The importance of recognising intersectionality in the workplace

Intersectionality refers to the interconnected nature of different aspects of a person’s identity which include, race, ethnicity and gender. In the workplace, there is already a lot of awareness on the benefits of D&I. However, the different aspects of D&I overlap with each other. Therefore, there needs to be an awareness and understanding of the intersectional nature of D&I, and how different aspects of a person’s identity can overlap and contribute to their experiences in their workplace.

My personal experience of how intersectionality impacts me in the workplace is being neurodivergent and in the BAME community. I talk a lot about neurodiversity and how that impacts my experiences in the workplace. However, it is important to appreciate that being in the BAME community means that my experiences of being neurodivergent in the workplace will be different compared to if I wasn’t in the BAME community. This is because there is generally less information about neurodiversity in the BAME community compared to other communities. Another example of intersectionality in the workplace is being a woman of an ethnic minority. In this case, both gender and being in an ethnic minority will overlap and this overlap will play a part in shaping workplace experiences.

A good way to think about intersectionality in the workplace is to view it from the perspective of challenges that can be faced. An example to illustrate this is consider an individual who is a woman of colour. This individual may face challenges in the workplace due to their gender, for example with progressing in their career in a male dominated industry. The individual may also face challenges in the workplace due to their race, for example being subject to racist remarks. However, the individual will also face challenges specifically because they are a woman of colour. These are challenges that won’t be faced by men of colour, or by white women. However, the challenges that come specifically from being a women of colour are unfortunately the ones that are most likely to get missed.

In the workplace, it is easy to focus on one part of an identity at a time when carrying out any D&I initiatives. For example, it’s common for the D&I focus this month to be on gender, the focus next month to be on race, the focus the month after that to be on ethnicity and so on.  In my opinion, there is nothing wrong with having D&I initiatives that have a particular focus. However, in these D&I initiatives, there is sometimes minimal consideration given to how other aspects of a person’s identity can impact experiences within the identity group being focused on. This means that without even realising, an assumption is being made that everyone with a common identity is impacted in the same way. This is a one-dimensional approach to take, and you will leave people behind in the process.

For companies to consider intersectionality in their D&I initiatives, it is important for the work of different D&I networks to not be siloed. For example, the work that the gender equality D&I network carries out will be relevant to the work the multicultural D&I network do. Recognising that the work that one D&I network does will be relevant to the work of other networks means that there is the opportunity to collaborate on initiatives/events, which will lead to a more intersectional focus on D&I. Furthermore, you can also have an intersectional approach even if you do D&I initiatives/events with a particular focus. For example, if you are planning to hold an event that talks about anti-race, you should make sure that:

  • The event is neuro inclusive, so that neurodivergent individuals can attend and get involved in the event. If the event isn’t neuro inclusive, then you are automatically excluding neurodivergent individuals.
  • The language used in the event takes into account people from other communities, such as the LGBT community. The last thing you want is for the language that is used to come across as controversial for people that have a particular identity or are in a particular community
  • You acknowledge that everyone has different experiences, and that a one size fits all approach doesn’t exist.

To conclude, it is important to appreciate that intersectionality is a topic for every single one of us. This is because we all have different aspects of our identity which are interconnected to each other, which contribute to our experiences in the workplace. Being open minded and being willing to learn more can give us some really interesting insights on what contributes to our experiences in the workplace.

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