The impact of intersectionality in the workplace

During the 2012 presidential election, Oprah Winfrey shared that she was continually being bombarded with questions about who she would support: Barack Obama, the Black candidate, or Hillary Clinton, the female candidate. 

She said that the question assumed that she could split her identity. But as a black woman, she couldn’t, she identified with both of them. In that moment, Winfrey gave us a window into the experience of intersectionality. She sparked a conversation about a concept that has been voiced for decades by those at the margins of mainstream America. 

Read more: What is intersectionality and why is it important? 

Seeking to highlight that one’s lived experience cannot simply be reduced to the sum of racism and sexism, Kimberlé Crenshaw coined the term to describe how the many facets of a person’s identity weave together to create a more intensified level of discrimination. While we often want to address diversity issues in siloed categories, individuals who have identities in two or more underrepresented groups experience a level of discrimination that can’t be attributed to just one dimension. 

Intersectionality in the workplace: Understanding intersectionality makes us better leaders

Having a view into the injustice that exists within our society is critical to making any meaningful change. Likewise, as leaders, we must pay attention to the ways that intersectionality shows up within our organizations. 

Individuals with intersectional identities experience intensified levels of discrimination in unemployment, wage equity, sexual harassment, and access to professional development. A study by the non-profit organization Catalyst found that professionals with intersectional identities experience an “emotional tax”, which they describe as “the state of being on guard—consciously preparing to deal with potential bias or discrimination.”

Read more about the repercussions of the emotional tax. 

Because of this, those who work in non-inclusive cultures struggle with well-being and end up wanting to leave their jobs, and organizations face the challenge and expense of high turnover rates and losing talented employees. 

Read more: Why intersectionality matters even more

Recognizing intersectionality as a vital element of diversity is key to genuinely inclusive leadership.  Understanding people’s unique lived experiences, the challenges they face, and the diverse perspectives they bring is how you will eventually eliminate that emotional tax and create an engaged, healthy, and productive workforce.


While we are all familiar with the stats around women earning less than men, these numbers refer specifically to the earnings of Caucasian women in relation to Caucasian men. Black women earn only $.63 on the dollar compared to Caucasian men, and Latina women earn only $0.56.  By the way, these numbers are dropping quickly amid the pandemic. These statistics also don’t take into consideration the earnings of men of color. Thus, intersectionality leads to a larger wage gap that is generally unnoticed.


Dive deeper into intersectionality and leadership

Join us on April 28 at 1:00 PM ET for a free session led by Dr. Gina Messina, “From Diversity to Intersectionality: Leading Change from Within”.

You’ll learn the difference between diversity and intersectionality and the importance of shifting diversity programs to include intersectional perspectives. Understanding how this shift has a positive impact on the bottom line is critical to driving cultural change.

Don’t worry if you can’t attend the live webinar. Go ahead and register, we’ll send the recording to you.

Read more: Intersectionality and longevity: who gets to live the longest, healthiest lives? 

About Dr. Gina Messina

Dr. Messina is an educator, author, and social entrepreneur who has presented at universities, organizations, conferences, and at the Commission on the Status of Women at the United Nations. She has appeared on MSNBC, PBS, NPR and the TEDx stage and has been featured in The Washington Post, The Associated Press and the Boston Globe. Journalist Maria Shriver has called her “an architect of change.”

She is currently Associate Professor and Department Chair of Philosophy and Religious Studies, former Dean of the School of Graduate and Professional Studies, and an enthusiastic educator who is inclusive, validating, compassionate, and collaborative. 

Connect with Gina.

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