Intersectionality is key to workplace diversity, inclusion gains
- Inclusive workplaces understand the importance of intersectionality and how employees' multiple identities define their experiences in and outside of work, Bentley University's Gloria Cordes Larson Center for Women and Business (CWB) found. CWB describes intersectionality as a combination of factors that include racial and ethnic identity, age, sexual orientation, ability/disability, class status, religion, veteran status and cognitive diversity. Trish Foster, CWB senior director and lead author of Intersectionality in the Workplace: Broadening the Lens of Inclusion, said in a statement: "By taking a broader approach to how we view others, we're less likely to stereotype people or consider them as token representatives of a particular group. And we're more likely to view co-workers as equal partners who deserve our respect."
- The study referred to women of color as an example of intersectionality, whereby as "double outsiders" — they’re neither men nor white — they feel they must adjust their communication styles to fit in with the dominant culture. The research found that the women were held to a higher standard than others and that their areas of expertise were often questioned, leaving them feeling demoralized and disengaged.
- The CWB recommended that HR professionals addressing intersectionality in their diversity and inclusion (D&I) programs start by getting CEOs and senior executives (often white men) to acknowledge the unconscious bias and privilege that can make talent at the intersections invisible to them. HR pros can also take a leadership role by building an inclusive culture, being an active ally to underrepresented groups and holding everyone in an organization accountable. Organizations should also be wary of meritocracy, CWB said, since MIT research shows that organizations that identify as meritocratic are more apt to discriminate.
Employers can use CWB's recommendations to approach diversity through a broader lens — recognizing intersectionality as inherent in all workers. Intersectionality has become more recognized as employers learn that they can't place workers into buckets, Kathy Goss, senior manager, head of inclusion recruiting at LinkedIn, previously told HR Dive in an interview. She added that managers need help building the skills required to engage with different cultures.
Harvard Business Review also noted in a study last year that African American female executives hoping to advance their careers had to develop greater self-awareness as to when they were visible or invisible in their organizations. The women had to know when they were physically visible in the workplace because of their outward difference and when they were "cognitively invisible" in their organizations. The study concluded that employers must acknowledge intersectionality to improve their D&I efforts.
The CWB report also addressed diversity in the way people think, which employers must also consider. "Our thinking is shaped by our backgrounds, culture, experiences, and personalities — this is the core concept behind diversity of thought," Foster said in the statement. "Organizations that blend people who think differently from each other — analytical workers, conceptual thinkers, creative spirits, or detail-oriented employees — can create energy to drive new ideas and productivity."