This resource aims to illuminate the infinite intersections that compose our identities. In this process, we will unpack the challenges and biases people with different identities face at work. We will also support your organization in building awareness of these different lived experiences and in designing your workplace to promote equity and inclusion for all. We hope that this resource encourages organizations to create DEI strategies that do not leave any team members behind. We all have a stake in diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) initiatives, no matter what identities we hold. Keep in mind that the list of intersections we share is not comprehensive, and we will continue to update this list as we learn and grow.
The Typical “Problem”
When organizations connect with us to support their DEI efforts, they often say is, “we need to hire more women” or "we need more Black people on our leadership team." While these may be well-intentioned, gender and race rarely capture the whole picture of who we are.
If we asked you to summarize yourself into a single aspect of your identity, could you? What about your abilities, age, caregiving responsibilities, citizenship, cultural backgrounds, education, faith/spirituality, genders beyond the binary, language, immigration status, military experience, personality, relationship status, sexuality, size, socioeconomic background, transgender status, workplace seniority, and so much more that makes you, you?
The odds are likely that we’ve all experienced someone unintentionally flattening us. This is partly due to people focusing on visible characteristics or segmenting us into singular categories while ignoring the overlapping intersections. Here are a few things to remember about identity:
- Our identities can be both visible and invisible.
- Our identities can be fluid and change over time.
- We can be actively discern different aspects of our identity or what spaces we feel comfortable sharing our identities in.
- We can still come to terms with our identities or reclaim identities we felt pressured to hide or leave behind.
- We can relate to and prioritize our identities in different ways personally than how this plays out socially.
- We can be subjected to incorrect and harmful assumptions concerning the identities we hold that are rooted in biases, misinformation, and stereotypes.
- We sometimes have specific preferences as to whether we want others to refer to us by putting our identity first or using person-first language.
- Some of our identities are assigned to us from birth, and others are chosen and evolve over our lifetime.
- There can be parts of our identities that give us advantages in the world and parts that experience regular, ongoing marginalization.
Intersectionality is an analytical approach coined by activist and legal scholar Kimberlé Crenshaw in a pair of essays published in 1989 and 1991. The theory of intersectionality was built on the work and insights of countless Black feminist changemakers and thinkers dating back as early as the 1800s with Sojourner’s Truth’s influential speech, Ain’t I a Woman. This speech highlighted the unique and unacknowledged oppressions that Black women were facing. Joy Buolamwini, the founder of the Algorithmic Justice League, made a contemporary riff on this speech in her video poetry essay, AI Ain’t a Woman, which highlighted how these inequities persist for Black women in Facial Recognition Technologies (FRTs) in particular. These forms of artificial intelligence are significantly more inaccurate for Black women.
An intersectional framework recognizes that identities (e.g. “disabled” and “immigrant”) do not exist independently of each other and that each informs the others. Intersectionality acknowledges that people have overlapping identities and lived experiences complicating their relationship to prejudice and oppression.
Crenshaw initially employed the concept of intersectionality in response to the court case DeGraffenreid v. General Motors. In this case, the court would only consider the discrimination claims of the Black women who were suing separately concerning race and gender. The court would not consider the unique discrimination that occurs at the intersection of the two.
A common misconception around intersectionality is that it’s just additive. For example, a queer woman does not just deal with homophobia AND sexism separately. There is no point where someone’s sexuality stops and their gender begins or vice versa. Similarly, there is no exact point where you can determine where one street stops and becomes another at an intersection. Our identities are inextricably linked together. These intersections alter the character of the oppressions we face and the interactions we have.
“I am not 'half Japanese' and 'half Lithuanian Jewish.’ When I'm singing a Japanese folk song, I don't sing with half my voice but with my whole voice (...) I am complete and I embody layers of identities that belong together. I am made of layers, not fractions.” - Yumi Tomsha
Learn more in Feminuity’s Resource Shifting Beyond A Gender-Only Approach: The Case for Intersectionality.
There are a few terms we must align on before elaborating on the various intersections of identity that make up who we are and how we can better design workplaces with them in mind.
Code-Switching: Code-switching is when we adjust our style of speech, appearance, behaviour, and expression to suit the expectations, sensibilities, values, and norms of others in a particular setting. People do this to avoid unfair treatment, poor impressions, and discrimination by dominant groups in the workplace. The most common example of code-switching involves shifting our language depending on our audience. For example, research shows that many Black people alternate between using Black Vernacular English (BVE) when with members of their own community and the English dialect dominant in their region when with colleagues or classmates.
Covering: Covering is when someone experiencing marginalization intentionally behaves or presents in a way to conceal or downplay their identity. This is often done out of fear that being authentic will affect their reputation, treatment, and career opportunities. People are less likely to cover in situations where they feel safe, affirmed, and valued.
Diversity: Diversity is the presence of “difference” within a given setting. Differences can take many forms, including appearance, thoughts, likes/dislikes, and identities. Diversity is measured based on a collective whole, so a team or organization can be diverse, but a person cannot be. Labelling people from underrepresented and marginalized groups as “diverse” normalizes dominant groups as the standard to which all others are compared to. This should be avoided.
Identity: Identity refers to someone’s sense of who they are and how they are categorized or understood in different contexts and by different systems. Identity can be both personal (e.g. your subjective sense of self) and collective (e.g. how you define yourself in relation to others and different institutions). Identity can relate to your background, values, beliefs, affiliations, personality, social demographics, lived experiences, and more. Identities tell us who we are and act as rubrics for others to help them understand who we are. Identities are always situated within a social and historical context and unique systems of privilege, power, and oppression. Their significance fluctuates based on that context. Our relationship with our identities and their meaning is always changing and adapting to new situations.
Marginalization: Marginalization is a social process that refers to those deprived of institutional power to create change or those who are most likely to experience various forms of exclusion in the workplace. Marginalization occurs when someone’s identity is undervalued or discriminated against. It’s important to note that "marginalization" does not necessarily mean "underrepresentation.”
Oppression: Oppression is systemic, pervasive inequality throughout society. It benefits people with more privileges and harms those with fewer privileges.
Power: Power is the ability to control circumstances and access to resources. Types of power include institutional power, structural power, positional power, personal power, people power, expert power, obstructive power, cultural power, and more. People can possess power over others, share power with others, and exercise power within certain contexts, spaces, and situations.
Privilege: Privilege is a collection of unearned cultural, legal, social, and institutional rights and advantages extended to certain social groups. For example, someone who is physically non-disabled will not have to worry if an entrance, bathroom, office, transportation system, or city is designed to accommodate their assistive mobility device. Privilege is about acknowledging the advantages that you have and others do not. Every person possesses some form of privilege.
Underrepresentation: Underrepresentation refers to a low number of a specific identity in a given group, team, or space, relative to the general population’s numbers. For example, in tech, Asian people are over-represented and yet are still unlikely to advance to senior positions. So, while they are well-represented in tech, they are underrepresented in senior positions.
Social Roles: Social roles are expectations and social constructs attributed to different identities that direct how someone should behave and interact with others. Social roles can be related to someone’s culture, age, sexuality, parental status, and more. A common example is gender roles. Most cultures have some notion of what is “feminine,” what is “masculine,” and how boys and girls should behave.
Tokenism: Tokenism is seeking representation of non-dominant groups without a genuine desire for their participation, input, and individual lived experiences. People who are being tokenized are often recruited to serve an optics-based agenda to deflect criticism rather than engage in meaningful organizational change. Tokenization often results in communities being perceived as a monolith and marginalized people being asked to represent their entire community.
Accessibility and Ability
Accessibility: Accessibility refers to designing products, content, processes, activities, programs, and environments so everyone (regardless of ability or background) can access or engage with them equally. Accessible design proactively considers the needs of people with disabilities and other salient barriers to participation or use.
Disabilty: A disability is any condition of the body or mind that makes it more difficult to do certain activities and interact with a world largely built for specific types of bodies and abilities. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), over 1 billion people (or around 15% of the global population) have a disability.
The Social Model of Disability
What many non-disabled people may not understand is that disability is interactive. People become disabled when we co-create environments without them in mind. A wheelchair user is not disabled if an office or venue is built to accommodate their assistive mobility device. A person with sensory sensitivities is not disabled if they are given private space or noise-cancelling headphones. People who struggle with their mental health are not disabled when they do not have to deal with discriminatory stigma and have adequate access to mental health supports, workplace leaves, and medications (if needed). Disability is not just located within an individual; it’s an outcome of social decisions. This is the social model of disability.
