Intersectionality: A concept we should all be aware of

In a Ted Talk I watched recently, Kimberlé Crenshaw’s The urgency of intersectionality, Crenshaw caught my interest by talking about a type of bias that is notably not talked about, yet quite dangerous and telling. Crenshaw coined a term, intersectionality, to describe the process of looking at what happens at the intersection when an individual is subjected to the biases of more than one marginalized characteristic at once (a person who is black and gay, for instance).

Crenshaw illustrates the concept of intersectionality by describing just that – an intersection.

An intersection where the biases that come against us (in hiring, and other forms of exclusion) work simultaneously and become doubly effective.

When we have more working against us in terms of bias-driven prejudice, we are statistically less likely to get that job or that promotion, or even that respect.

Crenshaw reiterates a certain point throughout the talk: When you can’t see a problem, you can’t solve it. She uses black women as an example of a population of people whose stories of mistreatment are more likely to fall through the cracks, compared to their white female and black male counterparts.

Crenshaw uses the word prism to describe the multi-angled lens through which we should view such complex issues.

 

To consider a complex phenomenon,

we should use a complex lens.

What does your lens look like?

 

Ted Talk:

Kimberlé Crenshaw’s The urgency of intersectionality

https://www.ted.com/talks/kimberle_crenshaw_the_urgency_of_intersectionality/transcript?language=en

 

Test your biases, literally. It takes 5 minutes.

Did you know that you can get tested for biases?

Caution: If you didn’t expect this already, you’re going to learn that we’re all affected by bias in our own ways.

Take the Implicit Association Test (IAT) test and don’t be ashamed of the result. I got my Masters degree reading and writing about the most subtle forms of gender biases, so you’d think that I’d be pretty good at checking my own bias in that area; but my test results suggested that I have a bias toward men (and against women) in the workplace. More specifically, I learned that my results are described as “Automatic association for Male with Career and Female with Family”, because I had a tendency to group men into work-related groups and women into family-related groups, under a time constraint. I could have sat down, taken my time, and chosen all of the correct answers carefully, but you are also judged on the time it takes you to respond to the questions.

When I really think about it, this makes sense. This explains why I, while waiting in the vet’s office to meet my new vet, was assuming I’d be meeting a male vet. This memory stuck with me because, when the female vet entered the room, I was faced with my own narrow thought process in that situation. And this isn’t the first time I made this type of association based on gender, but the good news is, just having this awareness is a huge step toward overcoming the impacts of bias.

Back to the test:

What the testing site does not end up telling you is how to change this. How to overcome this bias.

There are things you can do after taking a test such as the IAT; for example, I should apparently expose myself to more strong female leaders and CEOs, in the media or elsewhere, in order to increase my association there.

You can also get help directly addressing your group’s biases by taking them through training surrounding this topic of implicit bias.  Talk to us if this is something your group could benefit from.