Intersectionality - The New Buzzword We All Need To Know About
Updated: Oct 10
"The theory that the overlap of various social identities, as race, gender, sexuality, and class, contributes to the specific type of systemic oppression and discrimination experienced by an individual (often used attributively): Her paper uses a queer intersectionality approach."
"The oppression and discrimination resulting from the overlap of an individual’s various social identities: the intersectionality of oppression experienced by black women."
Both definitions are taken from https://www.dictionary.com/browse/intersectionality?s=t
To be a useful ally for the LGBTQIA+ community, you and your organisation must be aware of a new buzzword. That buzzword is 'intersectionality'. Don't worry if this your first time hearing this term. The first time I heard it was only back in November 2019.
Historically, the term was first coined by the African-American civil rights academic, Kimberle Crenshaw in 1989. In the paper she researched and wrote for the University of Chicago Legal Forum, she emphasised the need for employers never to consider identifying features separately or in a vacuum. Instead, these features should be evaluated holistically as a whole. Hence, people are aware of the historic and overlapping discrimination that a particular person or other minority grouping have faced for millennia.
More specifically, Crenshaw described the term – and her critical race theory as a whole – in an interview with Time Magazine which read that intersectionality, as the leading proponent behind intersectional feminism at large is "a prism for seeing how various forms of inequality often operate together and exacerbate each other.”
The reason why everyone must know the definition of intersectionality is because of what it highlights. It is what it says on the tin. Its understanding shows how various factors and identities such as gender, sexuality, race and class, can come together in just one person and their lived experiences. Like Crenshaw said in a recent Time Magazine interview, not "all inequality is created equal." In only one person, they can face an overlapping plethora of crippling and harrowing rhetoric in the form of sexism, homophobia, biphobia, transphobia, classism, ableism, and so much more. This list is disgustingly long, and incidents of each are witnessed every day in all corners of the world. Whether that's in the boardroom or the storeroom, these issues are still not addressed in a meaningful way.
Consequently, the life trajectory of this person and the positions they want to achieve can be much more challenging in an industry, and broader society, that doesn't understand how much the system doesn't help, by simply ignoring them for the longest of times.
What can we all do to help? The best thing you can do is think of the most diverse or intersectional person you know and ask them about their life story and how they got to where they are today. If not, create an example in your head.
Think of the experiences that a black transgender woman will face throughout her life literally from the cradle to the grave. She may be from a historically and currently economically-deprived area in the north-east of England. She may be a second-generation immigrant from a dictatorial country as her parents may have fled due to rampant political persecution, flagrant human rights abuses and other societal forms of deprivation. She decides to go to university, but because of the expense in tuition, accommodation fees and familial obligations, she goes to a local university that is not in the Russell Group. You juggle the above commitments and achieve a First Class degree and get a training contract offer by a Magic Circle law firm, for example.
Already your gender, sexuality, ethnicity and socio-economic background in the above application cycle will be explicitly and unconsciously examined when you're starting in your desired career. That’s because you are different. Different in your gender, who you love and where you’re from. All because you don’t fit the hetero-normative idea of a person in that privileged profession.
This seen in instances such as if your name was Rowan, you could expect a callback. However, if your name is Rawan, your chances are reduced as your name is a marker to your diverse story. This is a real-life story whereby Rawan actually used the name Rowan to be considered worthy of an interview in the eyes of a prospective employer. This experience is not limited to Rawan and her difficulties in finding a job. This can be testified by thousands and has been thoroughly and needily investigated. In the BBC article linked below, Rianna Crawford writes that British citizens from Black, Asian and/or minority (BAME) communities “have to send, on average, 60% more job applications to get a positive response”, as per the work of researchers at Nuffield College’s Centre for Investigation (CSI).
Despite this, you have still sacrificed much more to get there. Recruiters do not even consider the daily tribulations you face. Undoubtedly, feelings of Imposter Syndrome may already be settling in. You are never sure whether you're there to help fill in a tick box for a company's diversity policy via tokenist initiatives or because you are the best candidate.
Our understanding of intersectionality doesn't have to be controversial. Instead, its teaching shouldn't be controversial because it highlights how some or all of these identities can come together to shape who we are and what we can become. That's why, as a whole, numerous aspects of society must adopt an intersectional feminist approach to tackling systemic oppression in the workplace. Employers can replicate the historical and current recommendations of black intersectional feminists, such as Olive Morris, Lola Olufemi and Minna Salami, and charitable organisations such as Imkaan and the London Black Women's Project. Their respective works help us understand why someone has faced multiple forms of discrimination. Simultaneously, our world can become more sustainable, compassionate and empathic.
When we understand a person's backstory and not look at them solely through a tokenist lens, we can foster more harmonious and empathetic workplaces. This is because we are aware that some people – from the moment they're born – have a much harder time getting their foot in the door. Never mind trying to break a glass ceiling in their own right, which they should every equal opportunity to try and do.
Finally, for any firms, chamber or business to be successful, it must actively put in the effort to foster a more sustainable workplace. Those in charge of recruitment can – at the very least – be more sympathetic in understanding the hurdles that some people will face more than others. Employers need to increase their awareness of intersectionality and adopt a black feminist agenda that could be tailored from the above individual's works so everyone can enjoy going to work. Resultingly everyone will feel supported and respected, in turn increasing the diversity and much-needed representation in the upper echelons of the legal or any other industry.
BBC article mentioned above: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-46927417