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The Important Role That Intersectionality Can Play in Your Talent Acquisition Efforts

Date Published: June 24, 2023 | Last Updated:October 17, 2023 | By Suraiya Sarwar
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Organizations and their HR leaders talk a lot about DEI—or DEIB—and this emerging list of related acronyms. But these conversations tend to focus on specific employee segments or cohorts — women and people of color (POC), for instance.

But employees don’t neatly fit into these niche categories. A women could also be a person of color, and may also have a disability, or be a veteran, for instance. That’s true of any employee. Intersectionality refers to those cross-category differentiators that most employees have.

Here we take a closer look at what intersectionality is and how it can, and should, impact your talent acquisition efforts.

What Is Intersectionality?

Diverse Jobs Matter defines intersectionality as: “the ways in which multiple aspects of identity intersect and create unique experiences of discrimination or privilege.” These aspects span the broad array of factors typically associated with diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) efforts—race, religion, gender, class, sexual orientation, disability, veteran status, etc.

Interestingly, the term was first used in 1989 by Dr. Kemberly Crenshaw and was intended to describe her own experience as a Black woman.

From a personal standpoint, in this case from a job applicant’s standpoint, intersectionality recognizes that candidates are not one-dimensional. Candidates come to the interview with a wide range of experiences and personal characteristics that define them—some visible, some not.

People’s experiences and identities can’t be understood in isolation—but must be considered as a combination of different dimensions that interact and influence each other. These different dimensions are certainly important to consider during the talent acquisition process.

They can also serve as a means to bring people closer together through shared experiences and understanding. For instance, two male employees, one white and one Hispanic, have an obvious difference from a DEI standpoint. But what if we also recognize that they are both over 60 and both veterans?  Intersectionality can lead to discovering shared traits, backgrounds, and interests that can build better relationships and lead to greater collaboration.

Exploring intersectionality during the hiring process can also lead to greater understanding and the ability to build a more diverse workforce.

Intersectionality and Talent Acquisition

During the talent acquisition process, considering intersectionality can help to promote diversity, equity, and inclusion in a more holistic way. HR leaders and hiring managers should recognize that candidates aren’t monolithic—their identities, experiences, and challenges can—and are—shaped by multiple factors.

That awareness can help to address, and minimize, any potential unconscious bias that might impact the talent acquisition process.

In an article for LinkedIn’s Talent Blog, Edgardo Perez, Ed.M., explains how incorporating considerations of intersectionality into a hiring process tripled the number of applications received and improved employee demographics for various underrepresented groups. Some of the specific things he did include:

  • Gathering demographic data at the company level on gender, and gender by ethnicity.
  • Shared the data with leadership to help them understand where gaps existed.
  • Provided training to address explicit and implicit biases.
  • Worked on creating an employer identity to speak to underrepresented people through the company’s Careers Page and strategic partnerships with technology groups representing people of color of all genders.

The benefits, he says, went beyond talent acquisition: “As expected, we received new insights on how to improve and market our product, better serve customers, and more deeply engage employees.”

Not considering intersectionality, though, can lead to flawed perspectives and lost opportunities. For instance, in a post for RippleMatch, Kate Beckman points out that: “If your engineering team is over 50 percent women but has few Black or Hispanic women, your team is still lacking representation. Recruiters have the opportunity to bridge this gap. That’s why when developing a recruitment strategy, it’s important to not only ask, ‘How can we get more women into tech?’ but ‘How can we bring more women from all backgrounds into tech, especially those who are excluded at higher rates?’”

Intersectionality and Unconscious Bias

Understanding the role of intersectionality in addressing unconscious bias is essential for HR leaders and hiring managers. Embracing intersectionality means recognizing that candidates are multifaceted individuals, and their identities and experiences cannot be reduced to one-dimensional categories. For example, a job applicant may be a woman of color, a member of the LGBTQ+ community, and a person with a disability, all of which intersect to shape their life experiences and perspectives.

Incorporating intersectionality in talent acquisition also opens opportunities for building a more diverse and inclusive workforce. For instance, a candidate’s unique combination of identities may bring fresh perspectives and innovative problem-solving approaches to the organization. Recognizing these intersections can lead to greater collaboration and mutual understanding among employees, fostering a more harmonious and cohesive work environment.

To address unconscious bias through an intersectional lens, organizations should invest in intersectionality-focused training alongside unconscious bias training. This combined approach can empower HR leaders and hiring managers to not only recognize their unconscious biases but also understand how intersectional identities shape candidates’ experiences.

Moreover, the integration of intersectionality in recruitment efforts can extend beyond the hiring process. HR leaders can incorporate diverse perspectives, including those shaped by intersectional experiences, in employee development programs and advancement opportunities. This approach ensures that all employees have equal access to growth and promotion within the organization.

Additional Tips for Incorporating Intersectionality Considerations in Hiring

Organizations can take several steps to help minimize unconscious bias, draw candidates from a wider range of backgrounds and experiences, and consider intersectionality during the talent acquisition process. For instance:

  • Ensure that job descriptions use inclusive language and focus only on the essential qualifications needed for the job. Avoid unnecessary requirements that might exclude certain candidates. A recent example is the reconsideration of whether, and when, degree requirements are appropriate.
  • In sourcing. Case a wide net and use a variety of channels and platforms to find candidates from various backgrounds. Reach out to organizations and communities that represent different identity groups.
  • Use a diverse hiring panel—draw upon the intersectionality of your own staff members to incorporate as many varied attributes and backgrounds as possible.
  • Train interviewers. Ensure they understand intersectionality, unconscious bias, and the importance of not making assumptions about candidates, but focusing on the concrete ways their knowledge, skills, and abilities might make them a good fit.
  • Metrics. Intersectionality can be addressed in the talent acquisition process by breaking out typical categories into more nuanced intersectional groups. For instance, breaking female applicants down into white, Hispanic, Black, etc. This can be a helpful way to identify potential recruitment gaps and opportunities.

Embracing intersectionality in talent acquisition and beyond is not only a matter of ethics and social responsibility but also a strategic advantage. Organizations that value and leverage the diverse perspectives and experiences of their employees are better positioned to drive innovation, creativity, and adaptability in an ever-changing business landscape.

A diverse workforce fosters a richer exchange of ideas, encourages constructive debate, and allows for more comprehensive problem-solving. When employees from different backgrounds collaborate, they bring a wealth of knowledge and approaches that can lead to more robust solutions and enhanced competitiveness in the market.

Incorporating considerations of intersectionality in the hiring process can be a good way to broaden the representation of a wide range of groups within your organization. It’s also a good way to raise awareness of the many ways in which, while we share certain differences, we also often have more in common than we might realize.

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