Do you know what it feels like to have your gender impact the trajectory or growth of your career? Do you know what it feels like to be at the mercy of negative unconscious bias in the workplace because the colour of your skin differs from the majority of those around you? Do you know what it feels like to struggle every day because the tasks, policies and communications you need to do your job aren’t written in your native language?
Did you answer ‘yes’ to more than one of these things?
Intersectionality is a way of understanding that each aspect of our identity impacts our work life in different and intertwining ways. For instance, in the US alone, it will take white women until 2059 to reach gender parity with men. Meanwhile the data shows for Black women this date is pushed out to 2130, and even further to 2224 for Hispanic women. In fact, the pay gap between white women and women of color is the fastest-growing wage gap, according to the Economic Policy Institute.
Thus, intersectionality is not a fad. It’s a key element of inclusion and diversity, and it’s time for everyone—leaders and workers alike—to embrace intersectionality.
Intersectionality explained by Kimberlé Crenshaw
“We tend to talk about race inequality as separate from inequality based on gender, class, sexuality or immigrant status. What’s often missing is how some people are subject to all of these, and the experience is not just the sum of its parts.”
Read more about the intersectionality concept and the controversy around in this article written by Vox.
In previous articles we’ve looked at the intersection of gender and sexual orientation, and gender and disability, and in this instalment of our investigations into intersectionality, we will be looking through the lens in which we can understand the intersections of gender and race, ethnicity and linguistic background in the workplace.
We will be looking at examples of employers who are supporting and celebrating diversity, and who have been proactive in creating a workplace culture that is inclusive and diverse. We will be hearing stories from people that highlight the importance of these supportive workplace environments. And most importantly we will be sharing the advice and best practice tips to ensure your workplace understands and addresses how race/ethnicity and gender compound inequalities in the workplace.
Tips to improve intersectional inequalities in your workplace
When we talk about intersectionality, we’re talking about learning and understanding views from those with identities that differ from your own. To be intersectional is to listen and to hear their lived experiences, but it’s also to meaningfully collaborate with those groups. It means being ready to step into the role of educator, and it means being prepared to do some of the work educating ourselves.
This list of tips, provided by those with lived experience of being ethnically, racially or linguistically divergent from those they work with, can serve as a starting point for leaders and employees alike to be interested in improving the intersectional inequalities in their workplaces.
#1. More visibly diverse and supportive senior leaders
“Seeing representation at all levels of a company would help you see that there are genuine opportunities for career progressions. Not just hearing stories about people thriving but seeing people in our field of work succeeding within the business.” – Jade Saunders, Water Industry Worker, at Unitywater.
“I think it is important to embrace different cultural backgrounds, as they bring different ways of thinking and doing things that the leadership team may wish to learn and grow from. We can learn from each other.” – Jason Lee, Agile Business Analyst, at AARNet.
“The increased presence of racially, ethnically or linguistically diverse people in professional and leadership roles will encourage others of likeness to put their hand up and feel a part of the greater teams.” – Garth Cranston, Manager Production, at BHP.
Why it matters...
“What has helped me more recently to thrive at work has been for others to show kindness and to offer support when it mattered the most. Additionally, I want to see more women, Black women like me, thriving in leadership roles.”
“When you are ambitious and keen to progress up the ranks, it’s so important to be in workplace environments where other women who look like you are succeeding at the top. Representation definitely matters.”
– Kimberley Green Regional Practice Leader for Social Outcomes (EUNA), at Mott MacDonald
#2. Celebrate diverse cultural traditions
“Companies can recognize, promote and celebrate cultural days of importance through communications, team events and acknowledgement. This not only helps build awareness of a company’s diverse workforce but highlights to individuals that it’s not something to hide.” – James Ng, General Manager Security Operations, at AARNet.
“People generally bond over good food. Invite different cultural food and or practices and expand the diversity and understanding of your workforce.” – Amy Nakada, Electrical Tradesperson, at Western Power.
“Providing flexible work arrangements and prayer facilities is a good first step for companies to incorporate an ethnically safe workplace. Partnering with various multicultural organizations and holding cultural events can be a useful way of raising awareness and promoting an atmosphere of diversity and inclusion in the office.” – Razmi Marzook, Senior Metering Asset Engineer, at Western Power.
