Identities: Looking Beyond the Visible

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Embracing Intersectionality

In the journey towards fostering diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) in our workplaces and the society at large, intersectionality is a critical element that often remains overlooked or misunderstood. 

Our efforts for social change often take shape in silos. Advocacy for female empowerment, LGBTQIA+ rights, disability inclusion, anti- racism and discrimination, for instance, might seem like separate issues at first glance. 

Intersectionality, however, provides us with tools to understand the interplay of different aspects of our identity and how we are perceived, treated, and understood by others.  

Coined by feminist scholar Kimberlé Crenshaw in 1989, intersectionality delves into how certain marginalised identities are rendered invisible, unrecognisable, and unprotected

Consider an LGBTQIA+ person with a disability – their experiences are shaped not solely by either of these identities, but by the convergence of both. 

Intersectionality also reminds us that some facets of our identity are visible, while others are not. While attributes like gender, age, and skin colour can often be gleaned at a glance, there are many other parts of our identity that lie beneath the surface. This includes sexual orientation, family background, ethnicity, occupation, disabilities, wealth, and education. All of these aspects of our identity intersect and influence our daily existence. 

As responsible individuals and businesses, we play a role in shaping the world around us. Approaching our lives and our work using an intersectional lens help us better understand each other, discern power imbalances, and create a more inclusive environment for all. 

Here are some ways you can start embracing intersectionality: 

  • Challenge your biases. Everyone perceives the world through their unique lens, often tinted by preconceptions. Confronting biases, whether overt or subconscious, clears the path for embracing diversity. 

Put it into practice: think twice before assuming someone’s gender identity or sexual orientation. Remember, not all aspects of identity are visible. If you’re not sure, just ask! 

  • Reflect on your privileges. Acknowledge your privileges and use your power to amplify the voices of others without the same privileges. 

Put it into practice: If many people at your workplace celebrate the same holidays you do, someone outside of that circle might not have that same privilege. You could suggest that your office offer employees the option to select the holidays of their choosing, host a learning session about different holidays, or simply do your own research and share a holiday wish to your coworkers who celebrate them. 

  • Avoid placing issues in a hierarchy. Intersectionality teaches us not to rank forms of oppression. It’s important to try not to pick and choose which issues to work on sequentially, or belittling other people’s issues. When given the opportunity, advocate for issues even if they’re not directly related to you.

Put it into practice: Saying we need to achieve gender equality first before LGBTQIA+ equality erases the needs of those with intersecting identities, such as lesbian, bisexual, and other queer and trans women. When approaching a social issue, always include different voices and perspectives to understand how the issue might impact those different from you. 

  • Practice allyship. Upon learning about intersectionality, people can often feel overwhelmed. How can we possibly accommodate everyone’s specific needs all at once? But knowing that things are complicated doesn’t mean we should just leave it at that. It means we should start somewhere. Be more inclusive in our daily lives, through actions both big and small. 

Put it into practice: Start small. Challenge yourself to read a book, listen to a podcast, or better yet, make a new friend from an identity or background different from yours. The best ways to practice allyship are to stay curious, be open to learning, and educate yourself. 

Remember, intersectionality isn’t an abstract notion. It’s a catalyst for change. It reveals the intricate tapestry that defines and empowers us to forge solidarity across diverse identities. As we continue on our journey towards creating more inclusive communities, intersectionality can become an important tool for embracing diversity. 

At RICE, we advocate for intersectionality within as well as support brands on internal and external communications around diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I). Connect with us to find out more.

Khin Hnin Su 12.9.2023
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