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What is Intersectionality at the workplace?

Updated: Nov 23, 2023

Intersectionality at the workplace

Organizations are making great strides in creating truly diverse, equitable and inclusive workplaces. While their DEI (diversity, equity and inclusion) initiatives gather speed, they also need to acknowledge the concept of intersectionality and imbue it in all decision-making.

What is intersectionality?

Identities are based on race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, age, disability and other defining parameters. Intersectionality is the intersection or overlap of multiple identities. It is associated with the right representation of the multiple facets of an individual belonging to more than one marginalized group. For example, a woman with a disability belongs to the intersection of two minorities - one gender-based and the other disability-based. An autistic Asian woman belongs to three minorities - race, gender and neurodivergence.

Intersectionality is the acknowledgement that individuals are not unidimensional and may not belong to only one rigid box of identity. Intersectionality recognizes that the challenges faced by those belonging to more than one minority group are different from the challenges faced by those belonging to just one minority group. These challenges are layered and complex and need to be handled with sensitivity and empathy. Individuals with intersectional identities face many visible and invisible barriers and ignoring intersectionality can give a false sense of progress.

What is intersectionality at the workplace?

Intersectionality at the workplace is the awareness of the various minority groups an employee can belong to and the recognition of the fact that they experience bias in unique ways. A statistic that demonstrates this particular inequality is that for every dollar that a white man earns, a white woman earns 81 cents while a woman of color earns 75 cents. The gender pay gap widens when seen through the lens of race and ethnicity. Organizations need to study their internal data to gauge the impact of intersectionality on pay and put measures in place to correct it.

The recruitment process is also where intersectionality bias shows up and organizations need to check if the process is eliminating intersectional candidates from having a fair chance. For example, encouraging diverse hiring while not ensuring physical and technological accessibility for differently-abled candidates illustrates that intersectionality has not been integrated into decision-making processes. Lack of representation of intersectionality in leadership positions is another challenge at workplaces. While only 21% of C-suite leaders in the US are women, only 4% are women of color, and only 1% are Black women.

By not acknowledging intersectionality, organizations can inadvertently cause a feeling of exclusion. Employees can lose morale and feel like they do not feel understood by any of the singular minority groups. For example when a single identity-based Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) like the Women’s ERG organizes off-sites conferences at locations which are not disability-friendly, they exclude the intersectional group of disabled women.

As efforts towards diversity and inclusion increase at the workplace, embracing intersectionality is the need of the hour. It provides a safe space for all and validates the multi-layered challenges faced by employees who belong to the intersection of two or more underrepresented groups. Establishing a dedicated diversity and inclusion team is a great way to ensure intersectionality is addressed and incorporated into all processes, policies and initiatives. Promoting voluntary self-identification at the workplace is a great way to find intersectionality that needs visibility.


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