Big Changes, Big Gains-- Acknowledging Intersectionality in Leadership

Posted on April 21, 2021 by Bailey Crumpton. Tagged: For Candidates, Resources for Entrepreneurs, Colorado Culture, For Clients, Staffing & Recruiting, DEIB

(Updated May 2023)

In past posts, we have looked at traits of great leaders, lessons learned from the tumultuous pandemic years, and creative ways to keep your team motivated. While there are many subtopics related to how leaders influence their teams, today we're talking about the importance of acknowledging intersectionality in leadership.

At BWBacon, we believe in workforce equality and incorporate ongoing learning as a part of increasing equity in the recruiting space. One thing we have learned is that not only does representation matter, but companies that have diverse leaders and nurture growth are capturing an enormous economic opportunity. In this post, we’re taking a closer look at how intersectionality enhances our ability to build more inclusive workplaces.

Tech Can Make A Lasting Positive Impact

Demographics in the US are shifting. This ongoing shift is well-documented, but the reason it matters is because businesses will also have to cater to a wider range of consumers and their needs. To the tune of $6 Trillion in buying power, yes that was trillion, considering a much broader swath of customers is imperative for longevity, in all industries. Companies working for greater diversity, equity, and belonging are being practical in finding authentic ways to communicate with the people they serve.

The diversification of the tech industry has long been a topic of conversation, but simply put, we need to view inclusion and learning about intersectionality as an opportunity for business that has yet to be captured. This means realizing the positive impact that technology can have in driving change and innovation that will improve our daily lives. Within tech organizations, DEIB needs to be more than a program or expecting a group of diverse individuals to carry the weight on influencing their organization with no support and no budget. Its policies should be interlaced into everything you are doing, uplifting all types of people to their full potential in and outside of your organization. The possible positive outcomes of this shift are immeasurable.

How Can Organizations Acknowledge Intersectionality In Leadership?

At base, applying a lens of intersectionality means understanding that everyone belongs to multiple groups, communities, and has cross-sections of their personal identity. These identities actively impact how people experience the world around them, creating a distinctly layered disposition. Intersectionality calls on us to think outside of the box of how we typically label someone and their life’s experience.

For example, is the candidate you are interviewing or considering promoting a service member? Do they identify as LGBTQ+? Are they disabled, AAPI, or a single mother? The layered identities that make up an individual’s experience add dimension and credibility to the type of employee or leader that person can be. Recognizing intersectionality means creating safe spaces to hear out other perspectives when it comes to unequal representation or discrimination, and building processes around awareness and inclusion. Food for thought.

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Start By Shifting Your Priorities

When approaching challenging conversations, it’s important to note that placing blame or removing ourselves from any personal responsibility does not help us grow collectively. We must examine, name, and reproach systems that we all participate in, and understand how these systems impact people around us in different ways. Company diversity statements and the idea of more inclusion feels like a warm, fuzzy hug. Many people would say it's just the right thing to do. Executing strategies, analyzing data, and facing our own internalized biases is the not-so-squishy, hard work of realizing what it will take to integrate policies that bring real change in the tech industry.

Ultimately, these are issues we face together as a country, and uncovering what needs to change helps us build a more equitable future. It's been established that the cost of turnover and not having an inclusive culture are high, especially for tech companies. Viewing inclusivity and representation as a business strategy is therefore imperative economically, and socially. When they said the more the merrier, they must have meant more diversity leads to better solutions, more creativity, and a higher chance that leadership teams represent the people they lead and serve.

By engaging with people from different generations, sexual orientations, abilities, cultures, and genders, you can start to weave a tapestry of perspectives and create meaningful policies that break down barriers. So, we can agree that companies with diverse leadership teams that see intersections of identity are more profitable and successful than those who do not. Then why is it so darn hard to see substantial change in the actual numbers?

What’s Really Getting In The Way

A study conducted in 2021 determined that companies were spending $8 billion annually on implicit bias training, yet many were still struggling to even the playing field for BIPOC and female candidates to gain entry into larger tech companies. What it really boils down to is continued affinity bias, and a lack of intersectionality. A newly developed demographic software, Pipeline, found that men receive promotions at a rate that’s 21% greater than the rate that women receive them. Disaggregate that data even further, accounting for intersectionality, and they concluded that the promotion gap doubles for Black women. Doubles!

To an extent, managing, aggregating, and representing intersectional data is not a simple undertaking. However, the pandemic has helped organizations accelerate digital tools and data congregation, and at this point, consumers and employees are not waiting around for excuses on this front. BIPOC candidates are looking for bold, creative solutions that move towards eliminating outdated, biased practices.

In short, organizations unable to see “the how” of creating more inclusive and resilient teams may need to simply look at their own data and ask the right kinds of questions. What barriers exist that have prevented your organization from hiring, holding onto, or promoting women of color or any other underrepresented group? What language is in your job description or messaging that blocks access to certain groups of people?

Now is the time to double down, and figure out how we are getting in our own way when it comes to implementing new ideas. Hiring managers and VPs can use their position as leaders to make considering intersectionality an ongoing practice. For example, do an audit of the requirements of your open positions. Is having a CS Degree truly essential for this role? If it is, ok, if not, perhaps removing or adjusting qualifications can expand the talent pool and diversity of applicants for that position, like WP Engine based in Austin, Texas.

Tech Needs More Voices & It Needs Them Now

If you’re invested in operationalizing DEIB in your organization, stay on this journey with us, and check out our other blogs on the topic. Stay tuned for more learning opportunities, resources, and connections from BWBacon on DEIB. We will leave you with these final nuggets for consideration…

First, what does equal representation actually look like to you, your company, to other people involved with your organization? According to Pew Research, women are 51% of the population and 57% of all college graduates. Now, if the record high for female CEOs of Fortune 500 companies was a measly 7%, how do we make metrics drive the needle towards more truly equitable, 50/50 representation? What aspects of our society promote and enable this gap? This is one example of how data can shift our understanding of where changes need to be made.

And finally, the bottom line is that together, diversity in leadership and inclusivity draw a clear line to innovation and success. As Cate Prescott, VP of HR for tech company National Instruments wrote, “it is critical that the face of engineering looks different a decade from now than it does today. Getting the very best outcome – the best solutions to the challenges we face as a society - comes from tapping into the largest and most diverse pool of ideas. And we can only achieve that by harnessing the power of as many diverse minds as possible.”

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Here at BWBacon Group, we know and live what you are experiencing as an employer or job seeker in Denver, Boulder, Dallas, San Francisco, New York City or any of the other cities we work in. We believe great recruiting starts and ends with understanding people.

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