What Is Intersectionality In The Workplace? A Guide for HR Professionals

What is intersectionality at work and what do HR professionals need to know about it? We explain what you need to know.

Intersectionality in the workplace has been a topic of discussion since it was first heard in 1989 by Dr Kimberlé Crenshaw. In today's rapidly evolving work landscape, the concept has emerged as a crucial framework for HR professionals to understand marginalised groups and gender diversity within the workplace.

Intersectionality is not just a catchphrase. It is a powerful lens for HR to view the unique experiences and challenges that employees face due to social identities. The role of HR professionals is to grasp the significance of intersectionality in the workplace and to unlock the doors to a more cohesive and inclusive environment for all.

Understanding Intersectionality In The Workplace

But, what is intersectionality?

As Wikipedia defines it, ‘Intersectionality is an analytical framework for understanding how a person's various social and political identities combine to create different modes of discrimination and privilege.’ 

Professor Crenshaw first coined the term 'intersectionality' in 1989. This followed significant issues during the civil rights movements of the 50s and 60s. 

The term initially focused on the distinct struggles and experiences of Black women who experience unique discrimination due to their status as both Black and female – discrimination that is unique to that experienced by a Black man or a white woman. Over time, its scope has broadened to include a multitude of marginalised individuals. This includes the LGBTQ+ community, individuals with disabilities and religious groups.

Now, what does intersectionality in the workplace mean?

At its core, intersectionality is a dynamic framework that is used by HR professionals to recognise individuals as multifaceted beings. This begins with HR's deep understanding of the different backgrounds that make up a workforce. Whether it be race, gender, age, class, ability, sexual orientation or other marginalised groups, intersectionality lays the foundation for equal opportunities at work.

Fostering a workplace that is culturally inclusive is important for businesses. Inclusion efforts must break oppression barriers that may affect many employees. Building a diverse and inclusive workplace is not only beneficial to the company but to many of its employees too!

An HR team's job is to enhance healthy, ethical and safe workplaces. An intersectional approach - which starts with the senior leaders of a company - forms part of a company's corporate culture. HR's role is to filter this culture within the company. Embracing intersectionality prevents any unfair treatment and fosters a more inclusive environment.

Examples of intersectionality at work

Intersectionality in the workplace becomes evident when you start looking at the data. Research has shown significant gender pay gaps across various dimensions of inequality within the workplace - even to this day!

Here’s an example of how intersectionality can impact workers. A UN report stated that for every $1 a man makes across the globe, women earn $0,77. However, if you’re a woman of colour, that pay gap is likely even greater. A US study in 2020 showed that American black women earned about 64% and Hispanic women earned about 57% of what non-Hispanic men earned.

The importance of understanding intersectionality isn’t limited to race and gender alone. For instance, white gay men have to deal with homophobia at their place of work; however, gay Black men face homophobia, and racism simultaneously. Similarly, disabled white women may encounter sexism and ableism, while Muslim women face sexism, Islamophobia, and racism.

HR's Role In Addressing Unique Challenges Faced By Individuals

Reviewing inclusive policies and practices

Navigating the complexities of intersectionality is important. It acts as a guiding compass, ensuring that the identities of employees are treated equally. These policies recognise the dimensions of various workforce groups. HR's aim is to treat all employees with diversity and inclusion in mind.

Employers and HR leaders are the driving force for these inclusion efforts. Inclusion programmes, clear communication and continuous review of company practices and procedures lead the way for better employee engagement.

Supporting employee resource groups

Employee resource groups (ERGs) are vital platforms that bridge gaps between organisational policies and the lived experience of intersecting employees. ERGs amplify the voices of employees who are faced with discrimination and can shape workplace culture by advocating for inclusive practices and driving change.

These groups offer a supportive platform, providing practical tips and coping strategies.

HR's responsibilities concerning ERGs encompass various aspects:

  • Establishment and Support: HR is often responsible for initiating the formation of ERGs and providing the necessary resources for their establishment. This includes helping interested employees gather, define the group's purpose, and align it with the organisation's diversity and inclusion objectives.
  • Resource Allocation: HR ensures that ERGs receive the resources they need to operate effectively. This can involve budget allocation for events, training, and initiatives that promote the group's objectives.
  • Leadership and Guidance: HR may provide guidance or training to ERG leaders to help them effectively lead and manage their groups. This includes fostering communication skills, conflict resolution, and event planning.
  • Integration with Organisational Goals: HR ensures that ERGs align with the organisation's strategic goals and diversity initiatives. ERGs should work in harmony with the broader organisational mission to enhance workplace culture.
  • Policy and Procedure Alignment: HR collaborates with ERGs to ensure that their activities adhere to organisational policies and procedures. This alignment ensures that ERGs operate within the organisation's framework while maintaining autonomy.
  • Monitoring and Assessment: HR may track the activities and impact of ERGs by collecting feedback, measuring engagement, and assessing outcomes. This data helps in evaluating the effectiveness of ERGs and making informed decisions.
  • Providing Platforms: HR helps ERGs gain visibility by providing platforms for sharing their initiatives and accomplishments. This can include internal communications, newsletters, or company-wide meetings.
  • Collaboration and Partnerships: HR facilitates collaborations between ERGs and other departments or teams to promote cross-functional initiatives and achieve shared diversity and inclusion objectives.
  • Addressing Concerns: HR serves as a conduit for employees to express concerns or feedback related to ERGs. They ensure that the concerns are addressed appropriately while maintaining the integrity of the ERG's objectives.
  • Continual Improvement: HR supports ERGs in evolving and adapting to changing needs. They encourage ERGs to continuously improve their strategies and offerings.

