Intersectionality: What is it and why does it matter?

HRD spoke to La Trobe University’s chief people officer on the importance of D&I investments

Intersectionality: What is it and why does it matter?

Organizations that place a bigger onus on diversity and inclusion may have a shot of coming out of this pandemic comparatively unscathed.

A McKinsey report suggested companies that invest in their D&I initiatives during COVID-19 could benefit from increased innovation, learned reliance, and an improved brand identity in the long-run.

During the current world pandemic, HR departments may have put a break on their D&I plans. Issues such as workplace health and safety, productivity and mental health have taken priority.

While this is understandable, it’s also rather destructive.

Speaking to HRD, Zemeel Saba, chief people officer at Melbourne’s La Trobe University revealed how COVID-19 was the catalyst for a shift to ‘intersectionality’.

“COVID-19 resulted in the University needing to change its direction and become more focused,” Saba told HRD.

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“D&I it has evolved it significantly due to COVID 19 – with the merging of several great plans (Gender Equality blueprint, SAGE program of work, Disability and Indigenous Plans etc) and programs of work to one La Trobe Equality and Inclusivity Plan. The benefit of this is that now intersectionality is at the heart.”

Intersectionality is defined as the complex, cumulative way in which the effects of multiple forms of discrimination (such as racism, sexism, and classism) combine, overlap, or intersect.

The Diversity Council Australia recommended organisations benchmark their internal cultural diversity against diversity in the general community - and consider the role of intersectionality in cultural diversity.

For La Trobe, this shift to intersectionality felt like natural progression – especially for an institution already dedicated to instigating authentic and meaningful change.

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“La Trobe University is a University that is committed to social justice, diversity and inclusion – it is part of our history and is in our DNA,” continued Saba.

“Our students come from over 110 countries and also are the most diverse in Victoria and we take pride in making sure our strategy is reflective of this commitment and our student and staff actions and behaviours embrace diversity and inclusion as a key enabler of strategic objectives.”

La Trobe was recently rated number one in the world in the Higher Education Standards ratings for their commitment, plans, policies and actions in support of gender equality.  

“We have addressed systemic barriers to diversity, inclusion and equality and made brave and bold decisions and actions to break down barriers  - in other words not simply done the ‘nice and easy’ D&I work,” she said.

So, what advice does Saba have for HR professionals looing to build a better diversity and inclusion strategy?

“Don’t’ divide, unite!

"Intersectionality and universality are key to building a great strategy – so I suggest you take a wholistic approach with systemic delivery and ensure measurable outcomes with clear accountabilities.

“Make sure you have champions who see the value and are active sponsors.”

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