Intersectionality is a concept coined by Kimberlé Crenshaw that describes the fact that people face multi-faceted layers of discrimination as a result of their identities relating to ethnicity, gender, class, sexual orientation etc intersecting with each other.
Intersectionality can be defined as ‘The interconnected nature of social categorisations such as race, class, and gender, regarded as creating overlapping and interdependent systems of discrimination or disadvantage; a theoretical approach based on such a premise’ (Oxford Dictionary).
Intersectionality is applied as a framework in diversity, equity and inclusion work in order to recognise how a person is affected by a number of discriminations and disadvantages based on their characteristics. It is important because it recognises the fact that people have overlapping experiences based on their characteristics, and takes into account the true complexity of barriers faced by individuals.
Intersectionality and social mobility
Organisations may already be doing work in the area of social mobility in order to ensure that everyone has a fair opportunity to fulfil their career potential, regardless of the circumstances of their birth. Approaching social mobility work through an intersectional framework is really important because other characteristics also shape an individual’s opportunity for social mobility. For example, young Black men have a higher unemployment rate than any other group of young people (April 2019-March 2020 unemployment rate).
The possible combinations of intersectional disadvantaged positions are innumerable. For example, the nine protected characteristics of the Equality Act 2010 give 511 possible combinations. For diversity and inclusion strategies, it is important to use intersectionality as a framework to examine the experiences of people with overlapping identities. Having a strategy that focuses on gender equality but does not include any interventions on ethnicity could create outcomes where employees who are women and from an ethnic minority background remain disadvantaged due to their ethnicity.
Being as specific and targeted as possible when it comes to diversity and inclusion is important when it comes to the impact of diversity and inclusion work. A study has shown that when boards broaden their definition of diversity to cognitive or experiential diversity, women and people of colour lose out (Harvard Business Review, 2018). Analysing data in an intersectional lens can show what specific areas need to be taken into account, enabling diversity and inclusion strategies to be more targeted and effective.
Promote an intersectional approach to employee wellbeing
Ensure existing policies reflect the specific needs of intersecting groups
Disaggregate and monitor data in an intersectional way
Ensure interventions take into account intersectionality
Provide opportunities for intersectional discussions and learnings