Are we, as humans, a collection of walking intersections? Emma Jennings, enei’s Diversity and Inclusion Lead, explores the nature of our complexities—full of layers and experiences that shape our social identities.
Intersectionality is a bit like sitting in the centre of a Venn diagram. For example, I am a woman (layer one), brought up in a working-class family (layer two), with a southern English accent (layer three), who is pansexual (layer four). The list goes on. I am the make-up of many different things, but I don’t identify with just one.
Unfortunately, in Western society, we tend to compartmentalise and put things and people into boxes. Rationalise, categorise, and target. It all feels a little impersonal and James Bond-esque. But these targeted approaches mean we can implement tried and tested methods for improving working environments for certain groups or protected characteristics. For example, category one; disabled employees or category two; Black employees.
But let’s say an employee is a mixed heritage, gay, disabled woman…. Which targeted initiative do you choose? Which box is that? It would be a bit like trying to unpick the threads of a uniquely crafted garment. Perhaps now we see that a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach may not work.
DEI professionals don’t have the resources of a 007 agent. We cannot run a full background check on every employee to understand every facet of their personality, background, or make-up. And that’s probably a good thing (it would be a GDPR breach for sure!).
But we should try to find ways to understand our workforce better and learn the unique challenges that face individuals with differing intersectional identities. Acknowledge that individual experiences are shaped by the intersection of their various identities, such as race, gender, sexual orientation, disability, and more. This can help in engaging your staff, understanding how to support them better, and demonstrating investment in individual employees.
Emma Jennings, enei Diversity and Inclusion Lead
Let’s say an employee is a mixed heritage, gay, disabled woman…. Which targeted initiative do you choose? Which box is that? It’s a bit like trying to unpick the threads of a uniquely crafted garment, and a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach may not work.
Below, let’s explore some practical tips for creating an intersectional workplace.
- Review policies and practices. Regularly review and assess your organisation’s policies and practices to identify potential barriers affecting employees with intersectional identities. Recognise that individuals may have unique needs and challenges and implement flexible policies that accommodate and address diverse requirements.
- Provide employee resource groups (ERGs). Establish ERGs that cater to different intersectional identities within your organisation. These groups can serve as safe and supportive spaces for employees to connect, share experiences, and offer feedback. ERGs should be given the opportunity to work together to share valuable insights and recommendations that address intersectional challenges.
- Foster inclusive communication. Promote inclusive communication practices, alongside encouraging active listening, empathy, and respectful dialogue among team members. Provide multiple channels for communication to accommodate different preferences and needs, ensuring that everyone has a voice and an opportunity to be heard.
- Encourage allyship and inclusive leadership. Create a culture of allyship and advocacy where employees actively support and stand up for one another. Try to develop resources and guidance on how to be effective allies and empower employees to create positive change within the organisation. Guidance can also encourage senior leaders to use their influence to amplify the voices and experiences of employees with different perspectives and backgrounds.
- Measure progress and accountability. Establish metrics and indicators to measure progress towards creating an intersectional workplace. Regularly assess the effectiveness of diversity and inclusion initiatives, gather feedback from employees, and use the data to identify areas for improvement. Hold leaders and teams accountable for fostering inclusivity and ensure diversity goals are embedded in the organisational strategy.
Creating an intersectional workplace goes beyond acknowledging and celebrating differences. It requires you to get creative in approaching initiatives and involves a lot of two-way communication. The key is to find ways to identify intersectional barriers and to fully embrace diversity in all its forms. Raising awareness, reviewing policies, and fostering inclusive communicative work environments can contribute to building workplaces where all employees feel valued, heard, and respected.
This blog post was written by Emma Jennings, enei Diversity and Inclusion Lead. It was posted on 14 August 2023.
- Blogs: Celebrating all the wonderful things that make us human, by Sandi Wassmer, 22 June 2023
- Employer Guide: Allyship in the Workplace
- Employer Guide: Diversity Monitoring
- Employer Guide: Inclusive Communication
- Employer Guide: Employer Resource Groups
- Quick Guide: Diversity Monitoring Questions
- Quick Guide: Intersectionality
- Toolkit: Applying Intersectional Principles in the Workplace
- Video: #BHM2022: Celebrating Intersectionality and Belonging
- Video: Creating Inclusive Workplaces: Intersectionality in the LGBTQ+ Community