Why Diversity initiatives need to take an Intersectional Approach.

A recent buzz word of late amongst the ‘woke’ is the term intersectionality, however despite its recent popularity, the theory of intersectionality has been around since the 1990s when American lawyer Kimberle Crenshaw coined the term to explain how different parts of our identity form our experiences.

Crenshaw uses her theory as a means to spotlight Black women’s experiences in particular, as society tends to ignore Black women’s narratives. In terms of social justice movements, white women represent the large majority of the feminist movement and with discussion on police brutality Black men come to mind: “When the practices expound identity as woman or person of colour as an either/or proposition, they relegate the identity of women of colour to a location that resists telling”(Crenshaw, 1991:92).

Taking this into account it is clear to see how inclusion and diversity initiatives cannot be general and overarching, but in actuality need to be specific. As Crenshaw’s own research revealed, “ironically, the main beneficiaries of affirmative action are white women”, (Chronicle, 2017). Although Malcolm X proclaimed all the way back in 1962 that the most disrespected person is the Black woman, this statement still rings true and acts as a reminder that genuine inclusion and diversity acknowledges differences in identity and creates action that champions equality for minorities in society.

For businesses to be genuinely inclusive, their initiatives need to take an intersectional approach. As previously mentioned Black women face a double form of discrimination that repeatedly excludes them from entering and participating in the workplace and society at large.

“At job interviews, the authors identified a double disadvantage in operation, with discrimination based on both ethnicity and gender.”(acas, 2013). A report from the Centre for Talent Innovation comprised a think tank that discovered that: “Our stats show that Black women are twice as likely as white women to be leaders in their communities — running a school board, leading a youth initiative, heading up a charity or community organisation, as 43% report — but their experience outside of work falls off the radar of management at work.”(Hewlett and Wingfield, 2015).

Regardless of the importance Black women are in their communities and how much they give back, there is still little representation of Black people let alone Black women in senior positions, “Compared to white women, Black women are more likely to report feeling stalled in their careers (44% vs 30%)”(Lebowitz, 2015). This reveals a systematic discrimination that needs to be addressed separate from the gender discrimination faced by white women.

This is furthered by the report that cites how “Black women are at an immediate disadvantage in the workplace…Often, they’re not perceived as leadership material because they do not look, act, or sound like white men, who make up the bulk of today’s business leaders” (ibid.). Coupled with the previous research on how white women are the main benefactors of affirmative action, it is clear that businesses need to introduce inclusion initiatives that are intersectional and directly address the specific discrimination Black women experience at work.

If businesses truly seek to be more inclusive they need various diversity and inclusion initiatives, for example there needs to be an inclusion initiative that addresses race, as well programmes that deal with gender discrimination. Furthermore for genuine progress there needs to be a perception shift, through racial awareness training, where the confidence and ambitious of Black women is not viewed as aggressive but rather as the assertiveness that white men are praised and promoted for.

Written by Maya Bednall-Greaves