The word ‘intersectionality’ is slipping into workplace conversations with increasing frequency, but what does it actually mean?

Where did it come from, and why should we care about it?

The theory

‘Intersectionality’ is a phrase coined by critical race and legal scholar, Kimberlé Crenshaw, to refer to the ways in which different systems of power and oppression – such as racism, sexism, and capitalism – interact with one another to create specific and unique forms of inequality.

Crenshaw first used intersectional theory to understand the ways in which Black women in the U.S. were experiencing misogyny and racism in an overlapping way that could not be explained solely as racial or sex discrimination. An intersectional analysis therefore allows us to take multiple aspects of a person’s social identity into account when considering their proximity to power. For example, a white, middle-class woman with a disability will have a different experience of oppression and privilege to that of a Black, upper-class woman who is a Muslim.

Intersectionality provides us with a useful framework for understanding the nuances of people’s experiences, which can help us to create more efficient and inclusive policies, laws, and workplaces that fit the needs of the people they are designed for.

The issue

Inequalities in Scottish society have been exacerbated and made more visible by the global pandemic, particularly for women and people from marginalised groups. Research shows that women have overwhelmingly had to shoulder the burden of caring duties and familial responsibilities while navigating a precarious job market in industries that are resistant to their inclusion. This situation is made even more challenging for women and non-binary persons with a disability, from a racialised minority background, or who are members of the LGBTQ+ community.

Women continue to be under-represented across the STEM sectors in Scotland, making up 19% of the engineering workforce, around 10% of construction professionals, and only 10% of senior managers across the STEM sectors (Equate Scotland, 2021).

On top of this, intersecting inequalities that affect women and non-binary persons from diverse backgrounds continue to be overlooked and dismissed. In order to create an efficient and progressive STEM labour market, we need to transform cultures and workplaces so that everyone can thrive, regardless of their identities.

The action

This June 21 - 23, Equate Scotland will be hosting an online conference where we explore these issues of intersecting inequality and collaborate on how to improve them in the Scottish STEM sectors. With some exciting keynote speeches, a variety of panel and workshop sessions, and lots of opportunities for networking & connecting, this is an event for anyone with an interest in making STEM more inclusive.

Going back to the idea of intersectionality: We are eager for our Equate Annual Conference to signify a shift towards a more inclusive and accessible conference format. Therefore, our conference development has been informed by an intersectional feminist framework that promotes social justice in the online group experience. What this means in practice, is that our conference will aim to embrace the guiding principles of care, collaboration, connection, accountability, purpose, and justice. If you are curious to learn more, you will need to come along and see what all the fuss is about!

Register here: STEM through an Intersectional Lens - Equate Annual Conference - Equate Scotland