Accommodations are adjustments or modifications that enable people with accessibility needs to participate fully at work and meet their full potential. Accommodations are mandated by law and are required for all types of disabilities. Every workplace should have a transparent and straightforward process to request accommodations from the beginning of the application journey. Most accommodations cost nothing, and there are usually tax incentives to offset the costs if there are any.
The Curb-Cut Effect and Making Accessibility The Norm
It’s important to note that accessibility benefits everyone. The curb-cut effect illustrates this. When curb-cuts were introduced to better enable people who use assistive mobility devices to navigate public space, it also benefited caregivers with strollers, grocery shoppers with carts, movers, tourists with luggage, people who bike or skateboard, and people with temporary injuries.
All workplaces should strive to make accessible design their norm and not just a reactive measure. Accessibility should be embedded in curriculums, communications, Word Documents/Portable Document Formats (PDFs), built environments, meetings, events, web presence, and more.
We recommend organizations explore how they compare against others through the Disability Equality Index.
Cognitive abilities may affect an individual’s memory, problem-solving abilities, attention, communication, and linguistics as well as verbal, reading, math, and visual comprehension. Cognitive disability does not mean someone will not be a valuable team member or a great workplace leader. People with cognitive disabilities offer differing perspectives and oftentimes specific talents that can add value to the team and catalyze company innovation.
Examples of cognitive disabilities include Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), Down Syndrome, Dyslexia, Dyspraxia, Dyscalcula, and more.
It’s important to recognize that all employees require resources, tools, and support to be successful at work. People with cognitive disabilities must be able to advocate for their needs, and employers must be able to understand them. It’s important to give every team member what they need to meet their full potential.
Physical Abilities and Disabilities
Physical disabilities refer to conditions that can limit physical activities. Physical disabilities can relate to vision, mobility, manual dexterity, muscle coordination, stamina, digestion, sensory capacities, balance, pain, and more. Physical disabilities can be congenital, hereditary, or acquired during someone’s lifetime through things such as accidents.
Conditions that can create physical disability include but are not limited to Blindness, Vision Loss/Distortion, Colour Blindness, Deafness, Hearing Loss/Distortion, Epilepsy, Spinal Cord Injury (SCI), Cerebral Palsy (CP), Cystic Fibrosis (CF), Spina Bifida (SB), Fibromyalgia, Multiple Sclerosis (MS), Muscular Dystrophy, Arthritis, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Celiac Disease, Diabetes, Vertigo, and more. It’s important to note that some people, such as the Deaf (Capital D) community, Little People (People with Dwarfism), and others might not conceptualize themselves as disabled, but rather as unique cultural communities.
Most people will acquire some form of physical disability through the natural process of ageing (around 50% of people over 60 have disabilities). It’s in every team’s and organization’s interests to proactively make environments more accessible.
A great starting point for communicating more accessibly is embracing leading practices regarding Alternative (Alt) Text for non-decorative images, colour contrast, colour use, typefaces and fonts, hashtags, Word Documents/ Portable Document Formats (PDFs), acronyms, descriptive hyperlinks, logical heading structure and organization, live captioning, transcription, data visualization, and more!
Employee wellness has become a major trend in Human Resources (HR), People and Culture, and Organizational Development. However, mental health is too often left out of the conversation. Without the support and resources that team members need for their mental wellness, organizations may experience an increase in absenteeism, work-family conflict, increased mental health and behavioural problems, and higher turnover rates.
Mental Health-Related Stigma
Mental wellness should be treated just as seriously as physical wellness. Research from Johns Hopkins estimates that around 1 in 4 adults have mental health conditions. However, this number is probably larger. Disability:IN reports that only 1 in 3 people with a diagnosable mental health condition will seek treatment. The main issue preventing many from getting the help they need is stigma, followed by access to quality care and appropriate medications. According to the World Economic Forum (WEF), the prevalence of mental health-related stigma is a public health issue detrimental to economic development and societal welfare globally.
Mental Health Disabilities
Mental health disabilities refer to mental health conditions that limit people’s ability to participate or complete specific activities. Disabilities related to mental health can include, but are not limited to Depression, Anxiety, Panic Disorders, Bipolar Disorder, Addiction, Substance Abuse, Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD), Gender Dysphoria, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Disordered Eating, Dissociative Disorders, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD), Schizophrenia, and more. Anxiety and depression are the most common mental health conditions globally in the workplace. People experiencing regular marginalization are significantly more likely to develop a mental health condition, such as members of the LGBTQIA2+ community.
Neurodiversity refers to the natural variance of human minds and neurocognitive functioning in society. The neurodiversity paradigm articulates these differences as normal, valuable, and expected.
Neurodiversity is a relational concept. An organization or team can be neurodiverse, but an individual is considered neurodivergent. If someone’s cognition aligns with dominant societal patterns, they are considered neurotypical.
The National Symposium on Neurodiversity includes “Dyspraxia, Dyslexia, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, Dyscalculia, Autistic Spectrum, Tourette Syndrome, and others” in its definition of neurodiversity. In this way, people considered neurodivergent have significant overlap with people who have cognitive disabilities. Neurodivergence is theoretically even more expansive than the Symposium’s scoping captures. Most importantly, it is considered distinct from psychological conditions, such as depression, which can be debilitating not just due to societal stigma and systems but also in their personal experience, potentially limiting people's ability to thrive. Neurodivergent people become disabled when organizations create policies, processes, cultures, and programs with only neurotypical people in mind.
Research has shown that men are far more likely to be recognized as neurodivergent. This is because data on how conditions like Autism or ADHD present in men usually influence diagnostic criteria for neurocognitive conditions. This means that women (and likely transfeminine people) are often diagnosed later in life and are more likely to be questioned on the validity of their experiences. Certain evidence also indicates that transgender and non-binary people are more likely to be neurodivergent than the general population.
While there may be certain stereotypes and stigmas around neurodivergent individuals, research has found that different forms of neurodivergence, like autism and dyslexia, enhance an individual’s ability to recognize patterns, retain information, and excel in math — all critical skills for any job. However, we recommend that organizations avoid siloing neurodivergent candidates into particular roles assumed to be more suitable based on these findings and prioritize each individual’s unique aspirations. It is good and beneficial for teams to learn, think, communicate, and express themselves in various ways.
People have different dietary needs depending on their allergies, intolerances, digestion patterns, faith, personal beliefs, addiction history, goals, and preferences.
It’s important to stay aware of your team members' dietary needs and leading practices around dietary inclusion, especially as you cater food and beverages. Workplaces should leave voluntary space for teammates to share any important dietary needs in applications, their Human Resources (HR) profiles, and event registrations.
As a baseline, organizations want to create menus or choose venues that have options or accommodations for vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free, dairy-free, kosher, and/or halal diets in addition to being mindful of common food allergies (e.g. peanuts, tree nuts, soy, shellfish, eggs, etc.) and cross-contamination.
Depending on the time of year and someone’s faith, teammates may practice fasting (such as Muslims during Ramadan or Catholics during Lent). Teammates can factor in people’s fasting schedules when they schedule meetings or other important company activities. This ensures those fasting have enough energy to participate.
Certain people struggle with different forms of disordered eating, and it is important for colleagues not to put pressure or excessive emphasis on how much or what someone is eating. Other people struggle with addiction relating to alcohol. It is important to communicate that any pressure around drinking is unacceptable. All organization events must have non-alcoholic beverage options, such as "mocktails," sodas, juices, water, and specialty drinks. It can be a great act of solidarity and support at workplace conferences to arrange private space and a facilitator for a “12-Step” Program meeting.
Personality and Thought Style
Personality and thought style refers to a person’s unique way of thinking, feeling, and behaving that combine to give others a sense of their distinctive character. Personality and thought style may involve patterns in people’s moods, attitudes, or opinions. People often adjust how they present themselves based on the setting. For example, some people act differently at work than at home. Diversity in personalities and thought styles should always be encouraged on teams. However, thoughts and behaviours rooted in prejudice or bigotry are never acceptable.
Bringing various personalities and thinking styles into a workplace can create stress and unproductive conflict when approached incorrectly. On the other hand, it can catalyze creativity, better decision-making, and constructive dialogue when approached correctly. To avoid the negatives, organizations need to stop hiring for culture fit, which is often a way to defend the organization from any real change or transformation. Instead, organizations should hire for culture add to pursue personalities that challenge dominant ideas and thoughts.
