Intersectionality has become a big buzzword in recent years, but what does it mean and how do we put it into practice in our organizations? Using this worksheet, we will give you some examples of practical application of intersectionality, and provide a framework for you to incorporate into your initiatives. Intersectionality, a term originally coined by Dr. Kimberle Crenshaw, is an analytical framework that reveals how systems of oppression collide and intersect to produce unique, compounded realities for folks who live at the intersection of multiple systems of oppression. While some folks hope to easily check off this tool in their inclusion work, there is no one-and-done plan for doing so. It requires a paradigm shift in how you approach all inclusion issues, that unpacks connections between systems of oppression to anticipate what will happen in a given problem area.
Let’s look at the following lenses for approaching inclusion issues, to see why we need to shift focus to the third lens: intersectionality.
Lens 1: When people use a siloed approach to inclusion issues, they see two or more systems of oppression as distinct and ultimately separate. So Sexism is one system, Racism is another system. But – what does that mean for Black Women, Brown Women, and Asian Women? A Siloed approach leads to focusing on the community who experience marginalization within the single system at hand, even though they experience privilege within other systems. For example – when tackling sexism which Women tend to be focused on? White, Cisgender, Middle and Upper Class, Heterosexual Women.
Lens 2: When people use an additive approach, they interpret an issue as having an additional layer of oppression, but still focus on the impact of each issue separately.
Lens 3: With an intersectional approach, “social identities and inequality are seen as interdependent”, with marginalized groups affected differently based on distinct overlapping systems. If we are to incorporate an intersectional lens into our inclusion actions then, we will need to consider how access to resources, support, and influence changes based on diverse components of a person’s identity.
|Identifying Different Kinds of Inclusion Solutions
|Example Inclusion Initiative: International Women’s Day
|Hosting a panel on Disrupting Sexism in the Workplace that mainly speaks to issues White Women in the company raised.
|Hosting the original panel, but making sure to organize another panel during Black History Month that speaks to other employees’ issues.
|Asking Women in the company to identify their unique experiences with Sexism in the workplace, and including panelists and questions that speak to the needs of these different identities.
Let’s take a look at a common workplace problem, and assess where intersectional issues are often ignored. We will walk through different levels of action, as we know that change must be implemented from the personal level to the policy/processes level to be effective. As you read through the examples, think about a DEI issue in your workstream that you’d like to unpack alongside ours, and fill out the corresponding questions.
Example Problem Statement: A company has invested a lot of time into recruiting people from marginalized backgrounds, but has found that many leave within the first year because they do not feel safe or supported in the work environment.
Your Workplace Problem Statement_______________________________________________
Example Reflection Questions: What might be causing this company’s retention problem? How might promotions and evaluation processes play a role? What is the impact on marginalized communities?
Your Workplace Reflection Questions: _____________________________________________
1. Personal Level: Let’s take an example scenario in this company: Hassan, a Muslim Trans Man comes to his manager Debbie about an issue he’s having with a client who continues to misgender him. Debbie suggests “Just remind the client to use your pronouns!” Hassan finds that the client becomes very fearful and defensive whenever he speaks up about it. Hassan starts avoiding meetings with this client. When his manager Debbie does performance reviews, he is marked as “deficient” in the area of commitment because he has missed so many important client meetings.
Due to Debbie’s limited understanding of the intersections of being a Muslim and Transgender person, Debbie was not able to see the structural barriers that exist for Hassan in the organization. She does not take the time to observe how Hassan likely is experiencing Cissexism which is compounded by this client’s Islamophobic reactions. While Hassan is forced to advocate for himself just to receive basic respect as a Trans person, the client’s irrational fear of Muslims being dangerous makes Hassan’s experience unique in that he actually cannot advocate for himself because it is interpreted as threatening. In this case, Debbie as the manager needs support developing her personal inclusion practice to see that it is the organization’s responsibility to ensure the safety of their clients and that Hassan’s actions did not result from a lack of commitment. By investing in her learning journey, she will be able to see beyond a single inclusion issue and consider that LGBTQ+ people’s needs will be different depending on their race and religion.
Personal Level Prompt: Where in your workplace problem does people’s behavior at the interpersonal level affect people from marginalized communities? How might the limitations of their own identity affect how they see things through an intersectional lens? _________________________________________________________
2. Team Level: Let’s take an example scenario in this company: Tanya, a Black and Korean Woman has expressed that in a predominantly White workplace, she needs community to decompress and feel safe. A colleague suggests that she join the company’s Black Employee Resource Group (ERG), but while there Tanya feels that her Asian identity is erased.
By design, ERGs and affinity groups are often not intersectional. This means that some employees are left with the burden of being forced to choose between their marginalized identities when seeking community, even though these systems of oppression overlap and create particular lived realities based on these intersections.
Team Level Prompt: Where in your workplace problem have teams failed to incorporate an intersectional lens? What is the impact? How can team resources consider the specific needs of people with multiple marginalized identities? _______________________________________ ___________________________________________________________________________
3. Policy Level: Let’s take an example scenario in this company: Andre, a Disabled Latine Man was recently fired for not delivering his products on time.
When we dig deeper, we see Andre has not been able to access enough leave, despite his having a physical disability that is not fully covered by the healthcare plan the company provides. Given that Andre grew up working class, we can see how disablism and classism are intersecting at the company’s policy level to create an additional burden on Andre. While a Disabled person with financial means may be able to meet their needs outside the healthcare plan, Andre’s experience of disablism is compounded by classism, as he is left without the needed financial support to meet his basic health needs. Because the company has not incorporated an intersectional lens into its leave and healthcare policies, Andre was set up for failure.
Policy Level Prompt: Where in your workplace problem are there company policies that have not incorporated an intersectional lens? What will it take to redesign these policies according to a wide range of intersectional employee needs?_____________________________________ ___________________________________________________________________________
Now that you’ve done the analysis, take the time to work through some potential solutions, so that you feel prepared to make thoughtful, intersectional decisions.
|Charting Different Kinds of Inclusion Solutions
|Your Workplace Problem: