In Intersections: The Simultaneity of Race, Gender and Class in Organization Studies, Evangelina Holvino (2010) notes that even though there has been progress in the inclusion of race in mainstream organization theorizing, there has not been much progress in the field of organization development and change (Hovino 2010: 248-9). In the article, Holvino explores what it is that prevents organizational practice and theory from including intersectionality (Hovino 2010: 249). Holvino also uses her standpoint as a woman of colour, as well as socialist, poststructuralist and transnational feminisms to identify possibilities for intersectional organizational analyses, and to propose a theoretical and methodological intervention for researching and practising intersectionality in organizations in a forceful and intentional manner. Although Holvino speaks at length about the history of intersectionality, the problems faced by minority women due to the exclusion of intersectionality in organizations, why it is not included in organization studies, and how intersectionality can be included as a framework; the author does not explain why it is important for organizations and organization studies to care about intersectionality and/or an intersectional framework in the first place. Without an understanding of the relevance and benefits of intersectionality and its role in bringing about inclusivity and productivity in organizations, it is less likely that Holvino’s intersectional framework will be considered by organizations and organization studies. Therefore, this paper aims to highlight why it is important for organizations, organization studies and funders to include an intersectional framework. The paper also looks at the challenges that one must be cognizant of with regard to the effective implementation of intersectionality (intersectional framework) in organizations.
Intersectionality and Inclusion: Why it Matters in Organizations
According to Scientific American (2017), only “19 Fortune 500 firms are led by people of color, and only 21 of these companies are led by women… Almost 75% of Fortune 500 boards are mainly comprised of white men.” These statistics show that white men dominate organizational leadership in the United States of America. This results in “the experiences, talents, and leadership” of non-dominant groups being overlooked (Abad 2017). Clayman Institute researcher, Melissa Abad, highlights the following barriers that perpetuate the exclusion and suppression of people of colour in white-male dominated organizations:
Women of color report being criticized or mocked for their physical appearance; they also experience extreme isolation and routinely have to navigate exclusionary dynamics and awkward interactions where they consequently have to educate members of the dominant group. Many have experienced sexual harassment. While these women report enjoying their work and having ambitions for leadership, they continuously have to navigate a workplace culture that impedes their visibility and belonging. Men of color interviewees also reported experiencing challenges in managing workplace relationships and often feeling undervalued. (Abad 2017)
As a result of this, minority workers have to “tread cautiously to avoid upsetting the majority group’s sensibilities. Put simply, they can be visibly black, but don’t want to be perceived as stereotypically black” (Wingfield 2015). In addition, employment inequality exists even among women, as white women dominate in higher paid managerial positions, while minority women dominate “lower paid positions” (Acker 2004; Browne 2000; Glenn 2001 as cited in Hovino 2010: 257). It has also been observed that white women have a ‘special place’ in organizations (Brazaitas 2004; Frost 1980 as cited in Holvino 2010: 254), and that they have “benefitted from their whiteness in a racist and heterosexist system,” as a result of their association to white men (Holvino 2010: 254).
According to Huffington Post, one of the characteristics of a successful organisation is its ability to embrace diversity (Rozen 2017). Employees of different races, classes, ages, genders and sexualities are beneficial to an organization because they bring a unique set of experiences, skills and perspectives (standpoint), which result in innovative, creative, effective and inclusive workplaces and problem-solving. In fact, racially diverse teams have been known to outperform non-diverse teams by 35% (ClearCompany 2019). It is therefore important to include intersectionality in organizations and in organization studies, because it provides another perspective to an otherwise white-male dominated narrative and work culture. Representation matters, especially in organizations and organization studies, because it creates the ability for employees to influence organisational policies that improve their working conditions, and thus their involvement and impact within the organisation and society. According to the 2019 Staples Workplace Survey, 63% of employees would not work for an organization that does not actively include women, minorities and people with disabilities (Staples Workplace Survey 2019). Harmonious, inclusive and empathetic working environments decrease employee stress levels, allowing marginalized employees to perform better, as they are better integrated within the company. This increased productivity directly affects company profits and it allows minorities to contribute positively to the company, industry and economy. Inclusive working environments will also increase employee morale and staff retention in organizations. The 2019 Staples Workplace Survey shows that 41% of employees would take a 10 percent pay cut to work for a company that cared more about employee wellness (Staples Workplace Survey 2019). The same survey showed that 68% of employees would consider leaving their job if they did not feel supported by more senior employees (Staples Workplace Survey 2019).
Holvino argues that the liberal feminist paradigm in organization studies makes the white female experience the experience of all women (Holvino 2010: 255). This “white-wash dilemma” characterizes women in management and women’s leadership research; resulting in a “change agenda” centered around ‘equal access to opportunities for [all] women; thus ignoring dominant cultural assumptions such as hierarchy, meritocracy and individualism” that “reproduce inequality and oppression” (Hovino 2010: 255). Therefore, by excluding or ignoring intersectionality and the use of an intersectional framework, discrimination and inequality will continue to go unnoticed or unresolved in organizations, resulting in unequal, toxic, low-output working environments that perpetuate the exclusion of marginalized employees from opportunities, resources, networks and promotion. It is not that marginalized groups do not want to participate in organizations because they are ‘lazy’ or incapable, but they are prevented from doing so by discrimination, exclusive company culture and policies, covert sexism, racism, sexual harassment, patriarchy, and exploitation wthin organizations and society. In order for the adoption of an intersectional approach to be implemented effectively in organisations and organisation studies, leaders (or members of the executive committee) need to take the initiative and lead by example. This sentiment is echoed by Procter & Gamble’s brand manager Latasha Woods, who says “We need leadership that truly cares about inclusion — a lot care about diversity, but how do you foster inclusion?…People spend a lot of time on what they know the boss cares about. If they see [that] the boss cares about inclusion, they will too.” However, the process of adopting an intersectional framework and thus making organisations and organisation studies more inclusive, is not without its challenges. Therefore, the following section delves into challenges that organizations may encounter when adopting an intersectional framework or approach.