Intersectionality is a term frequently used in many different contexts, from social movements to academic research to everyday speech. A recent article in The New York Times explores how intersectionality — defined as “the complex and cumulative way different forms of discrimination like racism, sexism and classism overlap and affect people” — influences men and women of color in the workplace.
The article draws from a recent non-profit study surveying 1,600 participants in workplaces ranging from corporations to higher education. Most respondents said they were “highly on guard at work,” which often meant they actively repressed traits others might perceive as frightening or intimidating. For example, they arrived early to meetings so they would be seated when others arrived in order to appear less threatening.
While the majority of workers in the study reported this need to be “on guard” to protect themselves against racial and gender bias, the types of stereotypes various groups face are not the same. For example, African-American women tend to face the stereotype of “the angry black woman,” while Latinas face stereotypes about being “too emotional or too wedded to their families.” Sociologist Yung-Yi Diana Pan notes that Asian-Americans are sometimes identified as “being workhorses without creativity” and “passive and acquiescent,” and this may lead to fewer promotions according to a recent report by the Ascend Foundation.
Part of the problem, according to sociologist Lata Murti, is that women of color are constantly compared to professional white women — the “invisible norm.” So, what is the solution? Latasha Woods, brand manager at Proctor & Gamble argue it starts with leadership:
“We need leadership that truly cares about inclusion — a lot care about diversity, but how do you foster inclusion? People spend a lot of time on what they know the boss cares about. If they see the boss cares about inclusion they will too.”