For more than three decades, YSC Consulting has partnered with hundreds of organizations on their leadership strategies, and in recent years, we have seen a dramatic rise in requests for our help designing effective Diversity & Inclusion (D&I) programs. Our philosophy has always been that Diversity is counting your people, and Inclusion is about making your people count.
It’s not always as simple as viewing new generations entering the workplace through the lens of their gender, sexuality or class. The most innovative workplaces are the ones that help individuals harness the entire power of their identities and give them safety to be authentic. This means looking at inclusion through several lenses and acknowledging that the intersection of these multiple identities has tremendous value in the workplace.
What is Intersectionality?
Intersectionality was a term coined by Prof. Kimberly Crenshaw in the late 80s, and it refers to the overlapping nature of our identity categories, thus creating a more dynamic and nuanced lived experience. This is particularly true for those who fall under multiple minority categories and have faced compounded disadvantages.
Adopted quickly by the public sector, the corporate world has more recently started to value that identity is not just one strand, but many strands that illustrate the rich complexity of individuals. This includes thinking styles, experiences, values and beliefs, all of which shape the individual’s lived experiences, and as a result, how they see the world.
Why is intersectionality important for HR?
HR is about knowing and understanding your people, so that you can create the conditions to optimise their potential. Intersectionality is key to this because it recognises that people have multiple overlapping identities that can compound their experiences and perspectives of the world, and this also shapes who they are at work. In order to tap into potential, leverage diverse thinking and drive greater innovation, it is critical that HR teams look at their people through an intersectional lens. However, diversity categories have often been looked at as siloed strands, which risks missing the nuance of experiences that minority groups face.
For example, there has been a sizeable change to get women on boards, with 29% of FTSE 100 Board positions now being held by women. However, when you drill deeper, the intersectionality of gender is all that shows up, not race. In fact, white women are 20 times more likely than ethnic women to reach the top three potions in the FTSE 100. These shockingly low figures are why HR professionals need to fully understand the concept of complete identities and how their programs may be missing certain kinds of talent all together.
What are HR teams doing around intersectionality in practice?
We are starting to see a move away from a narrow focus on diversity (simply increasing representation of each individual strand), and seeing more organisations take steps toward creating a culture of inclusion with psychologically safe environments that enable rich diversity to thrive. The rise of conscious inclusion workshops that explore the multiple identities that ALL people have (e.g., being a mother, an introvert, age, socio-economic background etc.), and the importance of creating safe spaces for authentic identities to thrive, is a testament to the importance of this topic.
HR and D&I Leaders in progressive organisations are taking bold steps to ensure psychological safety has room to foster in their organisations.
Here are some examples we’re seeing in practice today that are making a difference:
- Initiatives previously targeting one minority group are expanding to include multiple, for instance, talent development programmes for women.
- Decision-making groups or D&I committees that have a say on change initiatives are including representation from multiple employee resource groups (ERGs), who not only shape the agenda but also shed light on what the appropriate impact measures should be.
- Demographic data forms are expanding to include more strands of diversity, recognizing that gender and race are not the only categories, but how we use this data to shape more inclusive policies and processes is the challenge.
- In the spirit of making your people count, we’re also seeing more organisations pushing for inclusion and belonging surveys that get to the heart of what it takes to make employees feel like they have a stake in the organization.
- Creating safe spaces to talk about hidden issues and experiences that have been overshadowed by the siloed diversity categories; for instance, examine how the experiences of race and social background have compounded the experience of LGBT people.
Hence, being truly inclusive means that organisations create psychological safety and an atmosphere where people can be authentic and bring their whole selves to work without fear of being left behind. It is these cultures and workspaces that will allow innovation to thrive and enable their organisations to be future focused and productive.