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Understanding Intersectionality

Intersectionality is the interconnected nature of social categorizations (e.g., race, class, and gender) that can compound the discrimination or disadvantage an individual or group may face in society, and it is a helpful concept in understanding why personal characteristics matter.

For example, a Black, female job applicant may face greater discrimination than either a Black, male job applicant or a White, female job applicant. The more characteristics that a person possesses that could potentially be discriminated against, the worse the discrimination or disadvantage.

At the same time, intersectionality can get reversed in the upper echelons of decision-making in favor of a “rarity premium.” This can be seen in senior leadership and board appointments where being a woman and being from an ethnic diversity background could likely be advantages rather than disadvantages in the United States, UK and other major Western listed companies today.

In the context of intersectionality and the rarity premium, companies should be aware of two risks that they need to manage. For the individual, it may lead to an undervaluing of the greater challenges that he or she has faced in his or her route to the top as compared to someone without the characteristics, and being unfairly perceived as chosen because of those characteristics. For the D&I cause, it can lull organizations into a false sense of security that all they need to do is to fill some top jobs with diverse talent and the discrimination faced by a dockworker or superintendent will be reduced. Intersectionality is much more likely to be at play in blue-collar and middle management levels of society and is worth addressing as an independent issue, irrespective of progress on top management diversity statistics and outcomes.

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