Addressing discrimination and bias

It's crucial for HR professionals to address instances of discrimination and bias as swiftly as possible. Having different systems in place will mitigate these intersectional experiences, such as:

  • Education and training: Provide regular training to employees on recognising and addressing intersectional discrimination.
  • Clear report channels: Establish confidential and accessible channels for employees to report intersectional experiences.
  • Investigation: Thoroughly investigate reported incidents and implement appropriate action to address them.
  • Policy review: Continuously review anti-discrimination policies and adapt the corporate culture accordingly.
  • Teamwork: Encourage employee engagement through an inclusion programme or corporate culture initiative. Fostering diversity and inclusion among teams will ensure equality remains at the forefront.

Flexible accommodations

Intersectional identities in the workplace require certain accommodations. Flexibility in providing this is pivotal for companies to foster an inclusive workplace. Recognising these challenges ensures that all individuals contribute their best while navigating their own intersectional employee experience.

This includes:

  • Flexible working times to accommodate specific employee concerns/needs.
  • Physical accommodations, such as ramps and elevators, address the needs of disabled employees.
  • Offering time off or modified schedules for cultural and religious occasions to help support employees who have diverse backgrounds.

HR collaborates with employees to identify the accommodations that best align with their specific intersectional challenges. This might involve flexible work hours, remote work options, accessible facilities, or tailored support systems. Moreover, it’s essential that HR ensures that the accommodations process respects employees' confidentiality and dignity. This involves maintaining open channels of communication, understanding employees' comfort levels, and treating their requests with sensitivity.

The provision of flexible accommodations for intersectional identities isn't just about meeting legal obligations; it's about cultivating a culture of inclusivity and respect. When employees witness that their unique needs are recognized and addressed, it fosters a sense of belonging and loyalty to the organisation. This, in turn, leads to higher engagement, productivity, and overall workplace satisfaction.

Conflict resolution

Strategies to use:

  • Encourage open and honest communication where individuals can share their perspectives and experiences.
  • Use trained mediators to facilitate constructive conversations to help the concerned parties find common ground.
  • HR must provide diversity and inclusion training to all employees. This helps foster understanding and empathy towards fellow team members.
  • Raise awareness about unconscious biases and how they have an impact on the workplace.
  • Ensure company policies are updated with inclusive policies. These policies must ensure that they address intersectionality in the workplace.
  • Encourage intersectional individuals to voice their concerns and provide active support where/when needed.
  • Offer resources and ongoing support for individuals involved in conflicts and/or who are victimised by discrimination. This can involve ERGs, counselling, mentorships and inclusion efforts.

Intersectionality sensitivity training

This can be done in the following ways:

  1. Mandatory training: Incorporate intersectional sensitivity training during onboarding processes. This ensures new employees are up to speed on the matter from the get-go.
  2. Diverse training formats: Accommodating different learning styles and schedules of employees can be helpful. Such as ongoing workshops, booklets, webinars and seminars.
  3. Case studies: Use real-life examples to illustrate the challenges of intersectionality. Provide HR professionals with resources for effective problem-solving.
  4. Diversity data: Providing a safe and inclusive workplace sets the tone for intersectional employees to voice their opinions comfortably. Collecting these data - in the form of surveys or questionnaires - can help the company better understand the dynamics of its employees. These data provide valuable insight and allow companies to structure and adapt their inclusion policies accordingly.

Conclusion: Using HR Software To Support Your DE&I Efforts

The pressure to improve performance and inclusion in the workplace is very real. HR professionals are the driving force behind diversity, equity and inclusion efforts that need to be comprehensive and effective. And for this, HR pros need the right technology

XCD's innovative software provides powerful reporting and analytics, time-tracking and payroll features - to name a few - that effortlessly help HR professionals make informed decisions about their workforce. With a vast range of features that can support your DE&I efforts, XCD HRMS is a must-have for creating and measuring intersectional diversity and inclusion policies in your workplace. To find out more, book a demo or get in touch with XCD today!

 

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