Diversity & Inclusion

Intersectionality’s Role in the Workplace: Fostering Inclusion Needs for All

Intersectionality is a term that describes how different aspects of a person’s identity intersect and interact. It recognizes that individuals aren’t defined by a single identity but rather by multiple identities that can include race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, ability, and many other factors. In the workplace, intersectionality is crucial for promoting inclusion for all employees, especially those from marginalized or underrepresented groups.

The concept of intersectionality was first introduced by Kimberlé Crenshaw, a legal scholar and critical race theorist. She argued that traditional approaches to discrimination, which focused on a single axis of oppression such as race or gender, were inadequate in addressing the experiences of individuals who were part of multiple marginalized groups. For example, a black woman may face discrimination based on both her race and her gender, which can’t be adequately addressed by only examining either of those factors separately.

Intersectionality in the Workplace

Behavior transformation is essential to creating a workplace that embraces intersectionality. This involves changing the actions and behaviors of employees and leaders to create a more inclusive workplace. The transformation requires a shift in mindset that recognizes the value of diversity and promotes inclusion as a core value of the organization.

Once there’s a shift in mindset, the application of intersectionality using the 8-Inclusion Needs of All People framework (or 8-Needs framework) helps bridge the gap between practical and operationalizable methods to bring the transformational change desired.

The 8-Needs framework is a valuable tool to achieve organizational change, as it ensures all individuals feel included, valued, and supported by taking into account all their identities. The 8-Needs framework includes access, space, opportunity, representation, allowance, language, respect, and support. To put this framework into practice, organizations should assess their policies, practices, and culture to ensure they meet the eight inclusion needs of all their staff.

The Application of Intersectionality

By recognizing and addressing the unique experiences of individuals with multiple identities, organizations can create policies and practices that support diversity and inclusion and promote a workplace culture that values the contributions of all employees. Here are some practical ways organizations can ensure their approach includes the intersectional needs of all people with the application of the 8-Needs framework:

  1. Provide a practical way on “how” to be inclusive of the diverse needs of all people and a simple set of eight questions for people to use in their decision-making to ensure their decisions, actions, and solutions consider and meet the diverse needs of all people.
  2. Shift from the identity-specific siloed approach, and instead consolidate diversity and inclusion intervention efforts with a focus on the needs of all people, all identities, and all intersectionalities.
  3. Serve as the guide for diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) committees and councils to ensure the inclusion needs of all people are considered and addressed in their inclusive leadership while aligning identity-based employee resource group (ERG) efforts on a common goal and strategy of creating inclusion of all identities and intersectionalities. 
  4. Review existing policies, procedures, and ways of working against the 8-Needs framework to assist in identifying barriers where inclusion needs may be unmet, overlooked, or unjustly oppressed.
  5. Implement a consistent global approach that navigates the complexities of international organizations with offices in geographies with disparate cultures and laws that may conflict with identity-specific inclusion efforts.

The Importance of Intersectionality

It’s important to note that intersectionality isn’t just about addressing the experiences of employees who are part of marginalized or underrepresented groups; it’s also about recognizing and valuing the diversity of all employees, regardless of their identities. By acknowledging the intersections of identities, workplaces can create an environment that values the unique perspectives and experiences each employee brings to the table.

Moreover, intersectionality can also help identify and address systemic issues that may affect certain groups of employees. For example, a workplace may have policies that unintentionally disadvantage employees who are part of multiple marginalized groups. By recognizing the intersections of identities, employers can identify and address these systemic issues, which can help create a more equitable workplace for all employees.

Intersectionality is crucial for promoting inclusion in the workplace. By acknowledging and addressing the intersections of identities, workplaces can create a more inclusive environment that values the diversity of all employees. The importance of intersectionality lies in its recognition of the complex and overlapping experiences of individuals with multiple identities.

By assessing their policies, practices, and culture in light of the 8-Needs framework, organizations can create a more inclusive environment that promotes the well-being and success of all individuals. In its simplest form, the 8-Needs framework could be used as a questionnaire to understand where an organization needs to provide policies and practices for intersectionality.

Dr. Liz Wilson is a behavioral scientist, an organizational transformation expert, and founder of Include Inc. Originally from Australia and now based in the United States, Wilson is well known for her authentic, honest, and pragmatic approach to everything she does. This includes her simple yet powerful Include Change Method, which has achieved amazing results for her clients over the span of her 25-plus-year career.

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