May is European Diversity Month, a time to celebrate and promote diversity and inclusion in all its forms. This year’s theme is “Building Bridges,” which speaks to the importance of creating connections and working together to advance diversity, equality, and inclusion.
But that’s not all.
Another key aspect of building bridges is across areas of DEI or, in other words, intersectionality. In this article, we’ll explore what intersectionality is, why it matters, and how an intersectional approach can strengthen your DEI strategy.
What is Intersectionality?
Legal scholar Kimberlé Crenshaw, who coined the term intersectionality, describes it as: “a metaphor for understanding the ways that multiple forms of inequality or disadvantage sometimes compound themselves and create obstacles that often are not understood among conventional ways of thinking.” For example, A Black woman may face unique challenges in the workplace that are not experienced by her white or male colleagues. She may be subject to racial and gender-based discrimination, as well as microaggressions that stem from the intersection of her identities.
Intersectionality recognises that individuals have multiple identities and experiences that shape their lives and that these cannot be separated from one another. For example, a disabled LGBTQAI+ employee may face discrimination and exclusion from both the able-bodied and heteronormative aspects of the workplace, and that person’s experience highly differ from that of other disabled employees or LGBTQAI+ colleagues. As a result, an intersectional approach to DEI requires acknowledging and addressing the ways that different forms of discrimination and oppression intersect and how they play out to influence experiences in the workplace.
Why Is an Intersectional Approach Needed in DEI Strategies?
Intersectionality allows us to see the full picture of how discrimination and oppression impact individuals and communities. When we recognise and address the ways that different forms of discrimination intersect, we can create more inclusive and equitable spaces for everyone.
For example, a company that focuses solely on gender diversity may inadvertently exclude or marginalise employees and consumers who also face discrimination based on their race, ethnicity, sexuality, disability, or other dimensions of diversity. An older employee with a disability may face discrimination based on both their age and disability status, and needs more of a company than just gender diversity. They may be excluded from important meetings and decisions, and may not be offered the same opportunities for advancement as their younger, able-bodied colleagues. By taking an intersectional approach to DEI, companies can create a more comprehensive strategy that takes into account the multiple identities and experiences of their employees. In other words, they can create more inclusive and equitable spaces for everyone, not just a select few.
An intersectional approach also helps companies avoid the pitfalls of tokenism and performative allyship. Tokenism occurs when a company hires or promotes a few members of marginalised groups as a way of appearing diverse without actually addressing the underlying issues of discrimination and oppression. Performative allyship is a similar phenomenon that happens when companies make public statements or gestures in support of marginalised groups without actually taking meaningful action to address their needs.
Both tokenism and performative allyship can be very harmful for minorities or historically marginalised groups, while being counterproductive for your DEI strategy. An intersectional approach to DEI strategies helps companies avoid these pitfalls and instead create real change that benefits all members of their community.
Ways to Apply an Intersectional Approach in DEI Strategies
1. Assess employee experiences by crossing multiple aspects of identity
An intersectional diversity audit is a tool that companies can use to assess their employees’ feelings of inclusion and belonging. At the D&I Journey, our approach to DEI audits is intersectional – we cross analyse as many dimensions of identity as possible – and we have seen how it brings to light issues that would have been disregarded otherwise. The audit involves collecting data on employees’ identities and experiences, as well as their perceptions of the company’s DEI efforts. This information can then be used to identify areas of improvement and develop more effective inclusion DEI strategies that address the needs of all employees.
Most companies are aware that an initial DEI audit is crucial to identify areas for improvement, but some may overlook important aspects of identity. For instance, some companies may not consider it necessary to ask about employees’ sexual orientation, which we believe is a missed opportunity. It is vital to examine employee experiences across multiple identity dimensions to develop effective DEI strategies that are truly inclusive. Without collecting data on, for example, whether employees belong to the LGBTQAI+ community, the company may be unaware of the unique challenges faced by certain individuals, such as lesbian women who may experience multiple forms of oppression.
2. Support Intersectional Employee Resource Groups (ERGs)
Employee resource groups (ERGs) are voluntary groups of employees who share a common identity or experience, such as a group for Black employees or LGBTQAI+ employees. By developing ERGs focused on intersectionality that bring together employees from different backgrounds and experiences, companies can create spaces for dialogue and collaboration that address the complex intersections of discrimination and oppression. Alternatively, encourage current ERGs to address challenges faced by those who are victims of intersectional oppression. For example, encourage an ERG for Black employees to devote a few sessions to the experience of Black women in particular.
3. Embed Intersectionality in DEI Policies and Practices
Finally, companies can embed intersectionality in their DEI policies and practices by considering the ways in which different forms of discrimination intersect and interact with one another. For instance, a company might develop a parental leave policy that takes into account the unique needs of employees who may face multiple forms of discrimination, such as LGBTQ+ employees who are also people of colour or disabled. To do this effectively, it is important to involve and listen to employees from different backgrounds and identities, as well as to seek out external expertise. This can include partnering with DEI consultants, attending workshops and training sessions on intersectionality and anti-oppression, or event creating an internal DEI committee.
The EU Diversity Month serves as a reminder of the importance of building bridges across areas of diversity and inclusion. Intersectionality plays a crucial role in this effort, as it allows us to recognise and address the complex ways in which various forms of oppression intersect and impact people’s lives.
By taking an intersectional approach to our DEI strategies, we can create workplaces that are truly inclusive and equitable for everyone. It is a crucial step in building bridges across areas of diversity and inclusion and creating a better, more just world for all. It is the only way we can foster workplaces and communities where everyone feels seen, heard, and valued.
At D&I Journey, we are committed to advancing DEI in Portugal, and believe building bridges between activists, business leaders, and community members is crucial. That’s why we organised a roadmap of events to bring these groups together to work towards creating a more just and equitable world for all. In some of our events, such as the Breakfast with DEI champions – with EDP, Farfetch, NOVA, and PhC Software – and the ACTivar DEI talk, we will also be addressing the need for an intersectional approach to ensure that all aspects of identity are considered in our DEI efforts.