The Case for Intersectionality
Intersectionality has been a commonplace phrase in the feminist realm since Kimberlé Crenshaw coined the term in 1989. Essentially, it refers to the notion that the combination of different identities – age, race, gender, class, sexuality, nationality dramatically influence the way people experience the world. The intersection of these identities contributes to the obstacles and/or privileges that those who share some but not all identities may experience.
Too often, human resource stakeholders fall into the trap of the one size fits all approach. Its appeal in simplicity sacrifices efficacy. These one size fits all approaches for women in leadership aim to solve the challenges for white, middle-class, cisgender women. The Western default. Which leaves out doubly or triply marginalized women as a result. As organizational demographics evolve, they leave out more women than they aim to benefit.
According to research conducted by LeanIn.Org and McKinsey & Co. in 2019, women make up 38 percent of frontline leader-level positions in the United States and Canada. White women hold 27 percent of these manager roles and women of color only hold 12 percent. The disparity is even greater at the executive level. White women hold 18 percent of roles while women of color hold 4 percent.
These discrepancies are due to a large disfunction of systemic and cultural barriers, not just failed women advocacy programs. Infusing intersectionality into policies and practices aimed at advancing women in leadership can help.
How can we do better?
Embracing intersectionality means embracing variety which adds an element of complexity. To ensure an environment where everyone can thrive because of their differences, follow these three steps:
1. Ask the Experts
The ideal approach is to have a diversity and inclusion expert with a focus on human-centered design to solve persistent and painful challenges with an empathetic perspective. Applying these principles to intersectionality and women’s advocacy efforts ensures the correct focus. The women leaders that are the goal are experts in their own experiences and challenges. Opening a dialogue creates space for these women to tell you exactly what they need without any guesswork.
2. Diverse Populations Deserve Diverse Solutions
It is necessary to tailor approaches to fit different populations to achieve satisfaction. Equality is about giving everyone the same level of support, but equity requires different supports for different situations.
3. Use Multi-Dimensional Metrics to Track Multi-Level Impact
Lean on metrics, track engagement, retention, promotion, salary, and representation to measure the success of empowering women leaders. It is important to look at the data from a demographic perspective to see if the efforts positively impact all women. If efforts to advance women leaders are working for certain groups disproportionately, it is important to investigate and reevaluate accordingly.