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Intersectionality: What It Is and Why It Matters To Your Workplace

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DEI initiatives in the workplace are becoming increasingly common as more and more companies understand the importance of diversity, equity, and inclusion. However, diversity and inclusion in the workplace need to be about more than just recognizing that someone is different for a singular identity — like their race or their gender — and figuring out how to include them. This is where intersectionality comes into play.

Intersectionality is the latest buzzword on the topic of inclusion, and while many companies are realizing it’s something they need to take note of, they don’t fully understand what it is or what it means.

What is Intersectionality?

Intersectionality is the idea that different social categorizations, as applied to an individual, often interconnect or overlap with other categorizations of other individuals or groups of people. In other words, no person can be identified by one single thing, and instead, they are often made up of multiple identities which they share with other people.

In the context of diversity and inclusion, intersectionality is most often used about identities or social categorizations that are affected by systems of inequality or oppression, such as having a specific socio-economic status or being a woman, a person of color, or a member of the LGBTQ+ community.

Intersectional feminism, for example, is often talked about regarding women’s rights needing to include all women, not just white women. So to be an intersectional feminist means to be a feminist that fights for the rights of all women, not just the women with the same intersecting identities as you. This same concept applies to all identities or categorizations. For example, if you are going to be inclusive of people with disabilities, being intersectional means you would need to be inclusive of all people with disabilities, not just white people with disabilities or not just men with disabilities.

Why Intersectionality in the Workplace Matters

Intersectionality matters, period — but it is especially important in the workplace. Many companies are already implementing DEI initiatives, but they are not doing so with intersectionality in mind. In other words, they are often only recognizing singular identities rather than how their employees are affected by multiple forms of inequity and discrimination.

For example, companies that implement diversity initiatives that focus on racial diversity often end up being more inclusive of men of color, but not necessarily women of color. Or companies that are trying to be more inclusive of women only center on white women rather than women of all races.

While these efforts are a start, they are often not 100% effective because they are not taking into account all of the other identities and how they overlap. Just because you are making your workplace more inclusive to people of color does not mean you are also taking into account the unique challenges that women of color specifically face compared to men of color. If your DEI initiatives do not include intersectionality, then you are still likely leaving certain identities out. You are failing to fully support your employees in the unique ways that they need to be supported and accomplish success in their roles.

How To Integrate Intersectionality and Create a More Inclusive Workplace

Integrating intersectionality is not easy, but it is essential if you want to create a genuinely inclusive workplace for all. Your efforts must move past categorizing your employees through one-dimensional aspects and seek to take an intersectional approach in all areas of the workplace, from hiring practices and workplace culture to external-facing work, such as your marketing.

1. Lead by Example

One way to start is to focus on those in leadership roles and how they interact with, communicate with, and treat your employees. Those in leadership and management roles essentially dictate how things work while setting an example. So you must ensure your leaders are being truly intersectional in their behaviors to set an example for how everyone else should act and treat others in the workplace.

2. Provide More Opportunities for Education and Awareness

Integrating intersectionality is not achieved by hosting one meeting about DEI and intersectionality. You must take an ongoing approach by providing consistent opportunities for everyone on your staff to continue educating themselves and becoming more aware. This means ongoing training and creating safe spaces for everyday informed conversations.

3. Update Your Policies

Of course, talking about intersectionality and teaching it to your staff is one thing. But to make this change more resolute, it often requires taking a hard look at your policies and making necessary changes. This can include changing your mission statement, strengthening anti-discrimination policies, and using more inclusive language.

4. Learn From Other Organizations

If you aren’t sure where to start, a great way to get ideas is to take a look at other organizations making big changes to integrate intersectionality.

For example, there are a few tech companies today that are not only trying to be more inclusive of women in tech but especially of women of color in tech. Some of these companies include Girls Who Code, the NCWIT, and Women Who Code. The construction industry, which has often been behind in DEI efforts, is also taking bigger steps today to create more inclusive workplaces that integrate intersectionality. Instead of primarily hiring men, they are making efforts to hire people across various marginalized groups, such as women and people of color.

Wrapping Up

As more companies take on DEI initiatives, these efforts must include intersectionality from the start. To truly transition from intent to action, bigger changes must be made, which can mean having some uncomfortable conversations. But the faster you integrate intersectionality, the quicker you can achieve a successful workplace where all employees can thrive.


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Content Contributor:

Ainsley Lawrence is a freelance writer from the Pacific Northwest. She is interested in better living through technology and education. She loves traveling to beautiful places and is frequently lost in a good book.