An intersectional approach to inclusion at work

April 02, 2024

What is Intersectionality?

In the workplace, the term intersectionality is becoming more popular in discussions of equity, diversity and inclusion. Some larger organisations in Ireland have started to include the term in their diversity policies. While the rights steps are being taken, many employers and employees are unsure of what intersectionality means and why it matters in the workplace.

Essentially, intersectionality is the idea that people have more than one identity and that those identities are inherently combined. It is the recognition that individuals face unique forms of discrimination based on multiple overlapping identities such as gender, race, class, sexual orientation, disability, or ethnicity.

Discussions of intersectionality are happening more often now in the workplace but the term itself is not new. It was coined 35 years ago by Kimberlé Crenshaw, American Civil Rights Activist and University Professor. Crenshaw used it in the context of social justice. She argued that anti-racist movements centred around black men and feminist movements centred around white women. This resulted in both movements overlooking the unique challenges faced by black women.

Importance of Intersectionality in the Workplace

Taking intersectionality into consideration is important because now more than ever, organisations are focusing on equity, diversity and inclusion and recognising its importance in the workplace. However, a lot of organisations approach EDI sequentially. In March, they will focus on women ahead of International Women’s Day. In June, they will celebrate Pride Month and focus on the LGBTQ+ community. But what about a woman who also has a disability? Or a gay man who is also Hispanic? Only one aspect of their identity is being recognised and spoken about. While celebrating these groups and educating employees on issues they face is well-intended, having a single-minded strategy might actually get in the way of progress. People themselves aren’t one-dimensional so the approach to EDI shouldn’t be either.

If a company doesn’t prioritise intersectionality in its inclusion efforts, it risks building an inclusion program that is counterproductive. For example, your organisation might organise a charity walk and encourage employees to take part. If the plans don’t take employees with disabilities into account by offering accommodations or alternatives, some employees with disabilities are likely to be excluded from taking part. These employees might feel embarrassed and discouraged from trying to get involved in future activities. This contributes further to marginalisation and achieves the complete opposite of what was intended.

Embracing Intersectionality in the Workplace

There are several steps an organisation can take to understand and embrace intersectionality in the workplace. This will help create a more inclusive environment for everyone.

Actively seek different perspectives and feedback from your employees. The people working in your organisation will be your best resource in finding out how inclusive and supportive an environment it is. You could consider sending out a confidential survey. This may be the best way to offer your employees the chance to express their opinions anonymously. It’s equally important to encourage employees not to hold back. Make it clear that there will be no negative consequences for speaking up.

Encourage the formation of Employee Resource Groups. Employee Resource Groups are social circles of employees who join together based on shared identity and characteristics. They help foster equity, diversity and inclusion by giving the members a voice and safe space to share their experiences. If you have existing ERGs, there could be an opportunity for collaboration between them. Encourage your employees to see the groups as overlapping circles, rather than standalone efforts.

An important step in embracing intersectionality in the workplace is to educate yourself on issues that affect marginalised groups of employees at work. Making the effort to educate yourself around how different aspects of people’s identities work together and shape their work experiences will build effective inclusion initiatives.

Upcoming Events on Intersectionality

If you are interested in learning more about intersectionality in the workplace, Ibec Networks are hosting a series of free workshops with Irish Centre for Diversity. We will look at an intersectional approach to an inclusive workplace and the affects intersectionality has on diversity and inclusion at work. We will also be joined by our colleagues from Ibec’s ER division to review equality legislation and some recent case law. Following our presentations and workshop, we will be joined by a local organisation who will share their efforts to foster equality, diversity and inclusion in their workplace.

You can book your place here:

23 April- Dublin: Book here

24 April- Portlaoise: Book here

30 April- Waterford: Book here

For more information, please visit the Ibec website.

Karen Moloney

Executive, Ibec Networks