Why it matters...
“As a Muslim, my religious values and practices are very important to me. I am offered flexibility in my working arrangements to accommodate attending the congregational prayer on Friday at the mosque as well as being able to utilize the reflection facility to practice my daily routine prayers whenever I visit the head office.”
“I have also been given the privilege of taking leave to celebrate the two major Islamic festivities of the year as well as always being taken care of in terms of dietary requirements whenever there are events with food at the workplace.
A company who understands the diversity of employees and their needs not only helps them feel heard and secure but will also benefit the company’s goals.”
– Razmi Marzook, Senior Metering Asset Engineer, at Western Power.
#3. Address language barriers
“Don’t ever make anyone feel they are different, by actions or words. You should be known for what you bring to the table rather than where you come from. Organizations should hear you out, respect you for who you are. Engaging employees across organizational activities is a key to ensuring everyone feels part of the team. Train employees where required and mentor/coach if English is not their first language.
A simple way to do this is to review the way things get documented, articulated, or explained. Do all such in plain English so it’s simple to understand and comprehend.” – Ranjit Tamhankar, Project Manager, at CGI.
Why it matters...
“Building a bridge to language gaps and trying to support diversity is something that should not be taken lightly. Some expressions, style of communication and even reactions are sometimes misunderstood, and that extra minute you take trying to confirm if the person actually meant what they said can be quite valuable.”
“It has to be more than just offering language courses or even culture adaptation, it has to be about people not to losing their culture and identities – to have them add bits and pieces to enrich what we already have.
In my experience, teams adapt in a smoother way in social situations, and even with remote working environments this is possible with time and simple casual coffee chats.”
– Sabrina Carmona, Head of Farm Heroes Saga, at King.
#4. Education and inclusion training
“While supporting people from diverse backgrounds and finding ways to help them thrive individually is admirable, I believe that to create the meaningful impact we need to help educate the larger public (in this case – Employers, Recruiters, etc) to understand and recognize the bias towards people that are from diverse backgrounds first. As soon as we start recognizing that ‘different’ is not ‘less’, there will be a greater shift in this space.” – Ashwini Kuncheitra, Store Format Planning Manager, at Woolworths Group.
“Actively promoting and coaching others on the differences in cultural diversity could help bridge that learning gap for individuals to collaborate cross-functionally within their workplace. It is important to consider individuals’ cultural and religious needs in a company that employs a diverse workforce and respect their cultural differences and individual preferences. Being aware of cultural differences can allow people to thrive in global environments and open new opportunities, for example, working and establishing business overseas.” – Rue Jing Teh, Manager, Customer Reliability Engineering, at Splunk.
“Companies need to assess people based on their merits and their qualifications, not by their visa status or their foreign name. Even after having PR and work experience, I still found job-seeking challenging, and it got to a point where it made me think, “should I get an English name?”. At the time, I thought that some companies assume people who don’t have an English name will not be able to speak English well. I used to compare myself to others and think that if someone who has the same qualifications and experience as me and has an English looking name can get a job, then I should be able to get the job.”
– Yexin Yu, Graduate Business Analyst, at Thoughtworks.
Why it matters...
“Last year we implemented unconscious bias training for all employees, which helped us identify our own biases and keep these front of mind for everyone.”
#5. Create safe-space employee resource groups
“ERGs and programs that are fully backed and supported by the organization play a big part in ensuring people thrive in their careers. These provide avenues to get and give support, to feel you are included, and to play a part not just for the company but a wider team. The company should practise zero tolerance of discrimination, do succession planning and openly talk about race and ethnicity so it does not feel alien or awkward.” – Vida Ortanez, Enterprise Account Manager, at Splunk.
Why it matters...
“Growing up and having worked in South-East Asia, I was exposed to cultural values and work ethics that don’t necessarily translate well to my working life in Australia.”
“There were times where I felt like the values I had learnt growing up—such as respecting my elders, and only speaking when being spoken to—were now seen as docile, quiet and non-confident.”
“Organizing mentorship programs or employee resource groups can help establish a sense of belonging and understanding among different cultures in the workplace.”
– Louisa Tien, Product Analyst – Home Loans, at Great Southern Bank.
