SPI Journal, Spring 2023
Connecting the dots
What is workplace intersectional equity and why does it matter?
Organisations should anonymously ask employees for their workplace experiences to build more inclusive environments, writes Aniela Unguresan, founder and member of the EDGE Certified Foundation Board.
People are the hands, hearts and minds of an organisation. Every person has a distinct identity with defined characteristics, meaning that workplaces are not homogeneous environments.
For practical reasons organisations primarily consider and categorise people binarily by their gender. HR systems are set to manage this binary view and people can be lawfully tracked accordingly, regardless of geographical location or industrial sector. The realisation is dawning on organisations that the terms ‘male’ and ‘female’ oversimplify matters, and that those within these two groups have diverse cognitive identities, behaviours and expectations.
It is important to acknowledge all components of an individual’s identity (gender identity, sexual orientation, racial and ethnic background, age, dis/ability and nationality), as each can shape a workplace just as much as they can shape an employee’s experience of the workplace. By progressing beyond homogeneity and by looking at individuals’ intersectional identities we can recognise how these identities determine a person’s experience of the workplace, known conceptually as ‘intersectional equity’.
When EDGE Certified Foundation launched EDGEplus in 2020, we found it interesting that gender is usually disclosed by default, but other elements that make up an individual’s identity are not. These include sexual orientation, ethnic background, age, dis/abilities and nationality. The rationale is that it might be considered an imposition to ask an individual, in the context of a professional environment, about elements of their identity that may be perceived as private.
Beyond the desire to maintain privacy is the very real concern that the more an employer knows about such aspects of our identity, the higher the risk of discrimination is. In some cases – still too many, and still too often – this is exactly what happens. However, that doesn’t have to be so, and a belief in using information to create a more personalised workplace experience is stirring change.
The advantage of creating a workplace experience that accounts for intersectionality is that it considers people holistically and has the power to change the moral contract between individuals and employers. The disclosure of this information can support the advancement, development and customisation of careers and lead to more personalised workplace experiences.
The EDGEplus Certification adds depth and completes the binary view based on gender – which is universal and can be measured in the same way across the globe. It’s essential to recognise that, while aspects of diversity may be important, they differ according to operational geography, the available talent pool and business focus.
Practically speaking, the starting point for determining intersectional equity is to ask employees across the whole diversity spectrum about their experience of the workplace in an anonymous way, so that all can participate freely. Organisations will need to customise their questions according to geographical location and to account for local specificities. The results have the potential to be very illuminating, and organisations will find it highly relevant on which topics the views or experiences of different groups converge and where they diverge.
Success depends on choosing the identity categories that matter and examining the results for similarities and differences. Organisations armed with such knowledge can review their policies and practices to craft a tailored and inclusive approach. Of course, sensitive information should only be used to define employee experiences in the workplace and for no other purpose. Employees must be assured that this disclosed information about their identities is protected, for example by restricting access to this information to relevant members of the HR department, such as chief diversity officers and chief human resources officers.
Most organisations beginning their diversity, equality and inclusion journeys with the global EDGE Standards integrate multiple dimensions of diversity into their approach and seek EDGEplus Certification from the outset.