Culture fit can be described as evaluating someone based on how well they conform and adapt to the values and behaviours of an organization. Culture fit often introduces bias into processes (particularly hiring) where teams are more likely to favour people similar to them and penalize those who don’t conform.
Culture add seeks out candidates who align with a company’s core values but recognizes that new perspectives, backgrounds, and work styles help an organization grow. Culture add asks us not to always search for hires with the same work experiences, degrees, personalities, and demographic backgrounds as everyone else on the team. Rather, it asks us to search for adaptable, curious candidates who bring fresh insights.
Personality tests are prevalent in the workplace and are supposed to give added texture to how someone works, leads, and interacts with others. Using such tests can help organizations understand candidates' strengths, weaknesses, and gaps. In turn, this can build a company culture that supports extroverts, introverts, and everyone in between. However, it’s important to understand that personality tests can be problematic. They can provide a distorted image of a person when they over-emphasize some aspects and under-emphasize or omit others. Personality tests should not be part of the recruitment or hiring process as they are biased against marginalized groups. They may be helpful in other cases, such as team bonding or building exercises. However, they must be prefaced with an explicit and stated caveat that they are neither definitive nor comprehensive.
Diversity of Thought
While organizations are quick to boast about their team’s “diversity of thought,” it should not be the only metric by which your team measures diversity or something to hide behind. Organizations should always ask who is missing or hidden at the office and why. Organizations should consider how bias against some aspects of people’s personalities or thought styles might be functioning as barriers to opportunities.
Pet To Threat
Communities experiencing marginalization and underrepresentation often face penalties for their unique lived experiences and cultural differences. For example, neurodivergent people are often excluded rather than celebrated for thinking and expressing themselves differently. Racialized people explain the phenomenon of “pet to threat,” in which an organization initially supports and celebrates the unique perspectives they bring to the team, but then silencing and dismissive when they expose growth opportunities. Know that by hiring individuals with a wide range of identities presented in this resource, you will also bring on people with different personalities and thought styles.
Race, Ethnicity, Culture, Geography
Various factors make up different cultures. These can include language, religion, food, values, symbols, observances, and customs. The United States (U.S.) and Canada are examples of countries with numerous cultures across their different regions and localities.
While many people enjoy learning about other cultures for short periods, it’s an entirely different experience to work with individuals from different cultures daily.
Respecting team members' culture means being aware of stereotypes directed at these groups. Often, stereotypes about these groups are myths used to justify power imbalances, biases, and discrimination. Be respectful and aware of a team member's cultural background.
Cultural differences can bring a wealth of learning opportunities and some complicated challenges and barriers among employees who are uncomfortable with different cultures.
- Cheek kisses are fairly common in French culture. If you have a colleague or candidate who practices such behaviour, they may consider a cheek kiss as a friendly hello. However, another person might find this practice violates their personal boundaries.
- Infrequent eye contact is a sign of respect in some Asian, Caribbean, and Middle Eastern cultures. However, in North America, some may incorrectly take this as a social slight or sign of distrust.
- A firm handshake is often recommended in North America. However, in many Asian cultures, a soft, weak handshake is the norm. In other cultures, people shake hands vigorously for a longer time and may put their left hand on the elbow, which could feel invasive to some people. In other cultures, people may feel uncomfortable or inappropriate shaking hands with someone of a different gender.
- In Indian culture, people roll their heads from side to side to indicate agreement or use another body gesture. However, in North America, head nodding is the norm and people may mistakenly interpret this as disagreement.
- People from more collectivist Nordic countries like Sweden will be more reluctant to brag about their achievements.
- Some cultures might expect greater formality, while others might expect a more easy-going environment at work.
- Different cultures have different traditional food and diets, which can sometimes have a disarming scent for people unfamiliar with that culture. Different culinary norms should never be stigmatized.
Multiculturalism refers to the coexistence of multiple cultural identities within individuals and groups. It creates space for cross-cultural experiences. It recognizes that cultural diversity enriches our world and that different cultures are worth preserving and should be respected. In a globalized society, it is important to recognize that many people will resonate with multiple cultures for various reasons. This could depend on the unique history of their immigration experience, as an example. For this reason, it is important to validate and make space for individuals to share all of the cultures that inform how they experience the world.
Above everything, educating your team about different cultures and celebrating multiculturalism is important. Additionally, creating a culture that encourages open cross-cultural communication practices will help team members explore each other's cultural differences without creating a hostile work environment.
Geographical location refers to the places that people currently live and the places they have lived throughout their lives. Geographical location plays a major role in the culture, language, education, social roles, socioeconomic status, beliefs, and ideologies a person is accustomed to. Keep in mind, just because an individual lives in a particular location now doesn’t mean they’ve always lived there. Therefore, it’s important to get to know your candidates’ and colleagues’ rich history to better understand their unique experiences in life before working with you.
A common distinction concerning a geographical location is between urban, suburban, and rural environments. Urban people are often stereotyped as more liberal, educated, and pretentious. On the other hand, people in rural areas are often stereotyped as more family/community-oriented, politically conservative, religious, and less educated. It’s important to avoid flattening stereotypes about urban and rural life. We must not make assumptions about each person’s unique upbringing and experiences in these environments.
Urban economies are generally considered more corporate, costly, and stratified. On the other hand, rural economies are often considered more rustic, affordable, and less prosperous. Therefore, organizations should be ready to adjust their base compensation for entry-level and frontline workers so everyone can live comfortably no matter the cost of living in a given area. Organizations should also be mindful of contributing to gentrification as they grow. For those who don’t know, gentrification is the displacement of existing communities and businesses largely composed of racialized, LGBTQIA2+, and low-income people. This happens when businesses purchase properties in affordable areas, which leads to an influx of wealthy wage earners, increasing rent and everyday expenses, pricing current residents out.
Brain Drain and The Digital Divide
The “Brain Drain” phenomenon describes the documented trend of young, college-educated professionals migrating from rural areas to urban environments for more opportunities and greater income potential. With the rise of remote working arrangements, organizations need to think about promoting equity and lessen the significance of this pattern by hiring and allowing professionals to work from rural communities.
A key equity concern is that urban environments are often better resourced than rural environments. This is exemplified by the digital divide in which members of rural communities are less likely to have laptops, tablets, or access to a strong, consistent internet connection. Therefore, when feasible, organizations should subsidize team costs relating to the internet and technology, especially for team members living in rural areas.
National origin refers to the country in which a person was born or where their ancestors lived. No matter where your company is headquartered or how many remote team members you have on staff, you will likely work and interact with people who began their lives elsewhere.
Regardless of where a person is located, the country where someone is born or spent most of their young life can provide a set of cultural traits that they may always carry with them. From religious beliefs to personal ethos and much more, a person’s national origin can define many things about them. Some people have unique experiences relating to national origin, which involve frequent migration to different countries. They may likely hold multicultural identities as a result. Different people can also hold harmful biases and stereotypes about different countries, which are important to challenge and not perpetuate in the workplace.
The terms Global North and Global South are also important descriptors related to national origin. Contrary to the geographical language, not all countries in the Global North are in the north, and not all countries in the Global South are in the south. “Global North and Global South” replaces more biased terminology for grouping nations, such as “developed and undeveloped countries” or “Third World countries.”
These terms group the world’s countries into two categories based on differing levels of wealth, economic development, income inequality, democracy, and political freedom. The Global North represents around one-quarter of the world’s population, yet controls four-fifths of the income earned anywhere in the world. 90% of the manufacturing industries are owned by and located in the North.
Language and Accents
Language refers to a person’s or group’s principal method of communication using structured words in speech, writing, or gesture (e.g. Sign Language). Common labels associated with language include:
- Monolingual - Uses 1 language; Around 40% of the world’s population
- Bilingual - Uses 2 languages; Around 43% of the world’s population
- Trilingual - Uses 3 languages; Around 13% of the world’s population
- Multilingual - Uses 2 or more languages
- Polyglot - High proficiency in several languages
Around 3% of the world uses four or more languages and around 1% uses five or more languages. Monolingual experiences are most common in countries that predominantly use English, such as the U.S., the United Kingdom (UK), Australia, and New Zealand (NZ). This is likely due to English being the primary language of business globally, which is also deeply connected to British and American histories of colonization.