#6. Walk the talk for your champions and the challengers
“Companies and senior leaders need to make sure that they listen first before trying to come up with solutions. Listen to what your people are saying, how they are feeling and the challenges they are facing. Only then can you create an action plan to ensure all ethnicities can thrive in their careers.” – Susan Richards, Service Delivery Manager, at LV=General Insurance.
“Materially acknowledge the extra work that people from marginalized groups do in terms of DEI contributions – the organizers, facilitators etc. need to be recognized for their additional effort in creating a more equitable workforce. And a no-nonsense approach towards micro-aggressions and any occurrences of outwards racism/xenophobia in the workplace. Actions must be taken to make sure that people who do or say these things are held accountable and that people feel safe enough to report when they’ve witnessed or experienced harmful behaviour.” – Aishah Bailey, UX Designer and Researcher, at PA Consulting.
Why it matters...
“I once found myself in an unfortunate situation where I was harassed by someone I worked with. Although the experience was challenging, I was later told that it forced Thoughtworks to revise the harassment policy.”
“They included more scenarios so those who experience something similar would be better supported. By having people who really listened to me and were open to learning about my experience, I like to think that something positive was able to come out from the situation and I hope that it will prevent others from going through what I did.”
– Archana Khanal, Senior Software Developer, at Thoughtworks.
Top tip to find a workplace that will support you
Find out more about the benefits, policies, and initiatives that the employers endorsed by WORK180 offer to support racially, ethnically and linguistically diverse employees, like Employee Resource Networks and Groups.
Examples of companies fostering an intersectional approach
No two companies are alike, and the culture of each will be different. In each of these companies, the internal culture of intersectionality is taking a different shape.
For each, fostering an internal culture of intersectionality has been made a priority.
For each, a new path is being forged for the future.
“Irrespective of your position at AARNet, I feel there is always an open door (albeit virtually during the pandemic) to reach out and ask for help. The flexibility shown when unplanned personal emergencies have arisen has made me feel supported and cared for.”
– James Ng, General Manager Security Operations.
“I had been given the opportunity by the Director of the Program to present to the Senior Leadership Team. This gave me a sense of being heard, expressing my passion and opinions. AARNet has provided me with this nurturing platform and opportunity to extend my skill sets and capabilities to potentially lead the team in other ways that provide a positive impact to all and to the organization.”
– Jason Lee, Agile Business Analyst.
Bain & Company
“In a profession where we work longer hours and are often pressed for time, it really meant a lot that my manager, who was not Asian, was extremely vocal about ensuring the full case team was available to attend a panel that invited Asian leaders in corporate Australia to talk about the ‘bamboo ceiling’ and their experiences.
Being a vocal ally and taking the time to be fully present at these events and discussions speaks volumes. It’s also a great way to show allyship. As both a ‘minority’ and a junior in the business, it can sometimes feel awkward to strongly promote these events, and it is really encouraging when this is carried out by an ally and/or a senior.”
– Lucy Zhao, Associate Consultant.
“Inclusion and diversity awareness is certainly alive and well within our organization. We recognize the Traditional Owners regularly and have a cultural awareness of those within our teams. It provides me and others who are indigenous confidence to be ourselves and be proud of our heritage.”
– Garth Cranston, Manager Production.
“I was born in Paris and my parents are from the French Caribbean. I spent my early childhood in Guadeloupe and moved back to Paris when I was eight years old. I relocated to the UK 14 years ago. I am happy that I have experienced different places and cultures that shaped my identity. BNY Mellon is a part of this mix since I joined the organization about a year after I moved to the UK.
I am the Co-Chair of our Multicultural group. I was inspired to join after seeing the passion of the leadership team and their commitment to being the voice of under-represented groups, including people of color. There was also the prospect of collaborating with colleagues who have similar backgrounds or experiences to me.
The group has evolved significantly over the years – we now work with our Diversity, Equity and Inclusion colleagues to provide professional and personal development opportunities to employees to support their career progression.
IMPACT [BNY Mellon’s Employee Resource Group] also engages the business in building a diverse talent pipeline and ensuring employee retention. Our team strives to support an inclusive culture and provides forums that allow honest conversations to happen. Courageous conversations can be uncomfortable, but they are an essential step to creating social justice.“
– Johanna Cecile Copol, Institutional Liquidity Sales, Investment Management EMEA and Co-Chair of IMPACT EMEA.
