“If we aren’t intersectional, some of us, the most vulnerable, are going to fall through the cracks” – Kimberlé Crenshaw
Intersectionality refers to the unique experiences that arise due to the interaction between race, gender, disability and other factors. The term was coined by the scholar Kimberlé Crenshaw in 1989 mainly to explain the oppression and discrimination faced by women of color. However, the term has been expanded to include many more aspects of social identity. Two movements that highlight the impact and importance of intersectionality are #SayHerName and #MMIW (Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women).
“Intersectionality is the central nervous system of marginalized groups.” (Patricia Juárez, UC Berkeley & ARIA facilitator). Intersectional groups are typically subject to more – and different – microaggressions because the discriminatory effects of their multiple identities are compounded. Statistics show that Black, Latina and Native American women get paid far less than their white counterparts. Most diversity initiatives focus solely on gender or racial issues, thereby unable to capture the unique experiences of intersectional groups. These reasons necessitate broadening our understanding on intersectionality and identifying ways to support intersectional groups.,
Supporting and advocating for intersectional groups starts with prioritizing them to understand their unique lived experiences. As a first step, we can ensure that diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) related efforts are measured in performance reviews. This will encourage all employees to participate and share the burden of DEI work. Additionally, mentorship and sponsorship of BIPOC will assure that they get a seat at the table and are involved in critical or high profile projects. Finally, a pay parity audit that also serves to make the promotion and appraisal process more equitable to BIPOC women, will aid in the creation of solid support systems for them. Creating an organizational culture that welcomes and supports intersectional groups of people is key to the success of DEI efforts.
Move from Intentions to Actions
Act by studying and understanding the issues and concepts to the point where you are able to explain it to others.
Act by examining yourself. Identify attitudes and behaviors you need to change and practice embodying those changes consistently and persistently until you have formed new habits and adopted a more inclusive mindset.
Act by teaching what you have learned to others through conversation, training, and coaching. Focus on changing the attitudes and practices of others and enforcing inclusive culture through policy.
For starters, educating ourselves on what intersectionality truly means is quite important. Some of us who are privileged may not be able to relate to the concept of intersectionality. This is also a concept that has been taught at diversity workshops, however for people from intersectional groups, this is what defines their lives. Listen, learn and understand the obstacles and microaggressions faced by intersectional groups. Respect their opinions and value their thoughts. Most importantly, understand our privileges and how they can be spent in a meaningful way to mentor and elevate people from intersectional groups.
Once we have come to understand the experiences and expectations of people from intersectional groups, we need to prioritize and prepare an action plan. This action plan may include creating or strengthening support groups or mentorship circles. “Power, not pity, possession or paternalism” says Brittany Packnett, an educator, activist and writer, when referring to how the rules of the game need to be changed when it comes to advocating for intersectional groups. Your action plan may involve redesigning the existing appraisal process to account for inequities in the promotion process. Or you may want to hold your colleagues accountable for their advocacy for people with intersectional identities. Whatever specific items our action plan may have, it’s important to continue to have conversations with diverse groups of people to ensure that any progress is measured, tracked and continuously improved.
Institutional data will help us identify and narrow down which units or departments hire and retain individuals from intersectional groups. There may be policies or practices that may be obstacles to their recruitment, retention or career growth. Additionally, there may be inequities in some benefits such as educational opportunities, that may cause a significant roadblock for them. While you may not be in a position to advocate for policy changes, you can certainly begin to reach out within your team or department to see what their views are on the topic of intersectionality.