What is intersectionality in the workplace?

Jan 3, 2023 | Diversity

Failing to recognise intersectionality in the workplace is an easy blind spot, yet crucial to understand explains Annabelle Woghiren, an equality, anti-racism and social justice educator and activist who took part in ISE’s student panel at the Student Recruitment Conference.

How do we understand the difference between our lived experiences? Our experience is influenced by our identity, how we are perceived, what we look like and who we are.

The Oxford Dictionary defines intersectionality as, ‘the interconnected nature of social categorisations such as race, class, and gender, regarded as creating overlapping and interdependent systems of discrimination or disadvantage’.

Intersectionality is the acknowledgement that everyone has their own unique experiences of discrimination and oppression and we must consider everything and anything that can marginalise people – gender, race, class, sexual orientation, physical ability, or something else.


Applying intersectionality

Intersectionality provides us with a framework to understand the multi-dimensional world we live in today. It encourages us to understand the link between different forms of oppression, and explore the way in which they create different material conditions for those who stand at the intersection it.

To contextualise intersectionality, the experience of a white man and a black woman are materially different due to the fact they are different races and genders. Therefore, understanding their respective experiences is crucial to developing an equitable environment.

However, intersectionality also encourages the understanding in depth of differences within the same community, the lived experience of a black woman differs to that of a black man. A black woman may face both racism and sexism, which is known as misogyny, whereas a black man would not. This framework can also be applied in regard to sexuality, age, class, disability and much more.


Creating equitable workforces

If intersectionality helps us build an equitable society, how can we use it to ensure we create equitable workforces?

A report by Culture Amp, titled Workplace Diversity, Inclusion and Intersectionality gives an example of how intersectionality could present itself at work:

‘Intersectionality considers different systems of oppression, and specifically how they overlap and are compounded to shape the employee experience. Continuous learning is essential to understanding intersectionality and using it to create organisations which value every single person in their entirety.’

This form of learning centres the individual, their identity and their lived experience. It also encourages us to humanise each other and to work actively to create environments where we are all accepted. This allows us to build high trust cultures and environments, giving people the permission and confidence to engage in meaningful conversations.

It also builds a safe space, where those who stand at the intersection of oppression are able to bring their entire self, and experiences, to the workplace. And it builds a reciprocal dynamic where everyone and their experiences are welcomed and valued. This does not suggest that this is easy to navigate, it’s challenging, delicate and confronting. But this is the pathway to inclusivity.

Failing to recognised intersectionality in the workplace is an incredibly easy blind spot but is crucial to understand. As the world we live in becomes more diverse and complex, the more the multi-dimensional issues we face deserve recognition and active action.

Intersectionality is a necessity, and organisations must use it to consider how they equip their community with the confidence and skills to address these issues.

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