“My parents live overseas and when my girls were younger, meaning they weren’t around to help with caregiver responsibilities. CGI supported me by offering flexibility and work-life balance. This kept me motivated to work for CGI and I enjoy all the work opportunities offered over the years. I always had excellent managers whose leadership, communication skills and work ethic made me feel heard, secure and respected.”
– Rocio Pospisil, Senior Consultant.
“Workplace support may come in any form, can be subjective and, it could be actions performed or spoken words. For me the most important element of a successful partnership with any employer is TRUST. CGI is built on many core values, two of which are Respect and Integrity. I am always seen as an integral member of CGI, not just an employee, which tells me that my organization genuinely shows trust in me and has respect for who I am.
In my early days of joining CGI, I faced a few hard-liners and was left to deal with them on the go. My professional actions to deal with such instances were clearly understood and supported by CGI. Known for open communications and transparency, the management listened to my mitigation strategy, respected my views, and trusted me. This certainly gives me a sense of feeling secure.”
– Ranjit Tamhankar, Project Manager.
The Department of Mines, Industry Regulation and Safety
“The Department of Mines, Industry Regulation and Safety (DMIRS) is committed to creating an inclusive workplace culture where all employees are valued and respected. Therefore, it is with great pleasure I present to you the DMIRS Diversity and Inclusion Plan 2019-2023.
The department’s Diversity and Inclusion Plan outlines our key goals, and the specific targets and strategies we will use to achieve them. The plan was developed through extensive consultation and research on best practice in diversity and aims to ensure diversity and inclusion principles are integrated into our day-to-day business activities.”
– David Smith, Director General.
“So often, my cultural identity and the experiences that come with it have been a liability. I have learned to mute these parts of myself to try to fit in and demonstrate that I am worthy to occupy spaces to which others feel entitled.
At EY, however, I was pleasantly surprised to find my differences celebrated as my superpower, as part of the contribution and service I bring to the organization. I have been impressed by leaders embracing diversity out of principle and not just necessity. Initiatives like the Cultural Diversity Mentoring program have also created safe spaces for my colleagues to have difficult conversations about race and identity, to further increase a strong sense of belonging by making allyship a lived practice in the workplace and beyond.”
– Anna Samson, Strategy and Organizational Transformation Consultant.
Great Southern Bank
“I am thankful that Great Southern Bank actively embraces the diversity of its staff through initiatives like our Employee Resource Groups, for which I am an active member. Not only has this allowed me to share my culture with my colleagues, but I am also learning to push out of my comfort zone in a safe and supportive environment.”
– Louisa Tien, Product Analyst – Home Loans.
“I am a proud Brazilian, and every chance I get to tell people where I am from, I take it with pleasure. When I moved to the UK, I thought I could speak English! Little did I know that so many things had yet to be learnt. I feel, however, that I was quite lucky because my team and my colleagues always made sure that they double checked if I was on the same page as everyone else.
In addition, everyone was always so keen on getting to know more about me and my culture, that it became quite nice to see how many different cultures could successfully collaborate and the similarities and differences that we all have.”
– Sabrina Carmona, Head of Farm Heroes Saga.
Lloyds Banking Group
“During 2020, I had a difficult time in the business area I worked in and ended up being off work with work-related stress for just over two months. When I went off sick I was at a point where I couldn’t see a way back to being at work again and being able to function.
Given the number of years I worked in the organization I had many contacts outside the business area I was working in and when I reached out to some of them, the support was immense. They clearly trusted and respected me and provided an ear to listen, practical advice from a work perspective and also support relating to my resilience and helping me see my worth and get over the blame and imposter syndrome I was feeling. I realized that I loved this organization, and the people within it was why I loved it.
I might not have been in the right team but I was in the right organization. I spoke with the Director of our area who personally supported and facilitated my return to work, then within a few months, I secured a role I love in another part of the business.”
– Rosina Rouissi, Human Resources Specialist.
