The Inclusive Workplace: What your Organization Needs to Know About Intersectionality

The current buzz within the world of diversity is inclusion, but intersectionality, a term coined by legal scholar Kimberlé  Crenshaw in 1989, is beginning to gain attention as well. It is a word that describes what happens when forms of discrimination – such as racism, sexism, classism, and homophobia – combine, overlap, and intersect, particularly for marginalized people or groups. Kimberle asserted decades ago that “anti-discrimination law fails to address the experiences of marginalized individuals because of how it currently focuses on only a single factor.”

Bentley University Cordes Center for Women and Business has broadened the definition of intersectionality to include racial and ethnic identity, age, sexual orientation, gender identify and gender expression, ability and disability, religion, veteran status, immigration status, and history, and cognitive diversity. This body of work urges us to, in particular, to pay attention to “double and triple outsiders”; those who are impacted by the complex and cumulative forces of these intersections.

For employers to be genuinely comprehensive in D&I efforts in the workplace, traditional HR metrics have to change. HR can no longer only look at the number of people with a single aspect of diversity. Employers should define the unique challenges these groups face to get a better picture of inclusion through the lens of intersectionality. Even if it is only a small group of employees, finding the right solutions to fit their unique issues will create meaningful change. Workplaces striving for genuine inclusivity are looking at the importance of intersectionality and how employees’ multiple identities define their experiences in and outside of work.