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How businesses can embrace intersectionality

To foster a truly inclusive culture in the workplace where employees can be themselves and better achieve their full potential, businesses must understand and celebrate the many different and overlapping identities each employee has. This is known as intersectionality.

The COVID-19 pandemic has reshaped how we conduct our daily lives, forcing most of us to work remotely and stay within the confines of our homes.

Lockdown restrictions have meant social distancing from colleagues, family and friends, which is why, more than ever before, people need to feel a tangible sense of belonging and inclusion from their job.

Understandably, the pandemic has led many business leaders to reassess priorities, but it is critical they maintain (and build on) their focus on diversity and inclusion (D&I).

This includes understanding and providing support for employees - for example, who may be juggling home schooling and work, or LGBT+ people who might be at home with homophobic, biphobic, transphobic families. This can help businesses emerge post-pandemic with a more united and stronger workforce.

Further reading:

Twenty years on: the continuing fight for LGBT+ inclusion in the workplace

Better LGBT+ programmes needed to avoid conflicts

Most LGBT-friendly places to work announced by Stonewall

An inclusive culture isn’t just the right thing to do, it also makes business sense. When employees feel they can be themselves at work, they are more likely to be engaged and productive and this can lead to innovation and diversity of thought, which ultimately can have a better outcome for clients, consumers and wider society.

And while setting targets is necessary, especially over the long-term, it takes more to create a cultural change. In 2019, EY set a target to double the proportion of female and ethnic minority talent in our UK partnership to 40% and 20% respectively by July 2025.

We have also since set a series of anti-racism targets which are focused on increasing Black representation specifically. We are determined to increase the pace of change and so last year, took additional steps, such as reviewing all our talent processes to ensure fair and equal outcomes for Black - and all – employees, to help foster an environment where all differences are valued, practices are equitable, and everyone feels a sense of belonging.

So, how can businesses encourage an inclusive and belonging culture, especially when most employees are remote working?

One approach is intersectionality, which is a way of understanding how the many aspects of a person’s identity overlap, such as sexual identity, gender, race, ethnicity or disability. For example, a black woman may experience misogyny and racism, but her experience of misogyny will be different from a white woman, and she may experience racism differently from a black man.

We all view and experience the world differently, and it is vital that we are creating a culture that celebrates these differences rather than reducing unique perspectives to a single standard. Also, it’s critical to avoid focusing narrowly on one particular aspect of identity as this can create an “either/or” mentality and may leave some people out.

Diversity and inclusion is not only about minority groups, but that everyone has a part to play in the culture created. Businesses that focus on the multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination and oppression employees might face can help to create a more equal and equitable workplace and society where everyone belongs.

Companies can create a sense of belonging in different ways. Language is a simple yet important tool; ‘our team’ or ‘our work’ can be more powerful than ‘I’ or ‘you’. Actively seeking out different opinions and encouraging all members of a meeting to contribute – not just the loudest voices – can also help.

Storytelling is also key – when employees share their personal experiences and stories, it can increase trust and transparency, giving people the confidence to be their authentic selves at work. Ultimately, fostering inclusion and a sense of belonging goes to the heart of a company’s culture, which drives its workforce to achieve the best it can be.

Anna Anthony is financial services managing partner at EY UK.

February is LGBT History Month in the UK and throughout HR magazine will be providing expert perspectives on how to support LGBT+ diversity and inclusivity in the workplace.



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