All about Intersectionality

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Intersectionality Background

Intersectionality was first coined and popularized by scholar Kimberlé Crenshaw in 1989 to portray the intersection of different classification factors and how they interplay, compound and magnify different stereotypes and oppressions that significantly impact a person’s life.  Specifically,

 “Intersectionality refers to the simultaneous experience of categorical and hierarchical classifications including but not limited to race, class, gender, sexuality, and nationality. It also refers to the fact that what is often perceived as disparate forms of oppression, like racism, classism, sexism, and xenophobia, are actually mutually dependent and intersecting in nature, and together they compose a unified system of oppression.’ [1]

Furthermore, sociologist Patricia Hill Collins further expounded and sensationalized the concept of intersectionality in her 1990 book, Black Feminist Thought: Knowledge, Consciousness and the Politics of Empowerment. She studied black women and other multifaceted individuals from an Intersectional Approach to better understand their unique experiences. Through this thought, it is considered that an individual’s disposition is influenced strongly by multiple attributes and collectively these inform how they are perceived and treated. Intersectionality provides a reference frame to view an individual holistically rather than through siloed lens. Indeed, looking at an individual in totality offers a better picture of their circumstances. Click for the 101 on intersectionality: What is Intersectionality?

Unique Experience

My unique experience with intersectionality was through an experience that I witnessed about a close family acquaintance. Jane Doe was a female, Hispanic, educated individual who worked in a white male dominant supervisory role. Because of her unique classifiers, she repeatedly experienced quasi-racist, sexist and condescending remarks about her inherent characteristics and strong-willed determined work ethic. As a result, she always felt pressured to work harder to prove herself and perform successfully to impress her peers and upper level managers. This significantly impacted her mental health and stress-levels. Due to her specific intersecting factors, her work oppression was compounded to a seriously threatening level.

Intersectionality best practices in the workplace

Some key strategies and considerations that can address intersectionality in the workplace include [2]:

  1. Acquire and provide proper training, education and awareness on the issue
  2. Clear unambiguous policies on discrimination in the workplace
  3. Represent and support employees at all levels and locations
  4. Establish networks to support the development and opportunity available to minority groups
  5. Proclaim/ Promote it, advocate it and fully support it in the workplace

Implications

A person should never be defined or perceived on the basis of a singular attribute but society including myself should consider appreciating and understanding the multitude of factors that can make up an individual’s identity and use that to inform our perception in an unbiased and reasoned way. We must be sensitive to the histories and realities that people are influenced by and live within. An individual is the sum-total of their identities and experiences, and we can no longer try to understand or relate to them from a narrow or hollow viewpoint. More specifically, in the workplace, employees are significant assets that should always be valued, respected and supported to the highest level.

References:

  1.  https://www.thoughtco.com/intersectionality-definition-3026353
  2.  https://www.highspeedtraining.co.uk/hub/workplace-intersectionality/
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