People can have varying degrees of fluency and proficiency in different languages relating to reading, writing, listening, and real-time communication. Different governments, companies, and organizations will have their own unique benchmarks to determine whether someone’s use of language is strong enough for effective communication in a professional setting. The language or vocabulary that someone uses can also vary in accessibility, meaning all languages have more complicated, lesser-known words. These words are often deployed in advanced academic settings and are not as easily understood outside these spaces. Different industries, specializations, and knowledge-related disciplines will also have niche terminology or jargon uncommon outside of these settings.
Many languages have meaningful differences and slang depending on the region they are used (e.g. Mexican Spanish vs. Castellano). Research shows that there are various distinctions in the structure and communication of languages that can have meaningful effects on how different people perceive, experience, and interpret the world. For example, Chinese-speaking children learn to count earlier than English-speaking children because Chinese numbers are more regular and transparent than English numbers (in Chinese, "eleven" is "ten one"). Most languages also have words that are broadly considered profanities, swear words, cuss words, obscenities, or expletives (e.g. the F-word in English), yet are culturally normalized for many.
While French and English are the official languages of Canada, people in Canada speak at least 215 languages. Reports from the United States Census Bureau found that at least 350 languages are spoken in American homes. Unlike most countries, and contrary to popular belief, the U.S. does not have an official language. However, language, linguistics, and accents can play a significant role in an individual’s ability to get and keep a job.
For job seekers, if a job description or recruitment materials are only in one language (e.g. English), it may be difficult for them to apply for a role or make it through an interview process. While it is not feasible for companies to translate all of their recruitment materials into 200+ different languages, providing a few additional translations for common languages in your community and workplace can be helpful. You may also consider utilizing an online translation service or an in-person interpreter for roles that don’t require individuals to be fluent in a particular language to work.
Accents refer to the way someone sounds when they communicate. They are connected to dialects, which is a form of language particular to a specific region (e.g. Welsh English vs. Scottish English). Most dialects come with idioms, which are phrases that have a meaning outside of their literal meaning. They are more difficult for language learners to understand. Vernacular refers to the everyday language and slang of a given region, culture, or community.
The perception of accents is normal but can be troubling when people judge or discriminate against an individual’s intelligence and abilities simply by the way they pronounce certain words. For example, people in the U.S. who have Southern accents are more likely to be interpreted as uneducated. Individuals may also have an affinity for people who have a similar accent to their own. Understanding different accent biases will help you and your team to identify your own growth opportunities and meet people from different language backgrounds in fair and equitable ways.
Ethnicity refers to someone’s identification with a distinctive culture linked to common ancestry. People in North America often identify with more than one ethnicity and multi-ethnic demographics continue to rise in the region.
Ethnicity is different from race and is based on learned behaviours. Ethnicity is associated with history, nationality, heritage, dress, customs, language, values, religions, and geographical background. In contrast with race, ethnicity is usually self-ascribed and more determined by where someone lives and the culture they share rather than visible physical characteristics.
Some examples of ethnicity categories may include American, Australian, Brazilian, British, Cambodian, Canadian, Chinese, Costa Rican, Croatian, Czech, Danish, Dominican, Dutch, Egyptian, Ethiopian, French, Finnish, German, Greek, Guatemalan, Haitian, Hungarian, Indian, Iranian, Irish, Israeli, Italian, Jamaican, Japanese, Jewish, Kenyan, Korean, Lebanese, Libyan, Lithuanian, Mexican, Nigerian, Norwegian, Pakistani, Peruvian, Polish, Romanian, Russian, Rwandan, Salvadoran, Samoan, Saudi Arabian, Serbian, Singaporean, Slovenian, South African, Spanish, Sri Lankan, Sudanese, Swedish, Swiss, Syrian, Tanzanian, Thai, Turkish, Ugandan, Ukrainian, Vietnamese, Zambian, and more.
Some people identify their ethnicity more with a region than a nationality. For example, in Italy, some people might identify more with the label “Sicilian” than the label “Italian.”
Common Racial Categories in North America
Common racial categories in North America include Arab, Asian, Black, Brown, Hispanic, Indigenous, Latinx/Latine, Middle Eastern/North African (MENA), Native, Pacific Islander, and white. Many people also identify as multiracial, meaning that they belong to two or more racial groups. It is important to note that racial classifications are not exact and cannot be defined biologically, genetically, or anthropologically. People often mistakenly perceive someone to belong to a race that they do not, emphasizing the imprecise and fluid nature of racial categories. Team members should not make assumptions about another person’s race.
More than one-fifth of Canadians are racialized (22%) and by 2036, racialized people are projected to comprise a third of the Canadian population. In the U.S., four in ten people identify with a racial category different from “white,” and it is projected that by 2045, that number will surpass 50%.
Race vs. Ethnicity
People may identify more with their individual ethnicity than their race. For example, Latinx/Latine people are far more likely to identify with their nationality (e.g. Cuban, Dominican, Guatemalan, etc.) than the broad label of “Latinx/Latine.” Race can sometimes feel flattening to different groups because of its strong connection to physical characteristics. As well as the resulting lack of nuance around meaningful cultural and historical differences between people of the same skin colour. However, people of the same race face many of the same challenges.
Nadra Kareem Nittle provides a clear example of race vs. ethnicity. She states, “Race and ethnicity can overlap. For example, a Japanese-American would probably consider herself a member of the Asian race, but, if she doesn't engage in any practices or customs of her ancestors, she might not identify with the ethnicity, instead considering herself an American.”
Racialized Vs. Black, Indigenous, and People of Colour (BIPOC)
Black, Indigenous, and People of Colour (BIPOC) is a term that was largely popularized on social media in the heights of global protests against racial injustice spurred by the Black Lives Matter Movement (BLM). However, the term is imperfect, not necessarily suited to the Canadian context, and has several valid criticisms.
BIPOC implies that advocates should always centre Black and Indigenous experiences. However, campaigns like Stop Asian Hate show that other forms of racism like anti-Asian racism can be ignored and heightened with deadly consequences. BIPOC also minimizes the differences between racial groups by reducing Latinx/Latine, Asian, Arab, and other racialized folks to a monolith.
We recommend using the term racialized because it highlights the processes and systems that create racial disparities. However, our strongest recommendation is avoiding umbrella terms around race and using specific language whenever possible. This is because racism manifests in specific ways for specific communities and it is important to name these unique forms of racism so we can challenge them. For example, anti-Asian racism (Model Minority Myth) is different than anti-Black racism (tone-policing Black women) and will require different forms of allyship, education, and interventions to address.
Global Realities Around Race
Concepts of race are different throughout the world and history. However, a few things that have remained constant are the marginalization of people from non-dominant racial groups, the evolving concept of “whiteness,” and the privileges attached to “whiteness.” We say “evolving” because “whiteness” is not objective or stable across times, places, and cultures.
For example, in the U.S., Polish, Greek, Hungarian, Slavic, Italian immigrants, and others initially experienced a number of prejudices. Many white Americans labelled them as inferior and thought they would “contaminate” bloodlines. These Southern and Eastern European immigrants were not targeted by interracial marriage bans or segregation laws that put them above Black, Brown, and Indigenous communities in U.S. racial hierarchies. However, they were not treated fairly (e.g. employment discrimination) by dominant white groups (e.g. people from England, the Netherlands, Ireland, Germany and Scandinavia). It was only by consistently reinforcing and perpetuating racism against Black, Brown, and Indigenous communities, that these communities were eventually fully incorporated into “whiteness.”
One Drop Rule
It’s important to emphasize that racism is a global phenomenon. Some people may be quick to decry egregious forms of racism in North America and fail to acknowledge racism in their own context. Race is constructed in many ways around the world. The U.S. uses the one-drop rule to determine someone’s race. This means that if someone has any Black ancestry at all, then they are usually considered Black. In Brazil and other parts of Latin America, colonizing forces were less apprehensive about interracial children. As a result, Brazil became a far more multiracial and racially fluid society. Despite not having any segregation or apartheid laws throughout its history that many other countries imposed, Brazil still struggles with issues of colourism.
Colourism is a common form of discrimination in which people are conditioned to treat lighter or fairer skin with greater value, desirability, and inclusion. This occurs both within and outside of racial communities. For example, in many Asian countries, darker skin is linked to lower-class people. Moreover, lighter skin and whiteness are usually more celebrated in standards of beauty around the world. Generally, the darker your skin tone is, the greater oppression you are likely to face.
