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Intersectionality in the Workplace

By Krista White

What is Intersectionality?

Coined by lawyer and scholar Kimberlé Crenshaw in 1989, the theory of intersectionality was originally developed to center black women, who have been erased both in discussions of race and of gender. Through the years, it has been expanded to include the intersections of other identities including sexuality, class, disability, nationality, immigration status, education level, and more. Intersectionality is meant to recognize the ways that our marginalizations and privileges shape the way we experience the world.

We need intersectionality because the variety of identities each person has can compound our experiences of microaggressions and inequity in the workplace. For example, McKinsey and Lean In’s Women In The Workplace study found that 36 percent of both women with disabilities of all races and black women of all abilities feel that promotions are fair and objective, compared to 46 percent of women as a whole. For leaders who want to bring the best out of all of their employees, and intersectional perspective is essential.

How Intersectionality Can Show Up In The Corporate World

In order to design an inclusive culture from the top-down, leaders must recognize the fullness of their employees’ identities. Here are a few ways intersectional inclusion can show up in your workplace.

  1. Language. It is common when considering diversity in the board room “women and people of color.” This language erases women of color and all gender-nonconforming folks. Consider using a phrase like “We are expanding the diversity of our board by increasing gender, racial, and LGBT representation, including the intersections thereof.” Examine the language you use in your company messaging and day-to-day communications to ensure that it is inclusive.

  2. Data. Collect HR data that is intersectional. This means not only understanding how many black people are in your workplace, but how many black women, queer black people, or black people in leadership positions there are. When creating your data visualizations on your annual employee engagement reports, examine how people with multiple marginalizations respond to your questions.

  3. Co-Creation. Center the voices of people from diverse backgrounds when creating policy. Ensure that multiple identities are considered when creating language, policy, or action around a marginalized group. For example, LGBT diversity ERGs often center the voices of white, cisgender gay men. In this case, ensure that queer POC, women, and gender-nonconforming people have a seat at the table.

  4. Policy. Whether it is policy pertaining to promotions and hiring or HR benefits, consider that different people require different solutions to have their needs met. Build flexibility into your policies that empowers leaders to give their teams the support they need.

Increasing awareness and empathy of the way varying identities change an employee’s experience of the workplace helps build an equitable workplace for all. Bringing a diversity of voices to the table requires space to be created for people who have previously been marginalized. The best leaders see the potential in everyone and bring out their best work. Intersectionality is a framework that allows people to be seen as their fullest selves, and ultimately to bring the best collaboration to the team.

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