At the Corner of Diversity and Talent

When thinking of increasing diversity at work, recruiters may target applicants from a specific group or “candidate pool.” For example, a financial services firm may create a “Women in Finance” program for high school students to attract female candidates to their private wealth practice. This approach has shown to be successful in addressing one group of underrepresented candidates. That being said, future-thinking employers will need to address gaps that overlap multiple variables. Modern organizations should expand their diversity efforts to include intersectionality in order to build truly diverse teams that encourage employees to bring their full selves to work.

Intersection-what? Intersectionality is defined as the complex way in which the effects of different forms of discrimination (such as racism, sexism, and classism) combine or overlap, especially in the experiences of marginalized people or groups. While diversity seeks representation of different groups of people, intersectionality looks at the unique challenges and experiences of individuals who are impacted by multiple elements. For example, 50-year-old women may experience unique challenges by being both female (sexism) and over the age of 40 (ageism). If you are a visual learner, imagine the unique challenges that result when two (or more) streets meet at an intersection – a driver needs to juggle the potential threats coming from multiple directions and the rules of the road may be different.

We are all complex humans whose lives are influenced by more than one identifying factor (think: gender, race, age, class, sexual orientation, etc.). Take a few minutes to think through the attributes that have influenced your identity to date. How would you describe yourself to others to give them a full picture? With what groups of people do you identify? Likely your list will include several characteristics. For example, you may define yourself as being both a mother (gender) and the youngest among your siblings (age). You may associate yourself with a religion or a particular city. How many times have you heard someone describe themselves as a “true (fill in the city) person?”

Why is it important to understand intersectionality? The first step in solving any problem is to recognize there is one. In this case, certain individuals are double-challenged – fighting an uphill battle based on multiple identifying factors which may put them at a disadvantage in the workplace. The second step in problem solving is to give the issue a name so it can be described in a way others understand. Then, you can jump into the fun part¾solving for your organization!

A few ideas to get started:

  1. Dig harder into your employee/candidate data! If you are only looking at one characteristic at a time in your employee data, you may be overlooking an even bigger gap in employees who overlap two disadvantaged groups.
  2. Design your recruitment process for the most underrepresented party. This technique will continue to draw from the larger pool while also encouraging individuals from the underrepresented group.
  3. Bring your whole self to work. Statistics show that individuals from minority groups hide parts of their identity at work more than others. Your example makes a huge impact as a leader and colleague.

Now that you have added intersectionality to your lexicon, you will likely notice it more – in the news and as a topic among your talent community. And you can now be the person who explains it to friends, family, and colleagues.

Originally featured in UBA’s December 2020 HR Elements Newsletter.