Apartheid and Non-Han Chinese Oppression
The Apartheid years in South Africa (1948 - 1994) are another global reality of racism. During these years, the South African government enforced a robust segregation project that systematically and unequally separated groups based on race. A white-led government determined where racialized people could live, work, and exist. South Africa is still addressing the ongoing impacts of apartheid, such as continued residential segregation and gentrification.
In China, there is currently systemic discrimination against non-Han Chinese people. Marginalized and underrepresented races/ethnicities (about 10% of the Chinese population) are routinely denied access to elite universities and urban job markets on the basis of their race/ethnicity.
Black and White
It’s important to recognize that not all conceptions of race are predicated on the binary of Black or white. For example, Jewish identity implicates culture, ethnicity, and faith (not skin colour). The nazis persecuted them for their race.
Numerous intersecting histories and beliefs influence global racial inequity. Therefore, we must culturally tailor antiracist strategies depending on where organizations operate.
The context of Jewish identity changes depending on the country. However, in North America, Jewish identity has a racially ambiguous history. We know that race is a social construct. Whether or not Jews consider themselves racialized or are deemed to be racialized by society is not a given. There are some within the Jewish community who believe Jews are white and thus need to acknowledge white privilege, while others in the community consider that as an offensive erasure of their racialized oppression.
Others argue that “categorizing Jews as racially white is problematic because Jews are not composed of one race. Aside from white Jews, there are also Black Jews, Asian Jews, Hispanic Jews, Middle Eastern Jews, and Native American Jews.” The Jewish experience puts the North American understanding of race (mainly constructed around biology and physical appearance) into contention.
This means that the Jewish people and their communities are going to have different beliefs and experiences of race and racialization. It is important to do your due diligence in understanding the context of different Jewish communities in your area, at your place of work, in your classroom, or on your panels, etc.
Furthermore, part of this learning process is understanding the intensity with which anti-semitism permeates our world. Although many people cite the Holocaust as the birth of prejudice and hatred against Jewish people, anti-Jewish beliefs and laws have existed for centuries. Sometimes referred to as the “longest hatred,” antisemitism began in the first millennium of the Christian era, where church doctrine blamed the Jews for the death of Christ and punished them accordingly. This continued, and many of the stereotypes still associated with Jews today began as early as the Middle Ages.
Long before the Holocaust, Jews in Europe were legislatively segregated from the rest of society through jobs, social customs, and land. Indeed, antisemitism was not relegated only to Europe. The first pogroms, which were violent attacks against Jewish communities, occurred in Russia in 1821. These practices and beliefs set the stage for the Holocaust, which is known as the most heinous, violent, and egregious expression of antisemitism. It is estimated that Nazi Germany murdered 6 million Jews between 1933 and 1945.
This long and deeply entrenched history of Jewish hatred and prejudice did not just disappear. It is still very much present today—with the recent rise of fascism in the U.S., pro-Nazi groups, Nazi rallies, and antisemitic vandalism and violence. The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) reported 2,024 antisemitic incidents in 2020 in the U.S. alone, making it the third-highest year on record since the ADL began tracking in 1979.
Caste refers to a system of social stratification passed on hereditarily and is unchangeable from birth. The caste someone is born into is usually linked to their position in society, occupations they can hold, who they can marry, where they can live, and how they are treated.
“Lower castes'' usually face social exclusion and stigma from “higher castes” in addition to economic inequalities. “Lower castes'' are usually forced into more menial and hazardous jobs. In a caste system, people cannot ever change their caste. Caste systems are usually underpinned by rules and ideas relating to what is “pure” and what is “dirty” or “polluting”—applying these labels to different people within a caste.
There are significant differences between race and caste. Two people can come from the same village, be of the same race, skin colour, and religion, and yet be treated in very different ways according to caste.
The largest and most well-known example of a caste system is in India, which divides Hindus into four main categories: Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas, and the Shudras. Outside of these four official castes are the Dalits, or “the untouchables,'' who are at the bottom of the power structure and historically treated as outcasts. Unfortunately, castes continue to affect people’s trajectories and treatment despite anti-discrimination and affirmative action legislation for lower castes in India.
Several United Nations (UN) human rights bodies have expressed serious concern about the human rights situation of Dalits and other persons affected by similar forms of caste discrimination. Caste-related discrimination is estimated to affect more than 260 million people worldwide, especially in Asia and Africa. Caste discrimination is found in varying degrees in India, Nepal, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Japan, Micronesia, Yemen, Senegal, Burkina Faso, Mali, Chad, Ghana, Niger, Mauritius, Mauritania, Madagascar, Nigeria, Kenya, Ethiopia and Somalia, Suriname and possibly more countries. It also occurs in Diaspora communities in Europe, North America, and Asia.
Citizenship status refers to someone’s right to live and work within a specific national jurisdiction. Its determination and intricacies vary around the world. Citizenship status usually comes with a set of rights (e.g. constitution), entitlements (e.g. social programs), and responsibilities (e.g. certain taxes) that a person will have.
Some countries grant citizenship to anyone who is born within their borders (“jus soli” - law of the soil), while others only grant citizenship to people who are born to one or more official citizens (“jus sanguinis” - right of blood). Outside of official or full citizenship, people can have more liminal statuses within countries. These are granted through visas related to naturalization, immigration, marriage, refuge, work, business, education, travel, tourism, and more.
Some people may have immigrated to a new country as refugees for their family’s safety and survival without much of a choice about where they ended up or if they genuinely wanted to move at all. Other people may be living in a country undocumented or have family members who are living undocumented for similar reasons. Organizations should ensure team members avoid inflammatory language such as “illegal immigrants” or “illegal aliens” when referring to people who simply lack specific legal paperwork.
Citizenship status alone can play a significant role in foreign-born workers' ability to get a job or break past immigration and citizenship status stereotypes. Common harmful biases about immigrants are that they bring crime, take jobs, and do not integrate well with a host culture. Xenophobia is on the rise globally, according to the UN. Companies should intentionally validate and make space for different migration experiences and cultural practices (e.g. veiling) in their workplace. People who migrate to a different country often have immense anxieties about their immigration status.
Canada has the eighth highest proportion of immigrants globally, with over one-fifth (21%) of the country being composed of immigrants, as of 2019. The five largest foreign-born groups in Canada are from the U.K., China, India, Italy, and the U.S., accounting for 33% of the total immigrant population.
As of 2019, the U.S. has 44.9 million immigrants (14% of their total population). This is the highest in absolute numbers of immigrants in a country compared to any other nation in the world. The top countries of origin for immigrants in the U.S. are Mexico (24%), India (6%), China (5%), the Philippines (4.5%), and El Salvador (3%).
The Migration Experience
The migration experience involves the distinct biographies, challenges, and complexities of individuals who have changed their national, regional, continental, or geographical location. People migrate for various reasons, including political turmoil, employment, natural disasters, economic necessity, education, improving quality of life, and personal development, among others.
Note: We recognize that everyone will have a distinct and unique experience regarding what culture they express themselves through or what resonates with them. It is not a given that your place of birth must be a culture that informs the way you experience the world. For this reason, we believe it’s essential not to minimize the lived experiences of people to just a place of birth.
Digital Nomads and Flexible Work
During the pandemic, there has been an increase in digital nomads (people who choose to embrace a location-independent, technology-enabled lifestyle that allows them to travel and work remotely, anywhere in the Internet-connected world.) The increased demand for more flexible work arrangements has presented new opportunities and challenges for organizations.
It’s also important to recognize that not everyone working in a different geographical location than their company headquarters is necessarily an immigrant. Many individuals have chosen to relocate to their country of nationality or family heritage throughout the pandemic for personal, safety, and economic reasons. Likewise, many people have started their professional careers working remotely from their home country for organizations that are based in a different geographical location. A solution to this misrepresentation can be identifying people that associate with these experiences as “global remote workers.”
In the workforce, it’s important to make space to understand the unique cross-cultural experiences certain team members may have from migrating. Migrant workers tend to be pushed toward “less skilled” labour markets, as their credentials are not often recognized in countries like the U.S. and Canada.
Language Surrounding Migration: Ex-Pats vs. Immigrants
Language surrounding migration can sometimes be biased and subtly perpetuate harmful systems. For example, white migrants from countries like the U.S., Canada, and Great Britain are often called “expatriates” or “ex-pats” while everyone else is called an immigrant. In this way, seemingly mundane language can create a social hierarchy around migration and movement, reinforcing white people as superior. “Immigrant” connotes a negative association, whereas “ex-pat” suggests positive movement like a career change, vacation, tourism, and personal growth. One solution to this is to be critical of where and when you use the term “ex-pat.”
