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Diversity and inclusion in the workplace
Diversity and inclusion in the workplace

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6 Intersectionality

Finally this week, you’ll consider the concept of intersectionality. Although you’ve explored each diversity characteristic as a separate issue so far in this course, there are of course many individuals who have a number of these characteristics, and that can make their experiences more complex.

Watch this short video to learn more:

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The Equality Network (no date) explains that ‘having an intersectional identity often generates a feeling that someone does not completely belong in one group or another, and can lead to isolation, depression and other mental health issues’. It provides two illustrative examples:

‘A gay man has to deal with homophobia. A black man has to deal with racism. But a black gay man will have to deal with homophobia and racism (often at the same time). It is often the case that he will face racism inside the LGBT community and homophobia in the black community.

Similarly, a disabled lesbian Muslim will have to deal with ableism, homophobia, Islamophobia, racism and sexism. She might find physical barriers to accessing LGBT venues, but even when she can get into the building she might still face racism and Islamophobia from the white LGBT community.’

In the workplace, any diversity and inclusion activity that focuses only on one aspect of discrimination has the potential to be a negative experience for some of those involved.

Atcheson (2021) explains ‘When a company states that they’re prioritising ‘X’ group, they inevitably actually draw a circle around them, leaving any underrepresented group outside feeling less heard than ever. In fact, even those in the circle can feel misheard; attributed to one targeted demographic that may or may not resonate with their own self-perception.’

She advises ‘Ultimately, for diversity, equity, and inclusion strategies to work, defined focuses are needed. But these focuses should be approached with an intersectional lens. That way, individual problems can be highlighted and tackled, without creating an environment that’s exclusionary.’

Henke (no date) suggests six ways organisations can improve on intersectionality:

  1. Recognise individual identities – enabling employees to identify their diversity dimensions voluntarily is a crucial starting point for revealing the different experiences of different groups.
  2. Capture data and encourage people to tell their own stories – it is important to respond, so use this learning for something tangible, e.g. to support initiatives such as affinity groups, conscious inclusion training and benchmarking.
  3. Capture a culture of acknowledgement and understanding – this will help to build an environment of openness and inclusion, with greater satisfaction and productivity.
  4. Capture diversity of thought – breeding dynamic creativity, ideas and workforce agility, while maintaining a culture of inclusiveness.
  5. Help leaders to understand – inclusive leadership is about creating a high trust culture, proactively seeking out or inviting divergent points of view. If people think your message is to ‘tick boxes’ they will not engage with it.
  6. Educate colleagues – to ensure that a level of understanding exists across the entire workforce, e.g. a mandatory learning and development curriculum covering intersectionality, creating a culture of inclusion and how to be an ally; mixing peer-to-peer networks and promoting social interaction around global cultural events; sharing information through employee resource groups.

In the next activity, you’ll have the opportunity to reflect on diversity training you’ve had in the past, and whether it recognised intersectionality.

Activity 6 Recognising intersectionality

Timing: Allow about 5 minutes for this activity.

Take a few minutes to reflect on any diversity awareness training you’ve had, in the workplace, at an educational establishment or elsewhere. Did it take into account the concept of intersectionality or focus on one topic only? If it was single topic training, how might it have been done differently?


Much of the training we experience, while important, useful and well meaning, does tend to focus on a single issue, e.g. race or disability. By widening our discussions of inclusion, we can make them more inclusive and enhance our understanding of its importance and value.

Another important aspect of intersectionality is that different elements will become more or less important throughout our lives, as Asif Sadiq explains.

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