Understanding the protected characteristics is important towards preventing discrimination against each identity or social group. However, what do you do when someone identifies with or is a part of multiple of these protected characteristics?

The reality for a lot of your employees will be that they are not just having to cope with others excluding or discriminating against them for being part of one protected characteristic, but multiple. This guide will hopefully help you to better understand what these employees are facing and how best you can support them.  

What intersectionality means (and why it’s important)

Intersectionality is a term used in a variety of contexts to mean where different systems or categorisations overlap. In this context, intersectionality refers to when social categorisations, such as race, gender and class, are applied to a single individual or group.  

What this means for your workplace

If you have an employee who fits into multiple of the protected characteristics, it means that they are vulnerable to multiple different forms of discrimination.  

Research suggests that those who have multiple different protected characteristics are far more likely to be ‘highly on guard’ at work to make sure they are not perceived as fulfilling stereotypes. As such, these employees are far more likely to feel excluded from the company culture and unable to bring their authentic selves to work. 

When you have staff who feel unable to express themselves, you are subduing creativity and the ability of your staff to work at full capacity. There is a distinct positive correlation between self-confidence and productivity; if your company culture is persistently undermining your employee’s identity, they are not going to be able to contribute at their full capacity.  

Eliminate the problem at the source

Oftentimes, advice surrounding intersectionality in the workplace has only one message: give extra support to that individual or group. Although that isn’t bad advice, by approaching the issue as if the problem is related to their identity or social group, you are further excluding them from the norm. 

In reality, the problem is not related to the employees multiple protected characteristics, but the discrimination attributed to them. The best way to support these employees is to eliminate the problem at the source of discrimination. 

Sometimes these employees feel exceptionally on-edge in the workplace if they do not feel like the company culture is inclusive. If you have a generally accepting company who takes discrimination seriously, there is a greater threat that the employees with multiple protected characteristics will feel they need to be constantly vigilant of upholding stereotypes rather than experiencing open discrimination.  

As such, the most significant way to help these employees is not to single them out but to make their identity or social group feel included in the company culture, so they can come to work as their authentic self without fear of discrimination.    

Individual support

There are several different stances you can take towards assisting those employees who are part of multiple protected characteristics, depending on the severity of their difficulties. Although this should apply to all of your members of staff, you should take particular interest in hearing their experiences dealing with discrimination or feeling excluded from the workplace.  

Furthermore, you should have an extensive support network established for your employees so they can express any of their thoughts openly. If someone is experiencing discrimination in the workplace or is having confidence issues, there should be someone they can go to get help who they feel comfortable speaking with. 

For more ideas on how to make your work environment more inclusive, we have developed a guide dedicated to just that.