As a middle class, white, straight male I have known very little discrimination in my life. Therefore, intersectionality is a new term for me. Intersectionality is the idea that all of the discrimination and disadvantages, that come from various ethnic groups that an individual identifies with, compound to increase the disadvantages that a person faces. This idea seems like common sense if you think about it. It seems obvious that an individual who identifies as black and female would face more disadvantages than someone who identifies as white and female. However, how I plan to use intersectionality in the workplace represents a conundrum for me, since I can’t manipulate others disadvantages and can only work within my own.
In summer of 2018, I participated in a diversity based internship at Iowa State university called the George Washington Carver Summer Research Internship. While there, we focused on science, diversity, and the intersection between the two. We discussed how disadvantages among ethnic groups create disadvantages in access to opportunities within science and college. During this internship, I asked many experts and peers what I could do, as a white man, to increase access to opportunity in science. Repeatedly, the answer was that i needed to be an advocate for lesser represented individuals. That I could use my privilege to speak on the behalf of others who are underrepresented and increase opportunity through my voice and ideas. So, just like intersectionality seems like common sense, it also seems reasonable to think that advantages can behave in the same way. And that numerous advantages can compound to form increased access to opportunity. Therefore, I plan to use the numerous advantages I gain from my ethnic groups (white, straight, male, etc.) to become a better advocate for underrepresented groups in the workplace and to increase opportunity through my voice and actions.
While intersectionality refers to how disadvantages can compound to form increased discrimination, we should also be aware of how advantages can also compound to form opportunities to be advocates for diversity. Those of us who identify with advantaged ethnic groups must use those advantages to increase opportunities for underrepresented groups.