The Roma and Traveller communities are historically nomadic communities from various ethnic groups, such as the Romany peoples and Irish Travellers. The Roma and Traveller communities have been uniquely persecuted and continue to face marginalization within every European Union (EU) country. Each has endured discriminatory laws against them at some point in history. Some in the Roma community do not mind being referred to as “Gypsies.” However, this term is typically offensive and should be avoided. During the Second World War, approximately one-quarter (250,000) of the Roma population in Europe was killed during the Holocaust.
Harm against Roma and Traveller communities continues today as many people use the term “gypped” uncritically. The term is derived from the word gypsy and signifies that someone or something has been defrauded, cheated or swindled. It is important to remove this word from one’s vocabulary. As well, the word gypsy has been taken up by influencers in the travel and fashion industries to signal someone who is “free-spirited.” The use of the word gypsy in this way is a form of cultural appropriation and whitewashing. People without specific ties to the customs, history and lived experiences of the Roma and Traveller Communities make money off parts of their culture, like travelling, without experiencing social ostracism. The history of oppression in Roma and Traveller communities is then erased as the word instead symbolizes the freedom of white movement and entrepreneurship. Be critical of Instagram accounts, travel blogs, books, clothing, and merchandise that capitalize on the term gypsy.
Gender and Sexuality
Sex is a scientific term referring to a patterned configuration of the external genitalia, internal reproductive organs, hormone levels, chromosomes, and secondary sex characteristics in different humans. Someone’s sex characteristics are not immutable and vary immensely from person to person. Moreover, sex is not binary and there are far more than two sexes in humans.
Sex, similar to gender, has a spectrum of differences that cannot be classified as simply male or female. The binary model of sex does not consider that genetically, people can have a range of chromosomal make-ups beyond XX and XY, such as XXY, XYY, X, XXX, and others. Well-established knowledge within the scientific community demonstrates that sex is far more complicated than a binary. This is partly evidenced by the fact that people considered “female” and people considered “male” have overlapping natural testosterone levels, statistically. Despite this fact, the myth of the sex binary plays out in a variety of controversies and stereotypes, such as issues over the athletic participation of women with naturally high testosterone levels.
Some people are intersex, meaning they carry variations in their reproductive and sexual anatomy that differ from what is traditionally considered “male” or “female.” For example, someone with Complete Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome (CAIS) will be chromosomally XY, but will have nearly all the bodily characteristics we associate with being female and will typically be raised as a woman. People with CAIS and their loved ones usually do not discover they have CAIS until puberty.
Someone’s sex assigned at birth is the sex marker originally listed on their birth certificate. It’s usually based on a brief and external medical examination of the body. The sex someone is given at birth often determines the gender they will be raised as from childhood. People are usually classified as either “male” or “female” in this process. However, research shows Intersex characteristics are as common as having red hair. Different jurisdictions increasingly allow intersex sex designations on birth certificates and non-binary identification documents.
Intersex is the preferred term to “hermaphrodite,” which is considered harmful and offensive by the intersex community. Intersex Genital Mutilation (IGM) refers to the non-consensual and cosmetic surgical interventions done on children to make their bodies better conform to the sex binary and is considered a human rights violation by the U.N. These procedures show that the myth of the sex binary does not reflect reality and sometimes requires surgical procedures to maintain.
Pink: For Boys?
Gender refers to the socially constructed roles, behaviours, activities, and attributes that a given society deems masculine, feminine, or androgynous. The concept of gender is often confused with the concept of sex. These are two distinct yet related facets of a person. Ideas around gender vary throughout history, cultures, and contexts. Neither sex nor gender is binary.
For example, in North America, pink was considered a strong, manly colour and blue a more feminine, delicate one. Furthermore, in Indonesia, parts of West Africa, and Scotland, men can wear what many in North America would call a skirt. People identify and express their gender in a range of different ways globally and throughout their lives. Gender is constantly evolving and changing with time.
The Gender Binary
The gender binary is a social construction of gender common to the Western world, which asserts that there are only two distinct and opposite genders determined by the sex assigned at birth: male/masculine/men and female/feminine/women. The popular myth of the gender binary stigmatizes and promotes violence toward people who transition genders, identify beyond the gender binary, or behave in ways that contradict the gender binary. Moreover, the gender binary is deeply connected to colonization. Many pre-colonial Indigenous communities in North America had an honoured and respected role for gender-variant people in their communities, which was later captured in the umbrella term, “Two-Spirit.”
Additionally, people defy the gender binary every day. No person completely adheres to the idealized expectations that the gender binary upholds. Everyone has been mocked or policed for desiring something or doing something not in accordance with their gender. For example, being told to play with a different toy, wear different clothing, play different games, have different interests, express yourself differently, etc.
The gender binary’s “two and only two” model of gender does not fully capture any person’s true experiences and erases the intersex community, non-binary people, and other genders beyond the man/woman binary. Globally, there are many examples of gender diversity beyond the gender binary. These include but are not limited to the Indigenous Two-Spirit in North America, the Hijra in South Asia, the Fa’afafine in Pacific Islander communities, and more.
I Don’t “Identify As,” I Just Am
Gender identity refers to a person’s sincerely held belief and innate understanding of their gender. This includes being a man, a woman, a girl, a boy, non-binary, fluid, in between, or outside of the gender binary. This may or may not correspond to the sex they were assigned at birth.
While the term “gender identity” is a useful way to distinguish between how someone feels inside and how they express themselves in society, someone’s sense of gender is an indisputable reality of who they are. It’s not something that they simply “identify as” or something that can be challenged and trivialized.
Team members must always respect someone’s chosen name and pronouns as a non-negotiable sign of dignity and respect.
Keep in mind, a person’s visual appearance, voice pitch, name, dress, sex characteristics, and/or gender expression are unreliable proxies for gender identity and can never tell us how someone truly feels inside.
Gender and Emotional Labour
Women and non-binary people often face unique inequities in the workplace that men do not. For example, women and transfeminine people are usually responsible for the care and emotional labour in society and face greater scrutiny when navigating family-related issues during their careers. Women and transfeminine people are often labelled as “too aggressive” just for being assertive like men. Non-binary people are frequently erased by the ways organizations collect data and approach gender. Men are well-represented among senior leadership positions and high-paying positions across nearly all industries, sectors, religions, and governments. Men often face far less intense expectations and bias relating to their grooming and appearance at work.
Gender expression is a person's presentation of their gender. These outward expressions of gender can be intentional or unintentional. They involve one’s mannerisms, clothing, hair, speech, voice, interests, clothing, pronouns, activities, and more.
It is important to understand that someone’s gender identity and gender expression can be different. For example, someone can identify as a woman and express their gender more masculinely or identify as a man and express their gender more femininely. Someone’s gender expression can evolve over time as they learn more about what makes them most happy and comfortable.
Transgender vs. Cisgender
Cisgender refers to individuals whose gender aligns with the sex they were assigned at birth.
Transgender is an umbrella term that refers to people whose gender is different from the sex assigned to them at birth. Transgender is an adjective, not a noun, and is often abbreviated to “trans.” Transgender is the preferred term to “transsexual,” which many in the transgender community consider outdated medicalized terminology. A person who is transgender does not need to have a certain gender expression, hormonal composition, or physical anatomy to be transgender.
Transgender people encounter higher rates of unemployment, lower levels of pay, and are more likely to experience harassment and discrimination in the workplace. They are also less likely to feel comfortable being “out” at work and feel less supported by their managers. Benefits packages often have critical gaps for transgender people, particularly with respect to gender-affirming practices.
Non-binary refers to people who experience their gender identity and/or gender expression outside of the categories “man” and “woman.” Several other terms describe gender identities outside of this binary, such as genderqueer, non-conforming, gender expansive, agender, bigender, genderfluid, and many more. Non-binary people may or may not identify as transgender.
There are a multitude of genders within, between, and beyond the gender binary.
A pronoun is a word that one may substitute for a noun. Pronouns are one way we express gender and how others perceive our gender. Most people have pronouns and these pronouns are used daily in place of their names. He/Him, She/Her, They/Them, and Ze/Hir are all examples of gender pronouns in the English language.
