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Intersectionality meaning: what is intersectionality?

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Intersectionality definition

The term “intersectionality” was originally coined by an American Critical Race Scholar Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw in 1989. Crenshaw originally established to the term in reference to black women experiencing double discrimination (racism and sexism in particular).   

In her paper, Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex: A Black Feminist Critique of Antidiscrimination Doctrine, Feminist Theory and Antiracist Politics, she evaluated the “single-axis framework that is dominant in antidiscrimination law…feminist theory and anti-racist politics” and critiqued it for being overly focused on privileged members of the subordinate groups.  

This term refers to a framework for understanding how different aspects of a person’s identity combine to create unique modes of disadvantage and privilege. Crenshaw’s idea behind the concept argues that different categories that define the person’s identity (such as race, gender, class and others) overlap and constitute a unique way in how inequalities persist.

Real-world context

  • Inefficient DEI strategies: One form of discrimination at a time is the focus of majority people strategies for DEI, however they frequently ignore intersectionality and treat individuals as one-dimensional beings. But as Crenshaw has shown, it is insufficient to have distinct inclusion programmes for any one of these identities on its own. 
  • Diversity in TA: An organisation may often have a strategy in hiring diverse talent. However often these strategies end up ignoring multiple dimensions of a person and end up harming diversity further. For example, a company can focus on hiring more women, but they end up being only women from the same background, ignoring other facets such as race, disability and sexuality.  
  • Equal pay: Likewise, an organisation may have a policy in tracking and improving equal pay for women but be ignorant of other multiple facets. For instance, black women on average get paid 12% less than white women in the US.  

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