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What Is Intersectionality?

By: Jessica MousseauDiversity Insights
What is intersectionality

Intersectionality is a term that helps us understand how various forms of discrimination or disadvantages can overlap and intersect for individuals or groups. Originally coined by Kimberlé Crenshaw, this concept allows us to gain a more nuanced understanding of the complex prejudices people face based on factors like race, socioeconomic class, gender identity, religion or sexual orientation. Intersectionality helps us all recognize that we often experience similar challenges, even when our identities differ.

The term ‘intersectionality’ emerged in the late 1980s within the context of legal discussions about discrimination. It has since evolved, becoming an important framework in understanding how systemic injustices intersect. For example, a Black woman might face unique challenges that are distinct from those experienced by Black men or white women, highlighting the importance of considering multiple aspects of identity.

Tips for Using Intersectionality for Good

Here’s how we can integrate intersectionality into our views on diversity:

Learn about Unconscious Biases
These are stereotypes and beliefs that we form subconsciously. They may come from how we were raised or how we organize the world into categories. They’re more common than outright prejudice and can be just as harmful.

Recognize Differences
While sometimes it’s easy to assume everyone shares a common understanding of an issue, it’s important to recognize the unique experiences of others. This acknowledgement can help people feel that their experiences of oppression, discrimination, or prejudice are heard and validated.

Listen & Create Change
Support doesn’t mean expecting others who experience different forms of oppression to automatically rally for your causes. Take the time to listen to their issues, learn about the work being done to address those issues and commit to helping them achieve change. Not only will this help you deepen your own understanding, but also foster a greater sense of community and shared purpose.

Incorporate Intersectionality in the Workplace
As professionals, we should strive to understand the intersectional identities of our colleagues. This understanding can be deepened through diversity training. Aim to cultivate a work culture where everyone, regardless of their intersectional identities, can thrive and contribute meaningfully.

Be a Proactive Ally
Act as an ally by recognizing your privileges and using them to uplift marginalized groups. This proactive approach can make a substantial difference in creating equitable environments.

Address Common Misconceptions
It’s essential to understand that intersectionality isn’t about creating a hierarchy of oppressions but rather about understanding the complexities of experiences.

Whether in personal life or in the workplace, embracing intersectionality can lead to more inclusive and understanding environments. By recognizing and valuing the complex nature of human experiences, we can build a society that’s equitable and respectful of all its members. Having a Diversity Calendar can go a long way in ensuring all team members feel seen, heard, valued and respected.


What does intersectionality mean?

Intersectionality is the interconnected nature of categories such as gender, class, or race, and the overlapping systems of discrimination or disadvantage they may face. This concept highlights that people have multiple facets to their identities, which can compound experiences of oppression or privilege. Understanding intersectionality is essential for addressing the unique challenges faced by people at these intersections.

What are some examples of intersectionality?

The social categories associated with intersectionality include sexual orientation, disability, socioeconomic status, and neurodiversity, to name a few. For example, the experience of a Black woman can be different from that of a white woman or a Black man, due to the intersection of race and gender. Recognizing these intersections is important for creating equitable and inclusive policies and practices.

Why is intersectionality so important in society?

Intersectionality is a lens that is used to ensure that no one person is left out of the fight for justice. It helps us to assess as a society the differences between equality and equity and how to analyze how different forms of oppression reinforce the other. This framework encourages us to consider the complex realities of people’s lives in our efforts to promote fairness and justice.

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