Research shows that people who are misgendered experience increased feelings of depression, anxiety, self-harm, and worse. Canadian courts have also ruled that misgendering is a human rights violation. When teams understand the gravity of getting someone’s pronouns right, they then also appreciate how imperative it is to promote pronoun inclusion.
Organizations should encourage proactive pronoun sharing among leaders and teammates to give people the space to share their identities on their terms. However, pronoun sharing should never be mandatory. This is because some transgender or non-binary people may not be ready to disclose their gender identity or might fear discrimination if they do. In place of mandates, embrace reciprocity - share your pronouns to proactively create space for others if they feel comfortable sharing too. Focus on creating a culture where stating pronouns is welcome, common, and visible across departments, roles, and leadership.
Sexuality is someone’s enduring emotional, romantic, sensual, or sexual attraction to other people in the world. Sexuality is distinct from gender, gender expression, and sex.
Common sexualities include asexual, bisexual, demisexual, gay, heterosexual, lesbian, pansexual, queer, and questioning. We encourage organizations to avoid the use of the word “straight,” which implies heterosexuality is more natural and appropriate. It also has a biphobic history.
Monosexual, Plurisexual, and Asexual Spectrum Identities
Gay and Lesbian are monosexual identities, meaning that people who identify with these terms are usually only attracted to one gender, the same gender. Bisexual, Pansexual, and Queer are non-monosexual or plurisexual identities, meaning people who identify with these terms are usually attracted to more than one gender. Asexual and Demisexual are identities that relate to one’s level of sexual desire. Asexual people experience very low or no sexual desire and demisexual people only experience sexual desire once an emotional bond is formed. Questioning people are still discerning their sexual orientation.
A Fluid Spectrum
Someone’s idea of their sexuality can be fluid and change over time. Sexuality is a spectrum and many people fall somewhere in the middle rather than purely on one end. Studies show that around half of Generation Z does not identify as exclusively heterosexual. It is imperative that workplaces foster inclusive cultures for sexual diversity, especially in light of the changing composition of the workforce.
Sexual Orientation - Independent of Behaviour
Someone’s sexual orientation is independent of their behaviour. For example, someone who has not come to terms with being gay may only pursue heterosexual relationships due to stigma. A bisexual person is still bisexual even when they are in a monogamous, committed relationship with one gender. An asexual person may choose to have sex with a partner, especially if that partner is not asexual, but that does not invalidate their asexual identity.
Sexual Diversity and Stigma
Sexual diversity is often relegated to the shadows of office initiatives due to unjust politicization and sensationalism. Sexual identities are fundamental to who we are, and people communicate them subtly daily, such as when they discuss their families and partners or have a picture of them on their desks. Organizational practices and procedures should be designed to acknowledge them.
“Out” refers to a state of being after someone has publicly disclosed their sexual orientation, gender identity, and/or intersex status.
Coming out is an ongoing process for LGBTQIA2+ people who will make decisions throughout their life regarding which circles and spaces they feel comfortable sharing their identity in.
“Outing” someone is when a group or individual shares the queer identity of another person without their consent, which is a violation of their privacy and can open them up to stigma, prejudice, and discrimination.
Many LGBTQIA2+ people feel unsafe coming out at work, especially in contexts where being LGBTQIA2+ is criminalized or heavily stigmatized. It is every organization’s collective responsibility to explicitly make signals and policy choices that welcome and affirm the LGBTQIA2+ community, so they feel more comfortable being open with their whole selves.
Age can refer to the specific number of years that have passed since someone was born, what specific developmental phase society categorizes them as (e.g. baby, toddler, child, adolescent, teenager, young adult, adult, middle-age, advanced age, end-of-life, etc.), the generation they were born in (Silent Generation, Baby Boomers, Generation X, Millennials, Generation Z, etc.), and their generation group in their family (e.g. Great-Grandparent, Grandparent, Parent, Child, etc.). Age is also often measured by one’s status relative to the workforce (e.g. full-time student, young professional, mid-career, approaching retirement, retired, etc.). Additionally, a person’s age can be articulated by one’s internal sense of age relative to different cultural ideas about different age groups (e.g. “old soul” or “young at heart”).
At any given time, there are several generations employed in the workforce. Each generation has its own distinct differences. These differences are defined by the time period people were born and the unique social, political, and economic changes that occurred during their upbringing.
In the workforce, such differences can pose challenges for individuals when collaborating across generations. These challenges are often rooted in biases connected to ageism. Ageism in the workplace is defined as the tendency to have negative feelings about another person based on their age. It is usually targeted at young professionals and professionals approaching retirement.
Stereotypes of different generations contribute to this bias. For example, Baby Boomers are sometimes considered workaholics, while Generation Xers are sometimes labelled risk-takers. Millennials have been characterized as caring about meaningful work and being greatly impacted by the Great Recession in their careers. Now, Generation Zers are known as a more activist generation and one that is apt to reject antiquated models of professionalism. Such stereotypes can lead employers and colleagues to believe there are skill gaps and life milestones (like having children or retiring) that may affect certain age groups from excelling at their organization.
While ageism can affect any workforce member, 58% of workers notice age bias when people enter their 50s. Conversely, people under 25 years old are two times less likely to experience age discrimination. Age-related biases and discrimination against people of advanced age are especially pronounced in the tech sector.
Family and Upbringing
Family refers to each person’s network of loved ones and kin who fall within their personal definition of family or are considered the equivalent of family. Family bonds can be related to ancestry, genetics, legal institutions (e.g. marriage, adoption, etc.), love, shared history, shared property, and subjective lived experiences. Common terms relating to family, include:
- Grandparent, Grandmother, Grandfather
- Parent, Mother, Father, Guardian
- Sibling, Sister, Brother
- Spouse, Partner, Husband, Wife
- Significant Other, Boyfriend, Girlfriend
- Pibling, Aunt, Uncle
- Nibling, Niece, Nephew
- Close Friend
- Chosen Family, Forged Family, Immediate Family, Nuclear Family, Extended Family
Upbringing relates to the unique context in which someone grew up and is heavily dependent on family. The unique characteristics associated with one’s early and formative years include class, culture, values, rules, norms, relationships, activities, affection, support, education, privileges, hardships, traumas, and more.
Family and upbringing can all have a significant impact on someone’s life. They play a role in personal development and can provide support throughout a person’s life journey. While some families are related through blood and legal affinities, other families are chosen. Chosen families are more common among the LGBTQIA2+ community, who are more likely to experience family rejection and other groups experiencing marginalization, such as people with disabilities, immigrant communities, teenage mothers, and more.
Different families are able to provide varying levels of emotional and financial support to each other. Someone’s birth or adoptive family is not always a place of unconditional love. Some people have experiences of trauma, abuse, addiction, violence, or neglect connected to their families. Some people do not feel they can be their authentic selves around their birth or adoptive family. Some people grew up largely in government systems as orphans or in foster families.
Family building occurs in various ways, such as through adoption, the use of assisted reproductive technologies (e.g. In Vitro Fertilization, Artificial Insemination, Surrogacy, etc.), donor reproductive materials (Sperm Donors/Banks, Egg Donors/Banks, etc.), and shared commitments and biographies.
Teams should make sure that they communicate in ways that do not assume family composition and leave space for families outside the dominant nuclear form in North America. This includes LGBTQIA2+ families, single-parent families, divorced families, families with step-parents and step-siblings, families with platonic co-parents, families with deceased loved ones, polyamorous families, plural families, foster families, adoptive families, extended families, international families, relationships/friendships that hold the same significance as family, families outside of strict blood and legal affinities, and chosen families.
A common struggle for many professionals is balancing their commitments to their job and to their loved ones. Work-life balance is a common discussion and goal for most people in the workforce. It can be compromised by workplace cultures that reward overwork, do not respect boundaries, and do not give people the necessary flexibility to respond to emergent family-related needs. No matter what an individual’s family or caregiving situation is, employers need to understand that everyone has obligations outside of work.
Caregiving responsibilities refer to how some team members have people (and animals!) in their lives that rely on them for support and to attend to their needs. The majority of workplace conversations around caregiving usually revolve around taking care of children, but there are many other care obligations that a person might have. Someone might need to care for their ageing parents or loved ones. Someone might be a key support for a loved one with a disability. People may need to provide care for family and loved ones going through health-related challenges. Many people have pets that they care for (healthy and sick - e.g. diabetes, canine hip dysplasia, cancer) and consider part of their family and service animals that need to be tended to so they can continue to help their owner move through the world. Many folks are profoundly committed to their communities and take the initiative to help neighbours and peers through different challenges.
