Understanding intersectionality lies at the heart of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). In order for businesses to foster a truly diverse and inclusive environment, it must first learn about the needs of marginalised groups and also how seismic events, such as coronavirus, has a disproportionate impact on their lives and mental health.

The #ChamberBreakers podcast series tackles topics surrounding how businesses should support the mental health of Black, Indigenous and People of Colour (BIPOC) staff and members of the LGBT+ community to create diverse and inclusive workplaces.

In the second episode, Lianna Brinded, head of Yahoo Finance UK, and Xavier White, CSR and innovation marketing manager for Verizon Business speak to Suki Sandhu, CEO and founder of executive search firm Audeliss and diversity and inclusion membership organisation INvolve.

Sandhu speaks about the impact of intersectionality on company Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) and CSR programmes, as well as how the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement is changing staff expectations of the workplace.

The emerging discipline of Intersectionality 

“We want to empower people to be their authentic selves,” says Sandhu in the new the latest episode. “On a practical level, companies tend to do this by trying to place them in boxes or communities. Now with me, I’m gay and I’m also an ethnic minority. But I’m also Sikh, working class, born and raised in this small town in the UK called Derby.

“This intersectionality matters to me. It will matter to your diverse employees. So it needs to matter to you. Minority communities can face barriers in the workplace. But when you have more than one diverse characteristic, those barriers can multiply.”

The BLM movement provided a groundswell for racial equality across all part of society and the rise in the movement further threw spotlight on the need for intersectionality as it coincided with Pride month — a key calendar moment for the LGBT+ community.

The intersection of gender and race is visible for many individuals, but LGBT+ characteristics are invisible. The person has to ‘self-declare’ and ‘come out’ in order to get support. And as managers grapple with the complex identities of their staff, there can be a well-meaning but consistent segregation of minority characteristics — or no support at all.

“Imagine a queer black woman,” says Sandhu. “She can’t hide her race. She can hide her sexuality. And she can’t hide her gender. Which employee resource group should she be joining? Those who are intersectional too often feel that they have to choose between which internal network they belong to or which internal community they have affinity with – often feeling they don’t comfortably belong in any of them.”

Transforming workplace support

The same might also be said of non-minorities. White men have layers of identity to them that encompass class, place, education and sexuality. But what importance should one attach to the characteristics of non-minorities in a world where privilege is a key component of systemic racism?

“[Intersectionality] doesn’t apply just to one community,” says Sandhu. “It’s about trying to have an appreciation that identity can’t just be one box. We have to understand the different layers of a person.

“It’s that understanding that you need to build bridges across these identities to ensure that we’re educating ourselves more about the challenges that different people face. The more that we can learn about each other, the more empathy you build, the more understanding, the more change that you’ll see.

“We have to remember that diversity and inclusion is not easy,” he says. “If you think about leadership and management in general, there is not a science to people. Let’s forget about identity first and foremost. Let’s just think about personalities and lifestyles… They all need a different type of management and coaching and performance objective setting and different ways of giving feedback. Because people respond differently in different scenarios.”

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The six-part podcast #ChamberBreakers is out every Thursday. Next week’s episode features Hayden Taylor from UnLoc, a social enterprise working in schools and colleges, on the effect of COVID-19 on the prospects for young people in education, employment and on their mental health.

Check out the first #ChamberBreakers podcast with Tricia Driver from D&I consultancy A New Normal and the accompanying article, as well as clicking, subscribing, and rating the podcast here.