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Intersectionality in the Workplace: Recognising and Addressing Multiple Identities

diversity inclusion May 29, 2024

Guest post by Dr Lynn Morgan MBE  

Intersectionality refers to the overlapping of various social categorizations—such as class, race, gender, disability, and sexual orientation—that can apply to one person or group. This overlap can lead to discrimination or disadvantage in more than one aspect of their identity.

Equality and Legislation: Over the past two decades, equality issues have been at the forefront of most businesses, supported by legislation related to ‘protected characteristics.’ Organisations have equality policies, and HR departments are well-trained in the numerous equality laws and regulations, ensuring everyone is treated equally and appropriate adjustments are made to create a level playing field.

Is This Enough?: However, is this enough? Many people have more than one characteristic of a protected group. For example, a Black woman in the LGBTQ+ community can experience prejudice on multiple levels: gender, sexual orientation, and ethnicity. Even now, any one of these aspects of her identity may decrease her opportunities in the workplace or her degree of inclusion. The issue of intersectionality was first raised in the 1980s when the feminist movement campaigned for equality, and many Black women pointed out that they faced a ‘double whammy’ due to their gender and colour.

Broader Impacts of Identity: A person's identity can impact their level of acceptance in the workplace or the perception of their abilities and ‘organisational fit’ in ways that go beyond protected characteristics. For example, multiple social positions may coalesce to create career limitations for short-sighted recruiters or managers. Judgements can be made based on accents, the school or university attended, and other markers suggestive of a disadvantaged background, despite evidence of academic achievement and previous work history. We must ensure that people can break through the barriers that hold them back, despite their efforts to succeed in their chosen careers. It’s crucial to have an open mind about differences and consider how they might affect someone in the workplace.

Neurodiversity as an Example: For instance, a neurodivergent person may have exceptional skills in a particular area but a non-standard academic background. Their interpersonal skills, particularly in interview settings, may be limited, and they might struggle with routine administration. However, they could still be a stellar addition to the team. Some tech organisations, like Google, recognise the value neurodiverse individuals bring and actively seek to employ autistic people through programmes like the Autism Career Programme. Google also works with the Stanford Neurodiversity Project, which provides consultation services to employers to help neurodiverse people succeed in the workplace. Google includes the number of hires with intersectional characteristics in their diversity metrics.

Principles of Inclusion: It’s impossible to list all the potential permutations of intersectional identities and characteristics. The key to utilising the awareness of intersectionality is to question assumptions based on traditional paradigms of identity aspects. Using principles of inclusion—such as active listening, empathy, flexibility, focusing on organisational outcomes, and acknowledging that people don’t just have one identity—can be educational and beneficial.

Avoiding Homogeneity: Organisations that recruit or promote to mirror the 'weness' of the organisation, i.e., those that recruit ‘people like us,’ miss out on the benefits of a diverse workforce or team, which can create a more dynamic and interesting energy within the organisation. While the 'old boys' network' is largely a thing of the past in most business areas, intersectionality also relates to privilege. The 'right school,' 'right university,' and 'right accent' can still propel someone to success in some sectors or organisations. It is crucial to ensure this approach has no place in modern businesses.

Are you passionate about understanding and addressing intersectionality in the workplace? Don't miss your chance to dive deeper into these important conversations at the Rising Festival 2024 on 21 September in Cambridge, UK.

Meet Dr Lynn Morgan, who will lead a session on mentoring and offer invaluable insights into creating inclusive and equitable workplaces.

Register now for the Rising Festival 2024 and unlock new opportunities for growth and connection.

Learn more and register HERE

Be part of the change and make a difference in your workplace!

About Dr Lynn Morgan MBE

Lynn has been constant throughout her varied career in her desire to support and develop women to achieve their potential.  She has had a wide and varied career working in the public and third sector. As the former CEO of the Arthur Rank Hospice, she took on a major project working with her team, to transform the Arthur Rank Hospice Charity, providing independence from the NHS and building a brand new state-of-the-art hospice.

Lynn has a Phd in Organisational Psychology.  Her research focused on the way gender can affect mentoring relationships and the barriers women can face in achieving their career goals.  She continues to support women in their careers and is often called upon to provide advice for charities.

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