The COVID-19 virus hit vulnerable, intersectional communities especially hard. When businesses large and small stepped up to support them, we were reminded that we are in this fight together. While diverse and LGBTQ-owned businesses power America, diversity powers our movement — and always has.
Centering the standard of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) is nationally recognized as a best practice in business. Diversity refers to the level of differences in identity in a business setting, including race, sexual orientation or expression, abilities, and more. Equity ensures fair treatment of all individuals regardless of their identity, fixing systems to improve equal outcomes, and business opportunities for all. Inclusion refers to fostering a welcoming environment where employees are comfortable and feel a sense of belonging.
When companies practice DEI, they find that employees are happier, contribute their best work, and are more expressive of their needs. As DEI has spread, corporations have developed employee resource groups (ERGs) and educational initiatives in order to ensure that they uphold DEI standards.
Companies also practice DEI externally through supplier diversity, by intentionally sourcing from diverse suppliers and removing barriers to contracting that marginalized individuals have historically encountered. The problem is that the work often stops there.
Focusing on intersectionality
DEI standards have not evolved enough to meet the world where it is, and they often fail to consider LGBTQ-minded intersectionality in practice. Coined by civil rights advocate and scholar Kimberlé Crenshaw, “intersectionality” refers to the interconnected way in which identities of disadvantaged groups overlap to create unique instances and experiences of oppression. As modern DEI standards continue to disregard the idea of intersectionality, LGBTQ+ employees and suppliers are left in a tight spot, since the community is represented across each identity group. When that multifaceted identity is not considered through an intersectional lens, LGBTQ+ people find it difficult to be wholly themselves in the workplace.
Merely hosting a multitude of diverse identities in one place is not beneficial unless a deep understanding of those identities and their intersections is cultivated. We do not exist in a vacuum — centuries of war, oppression, discrimination, racism, sexism, homophobia, and transphobia have occurred to present opportunities to certain groups of people and tear them away from others. Although diversity in a business setting ensures that people of marginalized identities are granted a seat at the table, it does not guarantee that they’ll have their turn to speak.
So how can companies incorporate intersectionality into DEI standards? The process begins with education. Leaders must educate their team on the importance of intersectionality inside and outside of the workplace, emphasizing the multiplicity of struggles and discrimination that LGBTQ+ people with multiple marginalized identities experience.
The world changes every day. So why do DEI programs tend to take place once annually according to calendar “celebrations?” Reducing entire identities to one day of the year is one of the biggest problems with current DEI practices. To incorporate intersectionality into DEI standards, companies must provide employees and stakeholders with consistent, relevant educational initiatives instead of merely ticking off one box each year.
Leaders must center the voices of LGBTQ+ individuals within their organizations. Allowing LGBTQ+ people to discuss their experiences when they are comfortable doing so provides everyone with a more multifaceted understanding of intersectionality. Centering LGBTQ+ voices also allows the company to consciously collaborate with and provide resources to the LGBTQ+ community at large.