“As a black woman in a senior role in a large organization I am proud, simply because I can be me. The killing of George Floyd proved a pivotal point for every person of color within the business. I became the co-sponsor of our ethnicity and cultural network, and I’m proud we’ve been able to create a safe space for our people to share how they feel, have challenging conversations around race, and educate on this important topic.
By setting up a reverse mentoring program with network members and the LV=GI executive team, we’ve been able to share our lived experiences and they’ve listened and taken the time to understand what challenges people of color face on a daily basis. This is the most secure, listened to and respected I’ve felt in over 15 years.”
– Susan Richards, Service Delivery Manager.
“I recently returned from an extended period of sick leave. I was worried about not being able to adjust back into work so easily after this time, however my line manager and immediate team have been so supportive of me. They kept lines of communication open throughout my time away from the office, which was reassuring and meant I continued to feel like a valued member of the team – even when not physically present.
This approach also helped smooth my transition back to work. This has made a real difference.
Often after a long period away from work you can be left feeling very isolated and lacking in confidence upon your return. These feelings can be heightened for you as a woman and as a Black woman in the workplace, more so even as you worry about staff perceiving your feelings of unease more negatively. Thankfully, my experience has been nothing but positive.”
– Kimberley Green Regional Practice Leader for Social Outcomes (EUNA).
“Having worked with NAB for about 10 years, I have always felt genuinely supported both at a professional and personal level. Professionally, I’ve been trusted in managing regional regulatory relationships, leading a regional risk and compliance team, seconding to another country, and setting up a first-line risk function for the region from scratch.
As a migrant myself who doesn’t speak, look or think like many other leaders, I was offered the opportunity to step into the role of Chair of NAB’s Cultural Inclusion Employee Resource Group, continuing and steering further strategic initiatives to support our multicultural colleagues, customers and communities.
The inclusive and willing-to-listen culture, coupled with amazing leaders and decision-makers at all levels, has been instrumental for both my professional and personal success.”
– Gloria Yuen, Head of Regulatory Enablement & Delivery.
“As a bi-racial Black and Asian woman born in London to two migrant parents, I felt genuinely supported when my colleagues from across the firm were reaching out to me to join panels as a speaker and share my experience as a queer person of color earlier this year.
These discussions were incredibly helpful to have my voice heard and highlight the intersectionality of my identity regarding race, gender and sexuality. I was so relieved that these events resulted in some introspection from my colleagues, especially those higher in the ranks. I was especially glad to see people be honest and open with their questions which allowed me to recognize our shared vulnerability in these sessions.”
– Aishah Bailey, UX Designer and Researcher.
“Being relatively new to the management space, I followed a career growth opportunity from an individual to a team contributor. This was an exciting change but could also be a bit overwhelming at the same time. Understanding the local customs is an important aspect of every job. In Splunk, they provided several tools, such as personalized coaching programs, cross-functional team discussions, and open forums with a network of support that appreciates the cultural sensitivities and celebrates differences. I have never been with a company that plans, executes and transforms so quickly with data and feedback to drive informed decisions whilst maintaining Splunk values (Innovative, Fun, Disruptive, Open and Passionate). The people, culture, talent and support within Splunk is amazing, and I am grateful to be a part of Splunk‘s journey.”
– Rue Jing Teh, Manager, Customer Reliability Engineering.
“I feel SECURE, because of how open my relationship is with the leadership team. It allows open discussion on what I am doing well, and what I can improve on. I feel I don’t have to fear that I’ll reach a point where I am performing terribly because there’s continuous and open communication on improving what I do.
Splunk RESPECTS the diversity of Splunkers. Respect can be viewed differently depending on the person, but to me, respect is when you’re given a voice to express your thoughts without fearing that you’ll be judged negatively. I feel respected because I feel like I belong to a team, and my voice matters. Our culture, opinions, ideas may sometimes differ, but we respect each other and work together as a team.”
– Joy Corpuz, Professional Services Consultant.
“I have been with other companies where people say they are happy to help but when you actually need help everyone seems to be too busy to extend a hand. And refreshingly that is not the case at Splunk.
When I started at Splunk a few months ago, I heard the same offer of assistance and they were true to their words, everyone I reached out, found time, and went out of their way to genuinely help me – giving relevant, useful and impactful advice.
