Intersectionality and the real problem of diversity in silos

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Many companies still consider diversity policies solely in terms of dealing with separate categories of gender, ethnicity, sexuality, socio-economic class, religion or disability. However, a better awareness of how these strands overlap — a concept known as intersectionality — can improve an organisation’s understanding of its staff.

FT

I can’t tell you how many times I have expressed this problem with traditional diversity to people. Most thing they are doing a great thing focusing on diversity, and I never want to stop that. However they miss the point of true diversity…

As the FT piece points out (found via Jonathan Ashong Lamptey)

Treating people as individuals is key to improving this perception, she says. Taking an intersectional view means recognising individuals can have multiple identities that overlap, for example an Asian LGBT woman or a white disabled man.

Looking at the law, the example which I would use to demonstrate the importance of intersectionality is Baylis-Flannery v. DeWilde.

In the case of the complainant, who alleged discrimination by her employer on the basis of sex and race, the Tribunal found that the discrimination she experienced was intersectional, and observed:

While the findings of discrimination made in this case are of sufficient gravity that Ms Baylis-Flannery could succeed on either enumerated ground of race or sex, or on both grounds, one set following the other, the law must acknowledge that she is not a woman who happens to be Black, or a Black person who happens to be female, but a Black woman. The danger in adopting a single ground approach to the analysis of this case is that it could be characterized as a sexual harassment matter that involved a Black complainant, thus negating the importance of the racial discrimination that she suffered as a Black woman. In terms of the impact on her psyche, the whole is more than the sum of the parts: the impact of these highly discriminatory acts on her personhood is serious. (2003 HRTO 28, para 145)

But as Jonathan points out lets look beyond legal discrimination, as its easy to see the problem. He uses a good example of himself to show how in certain contexts he has advantages and disadvantages.

…he says: “Being a 6ft 2 man has its advantages in the workplace but being black has disadvantages, at different times and different places.”

This also gets more tricky once you have a number of people who share similar categories. My example I always use is if you have a large number of white women from a middle class background, how does this effect the inclusion or culture of the business for other non-white or working class women? Outside the workplace I have no issue with women in tech initiatives, but I really do like what Sarah Lamb did with the Girl Geekdinners, which felt a lot more inclusive due to the 50% invited rule.

Its complex but thats the point, diversity and inclusion isn’t a thing you can throw magic dust/money at. Likewise training is good but its not something you think about away from base then come back and forget.

The way to build empathy, foster inclusiveness and create trust in the workplace, according to Mr Ashong Lamptey, is to discuss difficult topics in employee groups or staff networks that share a common identity. “Instead of guessing, ask the people who are having those experiences,” he says.

“Organisations should make this part of a long-term strategy,” Mr Ashong Lamptey says.

I have to say I especially like the idea of the reverse mentoring whereby managers are mentored by a minority staff member.

If only we could take a number of these practices and group them into something we could test and write up the studies of?

Author: Ianforrester

Senior firestarter at BBC R&D, emergent technology expert and serial social geek event organiser.

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