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Intersectionality in The Workplace: What is it & How Does it Apply?

Intersectionality plays an important part in our current understanding of DE&I. But what does it actually mean, and how does it apply to the workplace?

Intersectionality in the workplace.

What is Intersectionality?


The term intersectionality was first coined in 1989 by Kimberlé Crenshaw to describe how different characteristics interact with each other. Some people are more discriminated against, or conversely more privileged, because of the unique intersections of their identities. Kimberlé Crenshaw was looking in particular at how queer women of colour from disadvantaged backgrounds faced more challenges than white, straight women. 


Typically, we think of cisgendered, white, men as being more privileged. However, if they are also gay and disabled, this could lead to discrimination. These are some of the ways in which different characteristics and identities might interact to create unique situations. 


It’s also important when thinking about intersectionality to consider “passing privilege”. This is where some people are able to hide certain parts of their identity. Some identities are easier to hide than others. Dark-skinned people of colour, those wearing religious clothing, or certain members of the trans community may struggle more to hide identities. 


Why is it Important in The Workplace?


Microaggressions (and macro-aggressions) in the workplace can be particularly damaging. This is because there are different power structures at play, and because people might not be able to effectively remove themselves from situations. 


Discrimination at work is also more likely to impact people’s remuneration and therefore their wider quality of life. Let’s look at an example. In England and Wales, according to the ONS annual population survey for 2019, those who identified as Indian earned more per hour than White British people. With an average hourly salary of £14.43 as compared to £12.49. However, Indian women earned only £12.39 on average. In fact, the survey showed that women, on average, earned less than men, regardless of ethnicity. 


Thinking about how you support those with different intersecting characteristics or identities is really important for your DE&I strategy


How Can You be Aware of Intersectionality in Your DE&I Strategy?


When filtering and analysing your survey results and data, it’s important to think about how different characteristics intersect within your organisation. Thinking about whether all women feel safe in your workplace, or whether those who are mothers or identify as LGBTQ+ feel less included. 


When thinking about more unique intersections, anonymity can be a concern. This is why our platform will only show you aggregated responses of more than 5. This will help protect your people from being identified individually. 


Another aspect to think about is ensuring that your provisions serve everyone in your organisation. For example, menstrual health provisions may not be applicable to trans or intersex women. Similarly, your maternity policy might not support women in same sex relationships. When creating any policy or process it’s important to think about what intersections might be at play. 


What Identities Are Important to Consider?


There are many identities which you should consider when writing your DE&I strategy. Often organisations lead with women or racial identities, but we recommend you look at different characteristics together. In other words, you take an intersectional approach. 


Identities and characteristics you should consider:


  • Race: Regardless of how well you believe people of all races are treated within your organisation, it’s worth keeping a finger on the pulse when it comes to how your team is thinking and feeling here. Our recent report, Advancing Racial Equity, shows the impact that race has on those of various intersecting characteristics and identities. 

  • Gender: There are various ways that women can be disadvantaged within the workplace. From parental leave to menopause support, there are many things you can do to mitigate disadvantages based on gender. Remember to listen to the specific needs of your team. 

  • Sexual Orientation: Although not everyone is out at work, those who are can be at a disadvantage. Not to mention the fact that not being out at work can put up barriers to happiness and engagement. Our LGBTQ+ glossary may help you to understand the various identities included here. 

  • Age: Both younger and older employees can be disadvantaged. This often depends on the sector you’re working in - sometimes tech can be discriminatory to older people, while experience can be prized in other industries. 

  • Disability: Those with disabilities - both physical and neurological differences - can be disadvantaged in the workplace. This can lead to a lack of inclusivity for individuals holding these identities. 

  • Religion: Understanding the needs of people who follow different religions can be important to help include and support your team. Those who need to take time to pray, who celebrate different holidays or feel they cannot take part in social activities because they don’t drink can be at a disadvantage. 


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Elle Whitehead-Smith

"Elle is happiest when given plenty of puddings, popular novels and, particularly, perfect grammar."

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