When I wanted to be part of a group with whom I share the same interests, Splunk‘s Womxn ERG provided me with that environment. At Splunk, they see beyond your color, race, preferences and background. They only see your potential and capabilities and celebrate your uniqueness which in the end, help make Splunk a great place to work for someone like me.”
– Vida Ortanez, Enterprise Account Manager.
“At Thoughtworks, my race or gender isn’t the first or only thing that others see, and I am acknowledged and respected for who I am. Thoughtworks is also a place where everyone is constantly seeking ways to improve the way people feel supported.
Recently, when it became apparent that there wasn’t enough diversity on the team I was on, the Thoughtworks leadership team took action right away to ensure more women got rotated onto the team. Being one of the few women on the team, it was a huge relief to know that others were just as aware of the issue and the onus didn’t fall solely on me to speak up. Thoughtworks is one of the few places that I have worked where data related to pay reviews is shared openly with the team. Pay can be a challenging topic for a number of reasons and where I am from in Nepal, most women would be told to be grateful to even have a job. Seeing my employer actively trying to help underrepresented minorities by openly sharing this data has had a big impact on how employees feel heard and respected.”
– Archana Khanal, Senior Software Developer.
“As a Thoughtworker, I am not made to feel like I am different because of my cultural or linguistically diverse background.
Something that’s unique about Thoughtworks is our recruitment process and the way we engage our consultants to conduct interviews. I was once assigned as an interviewer for a cultural interview and I was paired with a more experienced interviewer. During the interview, the candidate indicated that they could not understand some of the questions because they were worded in a complicated way or in a way that is not commonly used in day-to-day language. We helped rephrase the question for the candidate during the interview. After the interview, my interviewer colleague suggested to the wider Thoughtworks community that we review the wording of the interview questions to make it easier to understand for people who are not native English speakers.
This really impressed me because the interviewer took the initiative to make a seemingly small improvement to the wording of interview questions to ensure that it gave equal opportunities for non-native English speakers to have the best chance at succeeding in the interview.”
– Yexin Yu, Graduate Business Analyst.
“I have felt as though my Indigenous heritage is genuinely celebrated by Unitywater. During NAIDOC week I was invited to speak on the workplace USpeak podcast which allowed me the opportunity to share my family’s background and history. This is something I am very proud of and shapes who I am today. This opened a dialogue with my fellow workmates which I think is so important to help them feel comfortable to ask questions and expand their knowledge.”
– Jade Saunders, Water Industry Worker.
“At Western Power, Finance and Metering, I thoroughly enjoy the work environment that has been fostered and feel well supported by the leadership team. I am sufficiently heard, respected and feeling secure, I translate this into contributing towards the goal and objectives of the business. I give my thanks to all those who make working at Western Power a safe, secure and pleasant experience.”
– Razmi Marzook, Senior Metering Asset Engineer.
“My manager has been very helpful and thoughtful. He will sit with me when I am stuck with my reports and he will explain and teach me how to analyze the data. When I feel a bit overwhelmed with the deadline, he will be there to support me. It gives me the security that knowing someone will be there for me if I needed the support. He sets a reasonable performance objective for me to learn and develop and I feel respected.”
– Joanne Siaw, Billing Analyst.
“I’m currently working in the Metering and Finance team in Western Power. During my ten months here, my managers always take time to catch up with me and listen to my concerns. I always feel heard, secure and respected in the team.
For example, I put in a suggestion to change the data inputs for the monthly cash flow forecast after two months in the team. At first, I thought the manager would be reluctant to look at my proposals, as I hadn’t been here long enough. I was impressed when the manager actually took the time to listen and gave me the opportunity to build a separate model to review the current process.”
– Lei Sun, Lei, Treasury and Insurance Team leader.
“As a person of color, a woman and an immigrant, it feels at times like the trifecta – opening me up to judgement on every level. I’m fortunate to belong to a workplace where I feel supported, and my wellbeing is prioritized. This support is demonstrated consistently through multiple forums in a digitally enabled environment that encourages people to seek and provide feedback and regular 1:1 sessions where I can always speak up and feel heard.”
– Ashwini Kuncheitra, Store Format Planning Manager.
Is your workplace ready to join the conversation around intersectionality and racial and ethnic support?
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