In my interview with David Gonzales, a resource in the previous Reflection, you heard about the importance of his immigrant and Latino heritage. David frequently speaks about the importance of Latino culture and the immigrants’ openness to risk-taking and entrepreneurship for his career. He also emphasizes the commitment to education for both immigrants and Latinos. This illustrates an evolution in current thinking about diversity and inclusion: intersectionality.
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According to Deloitte’s W. Sean Kelly and Christie Smith, “the term intersectionality defines the notion that social identities such as race, gender, sexuality, class, marital status, and age overlap and intersect in ways that shape each individual. In other words, all of us possess more than one social identity.” David is a Latino descended from immigrants, and both are important to his identity. He should not be considered simply Latino.
Kelly and Smith point out that “if individuals cannot be their authentic selves in their organizations, they will not be as engaged, will not thrive, and may in fact leave.”
To understand intersectionality, it is useful to be aware that social environments such as workplaces make implicit demands that people “cover” some aspects of their identities in order to conform. Racial and ethnic minorities, women, LGBTQ people, for example, may experience the need to hide important parts of those identities to be considered for professional opportunities, advancement, and development experiences. Kelly and Smith point out that “if individuals cannot be their authentic selves in their organizations, they will not be as engaged, will not thrive, and may in fact leave.” Research at the SMU center of excellence on Latino Leadership revealed that Latinos who do not feel authentically engaged in their organizations leave without warning, “in the middle of the night.” Men typically move on to positions in other firms and women often leave to start their own businesses.
To bring this to life, consider David Gonzales again. What if the demands to conform to the dominant Pepsi culture (“Pepsi pretty”) caused him to stifle his entrepreneurial spirit and keep his Latino cultural insights to himself? What if David’s attempts to put forward his appetite for risk-taking and his ideas about penetrating new Latino markets fell on deaf ears? No Chili Lime Doritos! Luckily, the Pepsi organization was global, and David was able to find offshore opportunities where his combination of entrepreneurial risk-taking and Latino cultural affinity was more welcome. His success overseas enabled him to penetrate the executive level in the US and allowed Pepsi to retain an executive-level talent.
How can companies focus more on valuing women and minority employees for their whole selves rather than defining them in specific groups? Demographic trends force the issue. Millennials are more diverse than previous generations. Almost forty percent of Millennials belong to a non-white race or ethnicity. They are more focused on being valued for their whole selves. Recognizing diversity as intersectionality brings out everyone’s compound identities. That will encourage conversation across differences to unearth unconscious biases. The keys for individuals are:
- Self-awareness: understand your assumptions and their effect on personal exchanges.
- Empathy: take into account cultural differences and potential misunderstandings.
- Self-regulation: eliminate behavior that demonstrates unconscious bias.
Sharing stories is a good way to show our self-awareness, learn about others’ experiences, and start a dialog that may challenge our first impressions based on our biases. Resist the temptation to confine others to their most observable identity.
Resource: W. Sean Kelly and Christie Smith, “What if the Road to Inclusion Were Really an Intersection?” A report by the Deloitte University Leadership Center for Inclusion (attached).