Intersectionality is a crucial term that encompasses both the framework and experience of being a multifaceted person in a society where your social identity shapes your lived journey. The purpose of intersectionality is to understand how belonging to an identity group impacts who we are and our life outcomes. It directly relates to the oppression and privilege spectrum. At Diversity Builder, it is one of the most requested diversity and inclusion topics for workplace training. The term, which was coined by United States lawyer and civil rights advocate, Kimberlé Crenshaw, applies to social identities of race, gender, class, ethnicity, sexual orientation, age, diverse abilities, status, and others. The resulting impact is that people’s contextual experiences within multiple marginalized identities are overlooked, often resulting in discrimination, disadvantage, and oppression.
What is Kimberle Crenshaw’s Intersectionality Definition?
Intersectionality describes the relationship that social identity has to power, specifically, how different forms of oppression overlap with sources of privilege.
The theory of intersectionality (also known as antiessentialism) says that no person can be adequately identified by membership in a one single group. For instance, a person who is Black has a number of other identities such an educated agnostic LGBTQI+ woman.
According to Crenshaw, “Intersectionality is a lens through which you can see where power comes and collides, where it interlocks and intersects. It’s not simply that there’s a race problem here, a gender problem here, and a class or LBGTQI problem there. Many times that framework erases what happens to people who are subject to all of these things.”
History of Concept Intersectionality
In 1976, a group of Black women argued before the United States courts that they were experiencing compounded discrimination in employment. General Motors (GM) argued that because they hired white women as secretaries, and Black men as factory workers, that they were neither sexist nor racist. The courts declined to consider this compound discrimination and dismissed the case. In the 80’s, Kimberle Crenshaw used the metaphor of intersectionality to explain the concept of compounding discrimination.
As humans, we compartmentalize, but layers of personhood are a real reality. Sometimes, we disengage some identities to function in spaces.
Have you ever felt like you had to sacrifice a piece of your identity to live out another piece? Has part of you ever been erased?
Benefits of Recognizing Multiple Identities in Coworkers
It is important to consider the many aspects of a person and the multiple identities that mold together to form their experience. For example, the simultaneous oppression that is inflicted upon women of color is best analyzed as a combination of race and gender discrimination rather than just one or the other. It is a highly differing experience from that of a, gay, white man who faces obstacles on different overlapping systems of discrimination. Without the framework of intersectionality, the varying levels of oppression we face in society would not be distinguishable from another, though each battle is highly different. People are either uplifted or oppressed by their identities, and intersectionality encompasses the sum of all of those attributes.
There are countless benefits that come when the concept of intersectionality is included in workplace training programs.
- Change catalyst in company culture
- Elevates sense of belonging
Culturally Responsive Leadership
Today, enlightened corporate leaders understand the value and relevance that intersectionality has in creating a positive company culture. They also recognize that zoning in on one single identity can diminish employee morale and lessen the ability to achieve organization-wide diversity, equity, and inclusion. Alternatively, when leadership is able to see the broader picture of the intersectional identities in each employee, individuals see the value of all facets of their difference rather then one primary identity
Defining Diversity Equity Inclusion within Intersectionality
Diversity, equity, and inclusion are terms that are oftentimes grouped together, but they are not one and the same. While diversity refers to the existence of numerous identities in the same space, inclusion is the practice of ensuring that marginalized people are welcomed in their shared space, and equity is the practice of uplifting said marginalized people so that equal possible outcomes are available for every individual despite their intersecting identities.
Risk of Omitting Intersectionality in DE&I Training
When we fail to involve intersectionality in our everyday practices, we abandon treasured members of the community. In 2020, the president issued an executive order that banned many topics in diversity training, including intersectionality, white privilege, and systemic racism. That executive order has since been rescinded. Companies who adopt an intersectional approach to their diversity efforts show positive progress toward a culture that moves toward belonging. There are numerous barriers to success that people with multiple underrepresented intersecting identities face. Employers who take intentional actions toward welcoming practices in hiring, onboarding, retention, and promotion processes foster the development and growth of a diverse talent offering differing perspectives and diversity of thought.
Through intersectional training, companies can set goals and gain insight into the hurdles that people face. Our diversity trainers will talk about how intersectionality helps us to understand that advantages and disadvantages in life vary based on belonging to certain groups. We will explain that intersectionality should be thought of as a grid, intersection, or matrix so that we may understand identity is multilayered. This information can be used to create equitable programs that target specific interventions with recruiting, mentorship, and sponsorship to make marginalized employees feel seen and valued.
Intersectional training addresses the importance that empathy and true allyship have on combating prejudice in the workplace. Our prejudice clouds our thoughts when we least expect it to, but if we recognize where it exists choose to learn from it, we can become better people and better allies. This training is not about helping diverse people cope with societal hardships, but rather about teaching them how to actively reject and dismantle the practices that seek to belittle others.
Companies have shown a growing interest in committing to practices that promote intersectional acceptance, and that commitment is more important now than ever. We need leadership that is passionate about putting inclusive practices into action. Once individuals and companies begin to rise to the movement, we will begin to move closer to the diverse and inclusive workplace to which we strive to achieve. Higher investment in intersectionality will help to eliminate barriers that underrepresented groups face and will lay the foundations for further growth in society as a whole.