This business allows me to dress as a professional rather than as a professional woman. My job is losing a hard working intelligent woman with knowledge of their systems. My job is losing someone who thinks outside of the box and saves them money via reduction in inefficiencies. They are losing a lot, but they have not made the environment one in which I can thrive.

In the end, I started my business, because “I don’t want to just show up. I want my work to reflect my values. I am creating that work.”