15th Apr 2020
3 Min Read

Intersectionality: listening to the whole story

Elle Bradley-Cox
Elle Bradley-Cox
People & Change

How can businesses can tackle multiple layers of ingrained social injustice?

“If there’s no name for a problem, you can’t see it. If you can’t see it, you can’t solve it.” So says civil rights advocate Kimberlé Crenshaw. And that’s why she coined the word intersectionality in 1989 to explain the concept of double discrimination based on layers of difference. Explicitly, that’s multiple layers of social injustice.

Think of any differentiating factor that applies to you. Background, class, gender, ethnicity, sexuality, ability, faith – the list goes on. If you have more than one of these characteristics, you’re more likely to be differentiated from others who fit a stereotypical mould.

"If you‘re standing in the path of multiple forms of exclusion, you‘re likely to get hit by both."

Kimberlé Crenshaw on intersectionality

Of course, it’s impossible to be human and not have more than one characteristic – it’s just that society has made it simpler for those who choose to hide in plain sight.

But when we feel like we belong and can truly be ourselves at work, it turbocharges our performance – and therefore the success of our business. Clever leaders are cottoning onto this.

Here are some of our team’s thoughts on how IC can play its part as the backbone of every business to drive the conversation on intersectionality.

Elle Bradley-Cox, senior writer and editor

It’s our role as storytellers to make the invisible visible and give people a voice. A personal perspective can never be fake news: it’s not the only truth but it’s their truth. It’s no-one else’s job – it’s up to all of us together to be the change. Helping people share their powerful truth eloquently is how we’ll get there.

Russ Norton, head of client experience

There’s a big difference between ‘the truth’ – the collective understanding and perception of an issue – and ‘my truth’ – an individual’s actual lived experience. If we want to do more than be a silent witness, we must lean into uncomfortable truths, listen to the stories and experiences of people from all backgrounds and work together to dismantle barriers.

Dr Alex Gapud, consultant

One of the lessons from intersectionality is that one size doesn’t fit all. Each of the different layers of our experiences and interactions add up to make us who we are. We use the term ‘identity’ a lot, but the reality is that our identities are multi-layered across these different dimensions. As a result, we need to learn to take people’s experiences – in their entirety – seriously. That begins with empathy and choosing to listen.

Mike Hogan, head of people

The very nature of intersectionality means that we are all truly unique. We’ll never be the same. So, any given group will only ever be made up of people who might be like each other, but not the same as each other. We can begin to address the imbalances and injustices through awareness of our own intersectionality and discussion with others about theirs. This will drive the shift towards inclusion and belonging. It’s conversations like these that IC can support businesses with.

Jen Entwistle, writer and editor

It’s our opportunity to reflect on the challenge. How do we start to combat something that’s taken 30 years of work to begin to normalise a term – and therefore an issue – that we’ve only just become aware of? How can we shift our mindset so that we consider intersectionality as a default? Who’s ultimately responsible for tackling the issues that are raised when we broaden our perspectives? There are no concrete answers here, but instead an invitation to discuss. The outcomes of that discussion have the potential to be revolutionary.

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