Intersectionality - diversifying diversity

Over the last few years, companies have been diversifying their workforces. But diversity alone is not enough to make employees feel completely comfortable at work. We must go one step further and take intersectionality into account as well.

Intersectionality -
Read time: 4 minutes | Published in Hays Journal 20

What is intersectionality?

Many organizations divide their diversity areas into different, loose characteristics such as: gender, race, ethnicity, sexuality and disability. But the reality is that these categories overlap and intersect. Lauren Baker, COO at Skillsize, describes it as “the overlapping of identities such as race, gender and sexuality and recognising the differences both between and within them, as well as the overall effect this can have on an individual’s experiences”. 

It considers different systems of oppression and specifically how they overlap. Not one characteristic, but the combination of all your characteristics and experiences determines the way you look at things. It’s not simply that there’s ”a race problem here, a gender problem, and a class or LGBTQ problem there”; it is a combination of all that.

It is important that companies take this into account, to make their employees feel welcome and comfortable in an organisation. The Covid-19 pandemic revealed more than ever the different experiences individuals are facing.

Understanding Intersectionality

Companies should seek to better understand intersectionality and recognise an individual’s multiple identities that may overlap. So, leaders must be aware of intersectionality and empathic in order to better understand intersectionality. They often think that when they feel good at work, everyone else does as well, which is not necessarily the case for people who identify differently.

Companies must create high-trust cultures and environments by facilitating conversations about bias awareness among people with different life experiences. Inclusive leadership is about proactively seeking out or inviting divergent points of view, not about being the single point of authority with all the answers. It is important to address why inclusion is important, so that your employees don’t think you just want to ‘tick boxes’.

If they want to understand their employees, organisations should constantly keep their diversity data up to date by enabling employees to identify their diversity dimensions voluntarily and organising employee engagement surveys. In these surveys, data should be reasonably disaggregated by several dimensions in order to reveal the different experiences of different groups. For example, when holding a survey, don’t just categorise the results by gender, but by gender and (an) other characteristic(s), like race (e.g. don't categorise by "men" and "women", but by white women, black women, Hispanic men, Asian men, etc.).

It is important that such surveys have high response rates. To encourage people to participate to them, they should be anonymous. Organisations can use the attained data to support equality, diversity and inclusion (ED&I) initiatives. Finally, you must also respond to the data your employees have given you, by doing something tangible and measurable with it.

Avoiding Labels

Being labelled can be hurtful and can create a biased perspective. However, we shouldn’t shy away from labels, but use them to prompt conversations between colleagues and create peer-led communities. That way we can obtain a culture of acknowledgement and understanding and build a sustain environment of openness and inclusion. This gives confidence to both a company’s employees and customers that the company is socially responsible and trustworthy. Evidence shows that diverse and inclusive companies are likely to make better, bolder decisions, which is critical in a (Covid-19) crisis.

Diversity of Thought

Diversity of thought is also very important. As a company, you should try to understand your people at a deeper level, considering both their professional and personal background and their competencies and psychometric ability. However, companies should not exaggerate in striving for this, as they will automatically have it in their company, since practically no two individuals think exactly alike.

Improving on Intersectionality

Diversity should be embedded within the culture of your workplace, as it determines how your employees experience working for your company on a daily basis, which influences their way of thought. There are both formal and informal ways to expose your employees to diversity. 

A formal approach is a mandatory learning and development curriculum that covers important diversity topics such as intersectionality, creating a culture of inclusion and how to be an ally to colleagues. 

More informal approaches, like celebrations of global cultural events, can help to develop a consistent culture of diversity and acceptance. Colleagues can become allies by trying to understand, and directly acknowledging and addressing, how privilege contributes to oppressive systems.

Finally, use intranets and other internal communications channels to share information on the topic of intersectionality, but also encourage employees to start up employee resource groups to form and share information with their peers.

This article was published in Hays Journal 20

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