In the ongoing journey toward building diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) in the workplace, intersectionality emerges as a powerful framework for understanding and addressing the complexities of human identity. Intersectionality recognizes the combination of social identities that shape our lived experiences. This article explores what intersectionality is, why it’s crucial to DEI, how it impacts the workplace, and practical ways to incorporate intersectionality and foster belonging in your organization.

What is Intersectionality?

Intersectionality, a term coined by civil rights advocate and scholar Kimberlé Crenshaw in 1989, refers to the interconnected nature of social categorizations such as race, gender, class, and more, which create overlapping and interdependent systems of discrimination and privilege.

Intersectionality highlights the complexity and diversity within marginalized communities and emphasizes the importance of recognizing and addressing intersecting forms of discrimination. Plus, as younger generations increase in “new minorities,” intersectionality should be at the forefront of every leader’s mind. The future of harmonious workplace culture lies in a corporation’s ability to accept and embrace its employees as complex individuals.

How does intersectionality relate to DEI?

Intersectionality is crucial in DEI efforts because it provides a more nuanced understanding of diversity beyond single-axis identities. By acknowledging the interconnected nature of social identities, organizations can better address the unique challenges and barriers faced by individuals with intersecting identities. 

For example, a Black woman who is also a working mother may face microaggressions and systemic barriers that impact her advancement opportunities and access to mentorship or sponsorship. Plus, she must balance her professional responsibilities with her caregiving duties at home. Intersectionality is not only about adding up the individual concerns of each social identity but also a critical lens on the overlapping issues caused by multiple social identities.

Failing to consider intersectionality in the workplace can result in overlooking marginalized voices and perpetuating systemic inequities. Therefore, embracing intersectionality is essential for creating truly inclusive environments where all employees feel valued, respected, and able to bring their whole selves to work.

How does intersectionality impact the workplace?

Intersectionality impacts the employee experience, including hiring and promotion practices, workplace culture, and access to opportunities and resources. We can’t turn off a part of our identity. But, employees with intersecting marginalized identities may face compounded discrimination and barriers to advancement, leading to feelings of exclusion and disengagement.

Moreover, traditional DEI often focuses solely on single-axis identities that overlook the unique needs and experiences of individuals with intersecting identities, further perpetuating inequalities. By centering intersectionality in DEI efforts, organizations can create more equitable and inclusive workplaces where all employees feel a sense of belonging.

How Can Recruiters Incorporate Intersectionality?

Recruiters are vital in ensuring intersectionality is at the forefront of a company’s mission. By providing space for intersectionality, recruiters can attract and retain candidates with diverse backgrounds and experiences, contributing to a more inclusive and equitable workplace. Here are some ways recruiters can incorporate intersectionality into their diversity recruitment efforts:

Diverse Sourcing Strategies

Hiring candidates through one job board or local university will limit who can access open opportunities. Diversify your sourcing strategies to find candidates with different backgrounds and identities. Some strategies include partnering with diverse professional organizations or attending events and conferences focused on underrepresented groups.

For instance, the Professional Diversity Network assists employers in any industry nationally to connect with qualified talent from diverse backgrounds. They offer recruiting solutions such as OFCCP compliance, job advertisement, candidate placement, and career events that exponentially expand organizations’ reach. 

Holistic Candidate Assessment

Take a holistic approach to candidate assessment, considering the full range of experiences, skills, and competencies. Avoid relying solely on traditional criteria as intersectionality plays a role in a candidate’s ability to obtain opportunities. For instance, a candidate may not have a bachelor’s degree, but they might have five-plus years of experience in the field which makes them equally as qualified for the position. Test out various competency-based assessments that instead highlight a candidate’s ability to contribute to the organization’s goals and values.

Cultivating Inclusive Interview Environments

Create inclusive interview environments where candidates feel comfortable expressing their authentic selves and sharing their unique perspectives. Train interviewers on the importance of asking open-ended questions that invite candidates to discuss their strengths, thought processes, and previous obstacles to success. Reach out to existing company ERGs or diversity consultants who can reveal hidden roadblocks candidates may face in the recruiting process. 

Addressing Bias and Stereotypes

Be mindful of unconscious bias and stereotypes that may influence recruitment decisions. DEI is a continuous process of re-evaluating and recognizing past mistakes. Embrace the journey and continue to provide training and education to your organization’s recruiters and hiring managers. No hiring process is perfect but recognizing and mitigating bias throughout the recruitment process fosters a more inclusive mindset and encourages positive work environments. 

Also, be mindful of how the company and hiring team present themselves to candidates. From the language used in job descriptions to the first round of interviews, everything can influence how welcomed a candidate feels. 

Building Relationships with Underrepresented Communities

Building relationships with underrepresented communities and organizations will help you better understand their needs, challenges, and aspirations. Engage in outreach efforts that build trust and rapport with these communities, demonstrating a genuine commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion. By building authentic connections, recruiters can develop real relationships with top talent and create pipelines for career advancement and success.

Many organizations choose to work with companies that have partnerships dedicated to underrepresented communities. In particular, the Professional Diversity Network partners with the National Urban League, the NAACP, Hire Veterans, the International Association of Women, and more. 

How to Acknowledge Intersectionality in the Workplace

To incorporate intersectionality and foster belonging in the workplace, organizations can take several concrete steps:

Conduct Intersectional DEI Training

Provide training and education on intersectionality to raise awareness and understanding among employees and leaders. Offer workshops, seminars, and resources that explore the complexities of intersecting identities and their implications for workplace dynamics.

Implement Inclusive Policies and Practices

Review and revise organizational policies, practices, and procedures to ensure they consider and address intersecting forms of discrimination and privilege. It may include revising hiring and promotion criteria, developing inclusive benefits packages, and implementing flexible work arrangements to accommodate diverse needs.

Amplify Marginalized Voices

Create opportunities for employees to share their experiences, perspectives, and expertise within the organization. Establish employee resource groups or affinity networks for individuals with intersecting identities to find safe spaces, connect, support each other, and advocate for change.

Foster Allyship and Advocacy

Encourage employees to act as allies and advocates. Provide training on allyship and bystander intervention to equip employees with the skills and knowledge to support their peers and challenge discrimination and bias in the workplace.

Intersectionality is a powerful lens through which to understand and address the complexities of human identity and experience. By incorporating intersectionality in DEI efforts, organizations create more equitable, inclusive, and welcoming workplaces where all employees feel valued, respected, and able to bring their whole selves to work. Let’s commit to building a future of DEI that embraces intersectionality and paves the way for a more just and inclusive world.

Commit to Intersectionality with PDN!

The Professional Diversity Network (PDN) connects job seekers nationally to companies that truly value DEI. Contact us today to find out how we can help with your unique recruitment needs.