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Striving for meaningful inclusion: assessing our workplaces through an intersectional lens

February 2, 2024

For our workplaces to be truly inclusive, we have to understand and embrace the intersectionality of many of our lived experiences.

Intersectionality acknowledges that our various social identities are interconnected, such as race, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, neurodiversity, and socioeconomic status. Coined by Kimberlé Crenshaw in the late 1980s, the concept highlights the overlapping and interdependent systems of discrimination that individuals may face. For example, when a woman in a hijab is subjected to discrimination, it isn’t viable to separate her identity as a woman from her identity as a Muslim when trying to address the discrimination or its impact on her.

An intersectional lens examines the connections between different aspects of an individual’s identity, recognizing that one’s experience of discrimination is often shaped by the convergence of multiple factors. It’s about appreciating the unique challenges faced by those at the crossroads of various social categories. Using an intersectional lens allows organizations to recognize barriers and strive for inclusion in a more nuanced and comprehensive manner.

By adopting an intersectional lens, we can move beyond a one-size-fits-all model and tailor our efforts to meet the specific needs of employees with various identities and lived experiences. This approach moves beyond targeting one social category at a time like we traditionally have (ie: this year we will focus on hiring women, and next year we will turn our minds to race). It moves beyond addressing one form of discrimination at the expense of another. Without an intersectional lens, our good intentions may have the potential to leave people behind.

Some considerations when assessing our workplaces through an intersectional lens:

Promote participation:  It’s hard to identify barriers we don’t face.  This makes the voices of those in the margins that much more important. When identifying barriers and designing a barrier-free workplace, it is essential to include the voices of employees from multiple marginalized backgrounds. Those who are affected by the barriers are best equipped to design solutions to remove them.[1]

Engage in open dialogue to recognize barriers: Foster an environment that encourages open and honest dialogue about barriers to access and success. Create platforms for employees from multiple marginalized groups to share their experiences and perspectives. This will allow for insights into the nuanced challenges faced by individuals on the margins.

Reexamine policies:  Review organizational policies to ensure they reflect an understanding of the different barriers present in your workplaces. For example, do the policies designed to promote women in leadership roles view “women” as a homogenous group?  Do these policies take into account barriers to career progression of a racialized, neurodivergent woman?

Provide intersectional training: Implement comprehensive training programs that educate employees and leadership on intersectionality. Training should emphasize how various forms of discrimination are interconnected and empower individuals to become allies in fostering a more inclusive workplace.

Promote diversity in leadership: Recognize the importance of diverse leadership and the benefits of representation from the most marginalized groups in the workplace. Do the decision-makers reflect the varied perspectives within the workforce so that they can identify barriers to access and success, or design change?

By understanding and addressing the intersecting dimensions of identities, we can create workplaces that not only celebrate diversity but actively work towards dismantling the barriers that hinder true inclusion. As we continue towards a more equitable and inclusive future, the adoption of an intersectional lens ensures that no one is left behind.

Where can I learn more about intersectionality in the workplace?

On February 7th, we will be dissecting the concept of intersectionality and marginalization and how systems of power and privilege impact the lived experiences of many people in the workplace. We will be discussing overlapping identities and relationships to workplace systems and policies, as a foundational step to challenging discrimination.  We would love for you to join us for the complementary session taking place from 12:00 p.m. – 1:15 p.m. EST. For more information and to register for Module 5 of our Inclusive Workplace Series, click here.

[1] Ludmila N. Praslova‘s article An Intersectional Approach to Inclusion at Work is a great place to start.