In the U.S. today, approximately 40% of the population identifies as something other than non-Hispanic White. With half of people identifying as female, that means that at the very least, 20% of Americans navigate society everyday with multiple intersecting minority identities. The actual number is obviously much higher than that, considering that identity encompasses everything from disability status to family structure and beyond. Given this fact, and as companies continue to make little to no progress on diversity, equity, and inclusion despite billions of dollars in spending, it’s time to reframe our efforts to focus on intersectional identities rather than just high-level racial and gender categories.
Originally coined by Kimberlé Crenshaw in 1989, at its core, intersectionality is simply the idea that people experience discrimination differently depending on their overlapping identities. While it has become a rather maligned term during our hyper-polarized times, few people actually disagree with the core tenet that a person’s lived experience will vary based on who they are, how they identify, and to which demographic groups they are perceived to belong. If even bitter political rivals can agree that the fundamental concept of intersectional identities is valid, why aren’t we prioritizing it to finally move the needle on inclusion in our workplaces?
Why intersectionality is so important to better support employees
The events of 2020 have greatly increased the focus on issues around DEI, employee wellbeing, and employee engagement. Particularly amidst the rapid transition to remote work, many companies are struggling to adapt and deliver in response to new as well as previously unaddressed employee needs. If companies truly want to improve their employee experience though, how can they do so without knowing the composition of their workforce?
While some employees may hesitate to share information about their personal lives and/or how they identify with their employer, if companies don’t ask they will continue to make decisions based on ‘intuition’ rather than data. In order to be strategic, employers need to learn about, respect, and appreciate their team members’ intersectional identities so they know, for instance, how to build a benefits package that actually suits employees’ lifestyles. If the only demographic data you have and are tracking is race and gender with minimal granularity, it will be difficult to truly understand what your employees may be facing, and therefore what you can do to better support them.
How to move your workplace towards intersectionality
The first step in moving your workplace towards greater inclusion grounded in intersectionality is to reframe the way you think about diversity. So much focus has been placed on race (often without much regard for ethnicity) and gender that other important measures of diversity rarely factor in. Your diversity program should seek to truly acknowledge and value your employees as whole people with a variety of different assets and attributes, rather than a member of a monolithic race or gender category.
Consider that diversity can come in the form of cognitive and/or physical disabilities, caregiver status, immigrant background, religion, sexual orientation, and more. With so much to consider, it quickly becomes unreasonable to base your entire program around just two, often visually discernable measures. There is a lot more to your employees, and if you want to optimize your employee experience, you’ll have to start learning about them.
The next step is to reorient your DEI goals. Moving away from tokenism and instead towards intersectionality will enable you to bring more perspectives into your meetings and projects, thereby accelerating innovation and amplifying your competitive advantage. While it is certainly crucial that many companies increase the proportion of BIPOC and womxn employees on their payrolls, it is also essential that these individuals are recognized as more than just token hires once they’ve joined.
If you’re considering ways to increase the focus on intersectionality within your workforce, check out Workrowd. Our platform is a one-stop shop that enables employees to join affinity groups based on their identities and interests, and provides you real-time analytics to see how each group is faring. To learn more, visit us at workrowd.com, or reach out directly to firstname.lastname@example.org.