Intersectionality – Intersectionality is the idea that multiple identities intersect to create a whole that is different from the component identities
As I continue my own journey in understanding how we cultivate and develop organisations where diversity and inclusion are important factors by design, so too does my understanding of the language used in this space.
I’m becoming more and more alert to language in particular. When we describe the world of work, how much of that language is perpetuating bias(es)? When we design new products / solutions, which groups does it continue to favour, and which does it marginalise? When we describe one group, do we do that at the expense of another group? Do the very systems and practices in organisations promote or inhibit the cultivation and the development of talented individuals across the piece, or do they seek to reinforce what many would term as ‘given wisdom’.
My timeline is filled with examples of people who want to express themselves, and then find themselves at odds with the system – however we define that system. And not only are they at odds with the system, once a number of groupings come together, the challenges are that much more compounded. So, for example, you may be a straight white female wanting to get a senior role and find that the candidate pool for your job has a majority of men also vying for the same. Your challenges will be significant enough, just by virtue of being female. Now, let’s say, you’re a Chinese female. Well, now your challenges have increased further. First, you’re female. Second, you’re Chinese. Life just got that much more unnecessarily harder for you. Let’s just be that much more challenging in life as suppose you’re a Chinese female who uses a wheelchair. Life just became so unfair to you, and all you did was just be. And if this person was also LGBTQ+? That, my dear friends, is what you call a cluster fuck of challenges.
This level of challenge we face, this intersectionality, is a largely unaddressed issue in the workplace. Mostly because we are just about comfortable with dealing with individual characteristics that are different, let alone an amalgamation. And as is the case for many many people in society today. Sure, just being a white, cis-gender, male is challenging enough in Western society and when people with difference are trying to exist in the same space and explore and find out who they are themselves, things just become unnecessarily challenging.
My learning on this has taken time and a lot of reflection on how I understand how diversity and inclusion isn’t just about protecting people from discrimination in the workplace. It’s about understanding and accepting difference in such a way that the default response we have isn’t about someone’s difference, and is about their performance at work. Many will claim that that’s what they focus on. They may well believe it. But when you look at the structures, the hierarchies, the decision makers in organisations, are they representative of people with difference or do they tend to fall within a certain type of grouping?
I’ve kept this piece short, because there’s more to be said, and at the same time, this is enough to be said.