Divrsity Dictionary: Intersectionality

1st March 2023

Perhaps you've heard the term being thrown around; you might have an inkling as to what it means, or you might be learning something new today! So, what does Intersectionality mean in the context of DE&I and why is it important?

Intersectionality is a framework for understanding the ways in which multiple aspects of someone's social identity “intersect” to shape that individual's experiences of privilege, discrimination and oppression.

The term was coined in 1989 by Kimberlé Crenshaw - a civil rights advocate, critical race theorist and Black feminist icon - as a way of addressing the limitations of one-dimensional theories such as Marxism (focused on class only), Critical Race Studies (focused on race issues only) and Feminism (focused only on gender).

Individually, each failed to account for the ways in which multiple forms of oppression can intersect and reinforce each other - for example, Black women face disadvantage based on both race and gender. Similarly, working-class, gay men face disadvantages due to both their social class and sexual identity.

This is NOT to say there's a competition on "who has it worse" but, as Crenshaw references, the term intersectionality serves as “a metaphor for understanding the ways that multiple forms of inequalities or disadvantages sometimes compound themselves”, causing compounded advantage or disadvantage.

Accordingly, there is an inherent connection to the power structures that exist around an individual e.g. a gay person's experience will vary hugely depending on whether they're in a country where homosexuality is legal or not (don't get us started on how outrageous and harmful it is that legislation is even built around people’s sexual identity).

Intersectionality is important because it helps us to better understand the complexity and diversity of people's experiences of oppression and privilege. Instead of one-dimensional analyses that prioritise one single social fault line, intersectionality as a framework pushes us to investigate interlocking systems of power, particularly along the lines of race, class (links to capitalism) and gender (links to the patriarchy).

The main takeaway is that everyone's background & lived experiences are unique - we must understand and recognise that people have multiple parts to their identity which can interact in complex ways and can create unique forms of discrimination and oppression as a result.

To create an equitable society that values & celebrates diversity, there must first be an acknowledgement of someone's starting point. Only then we can develop more nuanced and inclusive approaches in and out of the workplace.

- Rochana Jackson

One of the reasons we built the Divrsity platform, was in-reaction to the one-dimensional way in which many employers look at Diversity: often focusing on Gender and/or Race, while ignoring important dimnsions such as Neurodiversity and/or Social Mobility. Read more about how Lenses help find opportunities to address Inclusion, Bias and Equity across all dimensions, or hit the button below to try it for yourself.

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