Editor’s Note: Today’s post is by Laura Martin (she/her/hers). Laura is a Senior Manager, Project & Program Management at Wiley, where she co-chairs the Women of Wiley Employee Resource Group. She has written about the importance of inclusion in delivering business change that “sticks” in The Scholarly Kitchen and is on the SSP Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee.
The post is based on a recent panel discussion that was moderated by Laura, and that featured Axelle Ahanhanzo (she/her/hers), Andolyn Medina (she/her/hers), and Derek Victor (he/him/his). Axelle is a Customer Success Manager at Elsevier, where she has been working for the past three years. Next to her work, she volunteers as the co-leader and co-founder of Embrace, an Elsevier Employee Resource Group (ERG) focused on race and ethnicity. Andolyn is a naval officer, now in her fourth year of her doctoral degree in clinical psychology at George Washington University. In addition to being a full-time student, Andolyn is also seeing patients via teletherapy. Derek is a cisgender, white, queer, disabled educator, writer, and activist based in Ireland. He works with academic and corporate organisations on anti-prejudice activities, with a focus on the experiences of students and workers with disabilities, neurodiversities, learning differences, and mental health differences
The Importance of Intersectionality
None of us have just one identity. The concept of intersectionality highlights how multiple, overlapping identities and identity markers—such as race, class, age, gender, sexuality, and religion—contribute to how marginalized groups experience discrimination. On June 15, 2021, the Coalition for Diversity and Inclusion in Scholarly Communications (C4DISC), in collaboration with SSP’s DE&I Committee, hosted a panel discussion on intersectionality. Speakers Axelle Ahanhanzo, Laura Martin, Andolyn Medina, and Derek Victor explored what intersectionality means, how it can shape our social and professional experiences, and what we can do to better support ourselves and our colleagues. A recording of the discussion is embedded at the end of this post.
Identity is like a tapestry: if you remove one thread, you challenge the integrity of the whole. It’s easy to compartmentalize identity markers such as ‘woman’ and ‘black’, and to prioritize one to tell the narrative of a person, a community, a country, or a region. It’s also easy to exclude a person or community by focusing on just one marker. The power of intersectionality is the acknowledgement that identity markers do not exist independently of one another, but rather they shape and inform each other. We are each complex individuals with multiple layers of identity. That is why, to be truly inclusive in designing best-in-class business policies, practices, and processes, we need to consider not only a broad spectrum of identities, but also how they interlock.
“Intersectionality can also mean fighting discrimination within discrimination, tackling inequalities within equalities, and protecting minorities within minorities. It is white women standing up for women of color but also women of color standing up for disabled women of color, and so on. So, when you think of race, age, gender, disabilities, or even class, do not think of them as exclusive sections of inclusion and diversity, but on the contrary, as issues that come into communion and that intersect. To add even further to that, they amplify themselves as they intersect as well.” — Axelle Ahanhanzo
“When we embrace our identity in an educated manner, when we embrace our privilege, we can start to see ourselves as a whole person and understand our experiences a lot better in our personal context or professional context, our political context. And I think that’s essential for our mental health. When we resist marginalized parts of our identity or refuse to acknowledge privileged parts of our identity, I think it creates a dissonance that can be very unhealthy.” — Derek Victor
“I think we really have to speak truth to power. Diversity has become a word that has been really utilized in capitalism, but are we actually upholding that [promise]? Do we actually have that representation on the boards that are hiring folks? Do you actually have that representation in your workplace? Are you actually making the quality of life for your employees better and showing them that you really do care about them?” — Andolyn Medina
1. Avoid assumptions
Trying to be better and do better starts with not making assumptions about others and their experiences.
“I would challenge the group to realise that this conversation is something that’s ongoing: it’s going to require you having a lot of difficult conversations with yourself, first and foremost and realizing that this is a journey that you’re going to have to continue to explore.” — Andolyn Medina
2. Educate yourself
Being a better ally involves self-education. The panel mentioned three key figures in intersectionality — Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw, bell hooks, and Audre Lorde — but also indicated that we all need to continue educating ourselves with all the information and resources at our disposal.
“If we want to be good individual allies, we need to go out and educate ourselves. We need to challenge ourselves not to go to a person who is already carrying an incredible emotional workload [and ask them about] being mixed race, being disabled, being trans.” — Derek Victor
3. Leverage your privilege for positive change
Observe what privileges you might have and ask if you can leverage that privilege to amplify the voices of those who are marginalized.
“Within those parts of our identity, we still have to look and say where do I have privilege? And now, how can I wield that privilege?” — Derek Victor
4. Don’t be afraid to act, even in small ways
Challenge yourself to find one small thing that you can do. As we discussed in the panel, inclusion is a journey. Creating that next step for yourself in your own journey helps to create positive change for you and for others.
Ideas for possible actions shared by our panellists included:
- Share a link to this webinar, or an article on diversity you’ve read, or a podcast on inclusion you listened to with one of your company leaders, with a note about why you found it interesting or helpful
- Add pronouns to your bio or email signature to normalize this practice
- Diversify the people you follow on social media to connect with more voices
- Join or set up an employee resource group
- Write to HR as an ally and ask about policies that ensure inclusivity. Does your workplace have a quiet room where neurodiverse people can go when needed? How is your workplace facilitating better disability access to and around the office? Is there an inclusive company-wide parental leave policy or an internship program to encourage people from marginalized groups to join your company?
- Seek to learn, and look to people who inspire you to be the best version of yourself
“Our role models generally inspire us: they motivate us, they push us to be better individuals, whether professionally or socially, and you can have a role model that looks like you, and that in itself is a very powerful privilege, to be able to see someone who looks like you doing great things. But that doesn’t mean you cannot be inspired by people who don’t look like you, on the contrary: you can be inspired by a multiplicity of people and identities.” — Axelle Ahanhanzo
2 Thoughts on "Guest Post — Intersectionality: Considering Identity When Working Towards a More Diverse, Equitable, and Inclusive Future"
From the DuBois Review: Social Science Research on Race, a significant issue on Intersectionality, may be of interest: https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/du-bois-review-social-science-research-on-race/issue/C4F403EA161695F2191F65065CA1E178
Wow, do I appreciate this piece. I often tell the story of being at a happy hour in NYC with venture capitalists and angel investors and realizing, in spite of all the tremendous visible diversity in the room, there was definitley no class diversity and, on top of this, the pressure to be perceived in a specific manner was overhwhelming. Intersectionality, like interdisicplinary studies, should really be much more normalized than it is! And each of us is a shifting composite of visbile and invisible identities that we “shape shift” to context.