We at the Bristol Women in Business Charter have been focusing on Intersectionality and how its implementation into business strategy does far more for inclusion practices - Sign up to our event
We want to begin with introducing the term and idea of intersectionality for business practise.
After speaking with businesses and individuals there seems to be a lack of knowledge of what it means – having sparked much debate over the past half-decade over its interpretation (Coaston, 2019).
The term intersectionality was coined by leading scholar of Critical Race Theory, Kimberlé Crenshaw some 30 years ago, when she published the paper: “Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex” (Coaston, 2019).
To keep it brief, intersectionality is the idea that people have more than one identity, and those identities are inherently combined. For example, an employee might be deaf and be a recent immigrant, your employee may be a woman as well as Black (Studenroth, A). As Brittany Packnett, an educator, activist and writer who is Black stated: “It’s not merely that some days I experience racism and some days I experience sexism. Rather it is that oppression shows up differently for me than it does for black men and white women” (Tugend, 2018).
The fundamental benefit of adopting an intersectional approach to equality is that it provides an understanding of the issues that is closer to the lived experiences of all employees, thus allowing you to develop effective strategies to address them. We want to ensure people can bring their whole self to work, not divided up into different groups/identities but to be their authentic self without a bunch of labels on. As we are seeing people from protected characteristics continuously feel that they are not ‘the norm’.
These feelings can also be described as ‘Othering’, a phenomenon in which some individuals or groups are defined and labelled and not fitting in within the norms of a social group – this then influences how people perceive and treat those who are viewed. For example, a Lesbian Woman may not feel her authentic self when attending a women in business workshop, if the group only addresses the issue of white heterosexual women in business – this individual can easily feel like an ‘other’ (Cherry, 2020).
So, what does this mean for existing equity, diversity, and inclusion efforts?
We know many businesses have employee resource groups (ERG) to provide support and a place to be heard for employees, which commonly focus on one protected characteristic – but people are not one-dimensional, e.g. Does an older Asian Woman belong in the Women in Business group, the Asian one, or the multigenerational ERG? You just wouldn’t bother.
The challenge organisations have is trying to work within the law, which has created the protected characteristics into groups. Organisations have used this framework to create the ERG's. In terms of intersectionality, the key thing is for organisations to see the interrelationship between all these groups and understand the fundamental similarities. It is an opportunity to challenge the effectiveness of these groups. As adding up each individual barrier a person faces and creating enough groups to address that, only makes people's existence more complicated (Studenroth, B).
This does not mean to dismantle employee resource groups altogether, but to enhance them further by acknowledging the diversity of its members. Diversity and Inclusion consultant Ashley Oolman suggests breaking down the barriers to intersectionality at work by allowing the ERGs to overlap and interconnect to create a workplace culture where people feel a sense of safety and belonging (Studenroth, B). Examples include your disability resource group collaborating with your resource group for Black employees. And encouraging employees to see the groups as overlapping circles.
Most significantly, ERG leaders need to talk to one another. To share respective strategies, brainstorm and have agreement on how they can support one another to ensure every ERG demonstrates that Black Lives Matter, how to be a LGTBQIA+ ally, how to defend age and gender bias (Callaham, 2021).
over the next few months, we at the charter are focusing on intersectionality and have a public event on the 17th october 2021, 12-1pm. we will be discussing building an intersectional approach into your workplace inclusion program. if you have any early thoughts, please add them to the meetup group.
Callaham, S. (2021) How to Improve Employee Resource Group Effectiveness, Key to DEI Strategy and The Shaping of Workplace Culture. Forbes [online]. Available from: https://www.forbes.com/sites/sheilacallaham/2021/07/28/how-to-improve-employee-resource-group-effectiveness-key-to-dei-strategy-and-the-shaping-of-workplace-culture/?sh=25feb28c6b3d
Cherry, K. (2020) What Is Othering? VeryWellMind [online]. December 13. Available from: https://www.verywellmind.com/what-is-othering-5084425
Coaston, J. (2019) The Intersectionality Wars. Vox [online]. May 28. Available from: https://www.vox.com/the-highlight/2019/5/20/18542843/intersectionality-conservatism-law-race-gender-discrimination
Studenroth, J. (no date, A) What’s intersectionality in the workplace? Understood [online]. Available from: https://www.understood.org/articles/en/whats-intersectionality-in-workplace
Studenroth, J. (no date, B) 5 tips on building intersectionality at work. Understood [online]. Available from: https://www.understood.org/articles/en/5-tips-building-intersectionality-work
Tugend, Alina (2018) The Effect of Intersectionality in the Workplace. The New York Times [online]. Available from: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/09/30/us/the-effect-of-intersectionality-in-the-workplace.html