Intersectionality is a term that is used repeatedly in diversity discourse. It is about the idea that individuals have more than just a single identity. Different parts of our identity come together like a jigsaw puzzle to form who we are, we have been put into the habit of isolating all of our characteristics and looking at them through separate lenses and how they come together to form who we are.
Let’s take a look at the protected characteristics published in the Equality Act 2010 [UK Government]:
Think about these characteristics with regards to yourself, do you often look at them as separate or distinct characteristics, do you look at them separately but understand how they work together to formulate your identity? Or do you see all of these characteristics functioning together and inseparable from each other?
Intersectionality can help us understand that some people may be discriminated against on deeper levels than others. An example that can help us understand this in intersectional feminism. Kimberlé Crenshaw first coined the term in her 1989 research “Demarginalizing The Intersection Of Race And Sex: A Black Feminist Critique Of Antidiscrimination Doctrine, Feminist Theory And Antiracist Politics”. Crenshaw writes how there can be different and multiple dimensions of disadvantage, as there are gendered inequalities, such as income inequality, social care burdens, gender parity and child-rearing responsibilities. Yet, when another layer is added to a woman being of a ‘minority’ ethnicity or race within a culture then it added another dimension of inequalities like racialisation or racism. This can be translated for any demographical characteristics.
Intersectionality in the workplace:
Intersectionality in the workplace is discussed often in comparison to discussing the different intersections of identity separately. EDI training and initiatives may need to go beyond just understanding one intersection of identity because it may be due to a combination of different issues that could result in privilege or discrimination.
Why do we break down the different intersections and implement policy on isolated demographical characteristics?
Organisations need some measures of standardisation, something that can be applied to big groups of employees or the entire cohort of employees. One of the difficulties of trying to implement intersectional policies because intersectional ends up developing and building is very complex, and it can be very difficult to implement policies that boil down to these complex identities. What companies and organisations do instead is target specific issues, such as menopause policies, policies on gender discrimination and policies against racial discrimination. This is an easier method because the implementation and the goals of the policy become a lot clearer both to the employees and the management that are working to implement it.
Would it be better to look through an intersectional lens?
One of the most important things concerning intersectionality is how much you understand it and how much it plays a role in the workplace. To those who are implementing the policy, do they understand the systems of power and how policy can affect the working output and behaviour and how identity and employee treatment can play a role?
It is important to highlight the role of different levels and how that can affect injustice. We must acknowledge that by having multiple identities, many of which are overlapping, individuals and communities of people are viewed and treated differently as a consequence. Training programmes should indeed touch upon every demographical characteristic, but there should also be a clear-cut point to which the overlapping of the intersections should be discussed. Sticking with the example of women’s equality within the workplace- going beyond gender there are multiple overlapping identifiers, for example, are transgender women going to be treated the same as cisgender women? Are women of the LGBT+ community going to be treated the same as heterosexual cis-gendered women or will there be disparities here? What about women who are not white, and are individuals of colour? Women in the workplace who wear visible religious symbols like the headscarf, do you think they will be treated equally? Finally, what about women who are working mothers? And again, any woman could be a combination of these identities, and what this demonstrates is that there may be a need to go beyond just women’s inequality- because the way this issue is framed is that women are only inequality to their male colleagues, but these dimensions explain that there are also disparities amongst women that can entrench deeper-rooted inequalities. The best way to tackle these inequalities is actually understanding and discussing the fact that they exist.
Sometimes the issues that intersectionality can identify is what has been coined as micro- inequalities. Not because they are smaller in nature, rather they are often issues that go unnoticed or have less support because we tend to look at issues in the workplace from a ‘bigger picture’ lens. The way to tackle these inequalities is to ensure that the individuals who are implementing policy should understand how intersectional inequalities can play a role in workplace morale, treatment, HR functions and onboarding.
Much more will be said about this on this week’s podcast, so tune in and see what we have to say! Here at DJM, we aim to make our content as accessible as possible so we will have audio content for those who need or prefer it on our website.