Workplace Intersectionality Explained: Understanding How Multiple Forms of Oppression Interact
Hannah West
Research Lead
In this article;
What is intersectionality? And why is intersectionality in the workplace important?

Intersectionality: it's like the ultimate crossover episode of diversity and inclusion. It’s really just a fancy word for how our different identities and experiences converge and shape our lives; a puzzle where each piece represents a different aspect of who we are, whether it's our gender, race, sexuality, ability, or any other identity marker. Intersectionality helps us understand how different aspects of our identities can create unique challenges and experiences, so it's no wonder that employees are calling for it to be acknowledged in the workplace now more than ever.

Today we will break down what intersectionality is, why it matters, and how you can use it to create a more inclusive workplace.

Intersectionality 101: Getting Started

So, what is intersectionality? It's a term that was coined by legal scholar Kimberlé Crenshaw back in 1989, describing how different forms of oppression, like racism, sexism, homophobia, ableism, and more, can intersect and interact with each other, stating: “Because the intersectional experience is greater than the sum of racism and sexism, any analysis that does not take intersectionality into account cannot sufficiently address the particular manner in which Black women are subordinated.” Her quote cites one intersection, but the term can be understood today to mean that you can't just look at one form of oppression in isolation, because people's experiences are shaped by a number of different factors at once, and often times negative consequences are being compounded by more than one protected characteristic.

For example, let's say you're a woman of colour. You might face challenges that neither a white woman nor a man of colour would face because you're dealing with both racism and sexism at the same time, as seen in the Women of Colour Wage Gap, for example. Or maybe you're LGBTQ+ and a woman of colour; given that both members of the LGBTQ+ community and women of colour are more likely to experience sexual harassment at work, for example, the likelihood of experiencing this becomes greater.

The thing is, intersectionality is important because it helps us understand how different forms of oppression can create unique experiences of marginalisation. It's not just a bunch of separate issues that work independently of one another — it's a complex web of factors that continuously interact and make life more difficult for some folks than for others.

Intersectionality: A World Of Different Experiences

So far, we’ve seen how intersections of oppression can create barriers that make work life harder for those of underrepresented backgrounds — so it’s time to flip that on its head and look at how we can take this issue and make organisations more inclusive.

Think of it this way — the only way we can build truly inclusive cultures is by acknowledging differences and the part that intersectionality has to play.  We must first understand that people's experiences are shaped by more than just one form of oppression. This is why it’s reductive to make statements like "I don't see colour" or "I don't care if you're gay, straight, or whatever." These comments are usually well-intentioned, but they ignore the very real experiences that people face due to aspects of their identity. People's identities are complex and multifaceted, and their experiences are shaped by all the different factors that make up who they are.

It's a bit like playing a game, and realising that you can't rely on just one strategy to win — you need to adapt and change your approach depending on the situation. In the same way, we need to be flexible and open-minded when it comes to addressing different forms of oppression. There's no one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to intersectionality — we need to be willing to listen to people's experiences and work together to come up with creative solutions that take into account all the different factors at play.

Let’s Get Intersectional

By incorporating diversity and inclusion initiatives that embrace intersectionality into the workplace, rather than ignoring it, we can create a more diverse and welcoming environment for everyone. Here are some ways to do that:

  1. Spice up hiring practices: To make sure we're not missing out on great candidates, we need to acknowledge intersectionality by reviewing our job requirements and qualifications to make sure they're inclusive. We can also expand our recruitment efforts to attract candidates from diverse backgrounds and consider implementing training to eliminate biases in the hiring process.
  1. Make policies more inclusive: We should review our current policies to ensure that they're inclusive and don't perpetuate discrimination or exclusion, but rather acknowledge intersectionality and weave this into initiatives. This includes policies related to promotions, compensation, benefits, and employee communication.
  1. Foster an environment of mutual respect: By encouraging open communication and mutual respect, we can create a workplace culture where everyone feels comfortable sharing their unique perspectives and experiences.  When this becomes embedded into company culture, both preventing issues and dealing with them becomes easier.
  1. Invest in great intersectional training and education: To help employees better understand intersectionality and how it impacts their experiences at work, we can provide training and education. This can help employees become aware of their own biases and how they can work to eliminate them.

At the end of the day, intersectionality really is like a big complicated puzzle. It might seem like a minefield, but it's also incredibly rewarding to try to put all the pieces together and see the bigger picture. It's a reminder that people are complex and diverse, and that we need to embrace that diversity if we want to create a more just and equitable world for everyone. So, the next time you hear someone talking about intersectionality, don't be intimidated – just get ready to take on the challenge.


What is an example of intersectionality in workplace?

Let's say there are two employees in a company, both of whom are women. One is a White woman, and the other is a woman of colour. Despite having the same gender identity, they may face different challenges and experiences in the workplace because of their different racial identities.

For example, a woman of colour may experience racial discrimination or microaggressions from coworkers or customers that the white woman does not experience. On the other hand, the White woman may have certain privileges or advantages in the workplace that the woman of colour does not have.

How do you practice intersectionality in the workplace?

An intersectional approach in the workplace is an inclusive and mindful approach to address the complex and interconnected social identities and experiences of employees. It recognises that individuals hold multiple identities, such as race, gender, sexuality, religion, disability, and socioeconomic status, which intersect and impact their experiences differently.

In practice, an intersectional approach involves considering how these different identities and experiences intersect to create unique challenges and opportunities for employees. It involves recognising and addressing the barriers and biases that individuals from marginalised groups face in the workplace, and implementing policies and practices that promote equity and inclusion for all employees.

Why is intersectionality in the workplace important?

An intersectional approach in the workplace is important because it promotes inclusivity and diversity, addresses systemic discrimination, improves employee morale and productivity, and supports recruitment and retention. It recognises and values the diversity of employees' identities and experiences, and helps to create a positive and supportive work environment where everyone feels respected and included

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