When organizations ask team members to split themselves into two separate people—one for work and one for home—it creates a lot of tension. At work, they must remain stoic, efficient, and impersonal. While at home, they are allowed to indulge in being human. Professionalism puts these two dimensions of our lives in opposition and competition, rarely allowing us to have a healthy synergy.
Ideologies are the conceptions an individual, group, or culture has about different aspects of life. Most people have distinct economic, political, and religious perspectives influenced by the people in their family, their upbringing, geographical location, education, and lived experiences.
Ideologies play a part in how comfortable employees are sharing their opinions with colleagues. Vastly differing ideologies may make individuals more cautious to start a conversation with a coworker if they know it could lead to a heated debate. Thus, it is important to create a psychologically safer/braver workplace, so that team members can discuss and share their ideologies without fear of harm, reprisals, or punishment.
Morals reflect an individual’s beliefs for acceptable thoughts and behaviours. Morals tend to be formed through one’s upbringing, family, life experiences, cultural background, religion (or lack thereof), political thoughts, and worldly beliefs.
Most organizations seek individuals who share the same morals, values, and ethics to align with the company’s core values. For employers, shared morals can alter how a company prioritizes its work and its impact on the industry, local community, and the world at large.
However, some morals can operate in ways that contribute to marginalization. For example, many cultures have a sexual double standard that stigmatizes women for the same sexual agency that is validated or accepted in men. This is also the case with parenthood when many women get messages that they are not a “good mom” by working, and men rarely face the same levels of scrutiny or criticism. Some forms of morality are othering and degrading to certain communities. This includes labelling people in same-gender relationships or queer families as immoral. It also includes trying to inhibit transgender and non-binary people from living as their authentic selves and accessing gender-affirming medicines because of your personal beliefs. In the case of tone-policing, someone might take the moral position that we should not communicate grievances with anger and dismiss the important message behind the tone.
Organizations must acknowledge that every person has a unique moral compass or guidelines while rejecting forms of morality that impede inclusion and belonging.
Education and Credentialism
Credentialism refers to reducing qualifications to official “credentials” conferred to people by institutions. These credentials then become important status markers used as requirements in different settings (e.g. job postings) regardless of necessity and in place of someone’s actual ability to demonstrate or learn a skill.
Education refers to someone’s experiences with structured learning, usually in a school or university setting. Completed educational experiences often come with evidence of completion or official degrees (e.g. Bachelor’s, Master’s, Doctorate, etc.) or certifications. First Generation refers to four-year university graduates whose parents did not complete a four-year university degree.
Education varies greatly by location, school, and teacher and can be heavily influenced by national, state, and district laws and requirements. This means that no single individual will have the exact same education. Not only that, but high-level education can be extremely expensive and unattainable for a significant part of North America and countries that do not have fully socialized education systems. For upper-level jobs (or even entry-level jobs), post-secondary school degrees are often set as a requirement without a compelling reason.
Unemployment rates by education level reveal stark differences based on the level of education attained. Both the 2021 Canadian census data and the 2020 data Bureau of Labor Statistics in the U.S. found that the correlation between the level of education and the unemployment rate is quite startling.
Further, the average debt accrued by people obtaining a Bachelor’s degree in Canada was $28,000 in 2015. Similarly, a four-year college degree in the U.S. is leaving recent grads with an average of $28,400 of debt as of 2020. Not surprisingly, many talented young professionals are seeking alternative career paths that don’t require such exorbitant costs.
Sometimes, employers create opportunities to help such professionals bypass college in exchange for applicable experiences.
Some organizations no longer require candidates to complete a Bachelor’s or Master’s degree to compete for a role. Instead, organizations are focusing on experiences, as well as hard and soft skills, to qualify candidates. Additionally, removing education requirements allows candidates experiencing marginalization to apply.
Another important thing to consider is that formal education systems often reproduce dominant forms of knowledge. Including team members that do not have formal education can add a diversity of knowledge to your team and company.
Skill sets are a less obvious type of diversity but are hugely important to the recruitment process. Depending on a candidate’s professional history and learning experiences, they will develop and hone certain skills. However, based on their personal experiences and background, they’ll also have unique strengths that can benefit business and culture. For example, they may have unique insights about how to make your organization’s product, service, or experience more inclusive. This may help you appeal to more people and increase your market share.
It’s important for organizations to weigh key predictive skills for professional success, such as emotional intelligence, passion for learning, and fresh perspectives in addition to the more granular technical skills. In the workplace, we tend to focus on the skills that directly apply to one’s specific role. However, there are various other skills an individual accumulates through their personal interests and experiences that can make them excellent at their job.
Remember that most skills can be learned and weaknesses can be worked on if someone has the determination and the appropriate support. The foundation of innovation and creativity is diversity, so companies must audit the skills they require to ensure they are not disproportionately disqualifying those experiencing marginalization.
Income refers to the money a person receives periodically through traditional work or investments. Passive income refers to money that someone gets with relatively little effort, such as stock dividends, interest from bonds, rental income, royalties, automated online sales, and more. Active income refers to money that requires meaningful participation and involvement, such as salaried labour, wage labour, tips, consulting, freelancing, and more.
Some people have more consistent income than others. Traditional employees usually experience more security with income, while small businesses and members of the gig economy can experience greater precarity due to the volatility of their revenue streams. Income can change throughout someone’s life and differ substantially from the income of their parents or guardians. The more income someone earns, the easier it is for them to meet their physical needs, indulge in wants/desires, access resources, pursue professional development opportunities, accumulate assets, and cultivate passive income streams. People can sometimes attach their self-worth to how much money they make and judge others based on how much money they make.
Certain roles and industries are often associated with higher incomes. For example, sales and tech positions are generally considered on the higher end of the income spectrum, while frontline service workers are generally on the lower end. Income plays a major role in every person’s life starting from the day they are born, throughout their upbringing, professional career, and into retirement. Income can be affected by geographical location, taxes, family, education, skills, and socioeconomic background.
Someone’s income is also affected by a range of biases relating to different demographic characteristics, such as age, disability, gender, race/ethnicity, sexual orientation, and more. Pay Equity refers to compensating team members the same amount when they perform the same or similar job duties. However, most organizations find that they are not fostering pay equity when conducting official analyses.
Socioeconomic status (SES) is the measurement and categorization of people based on their education, income, and occupation. It is also a strong indicator of privilege and the opportunities and resources an individual has access to so they can excel at school and work.
Socioeconomic status implicates:
- Class - How much wealth someone grew up with or has at their disposal.
- Status - How much prestige is attached to someone’s job, education, or position in society.
- Party - How much influence or power someone gets from the different groups, networks, and affiliations they are members of.
SES is found to contribute significantly to one’s mental health, physical health, stress, performance, and functioning in the workplace and in life.
Often equated to marital status, relationship status involves how two or more people feel about each other, behave toward one another, and how they want their relationship(s) to function and be recognized in the world.
Examples of relationship status include single, dating, partnered (personally or legally), married, re-married, in a domestic partnership, divorced, separated, broken up, and/or widowed. People’s relationships can also involve varying levels of commitment from more casual and ambiguous relationships to having robust shared understandings and promises to one another. People can be co-residential with their significant other(s), live apart, co-own large assets, or keep their finances largely unmixed. People’s relationships can be monogamous (having one romantic and/or sexual relationship at any given time) and non-monogamous (having more than one romantic and/or sexual relationship at the same time).
Polyamory is a form of non-monogamy in which everyone involved is aware of and consents to the arrangements. Polygamy is the practice of being married to multiple people simultaneously, and its legality varies around the world. The majority of polygamous relationships involve multiple wives. Plural families are families where the parents practice some form of polyamory or polygamy. Various forms of non-monogamous, committed relationships are common among different cultures, religious groups, and Indigenous communities.
Couple Privilege refers to the advantages in society that are conferred to people in established couples or partnerships. Culturally, people can struggle with feelings of failure if they are single or face immense pressure from loved ones to find someone even if they are perfectly content. Legally, two-person heterosexual partnerships are more generally recognized by governments globally. It usually offers unique benefits and entitlements such as tax advantages, inheritance, children’s custody, decision-making rights in the event that their partner is in a precarious life state, information rights, visitation rights, and more.
The Nuclear Family
Many people make assumptions and judgements about people’s relationship status based on the idea of the nuclear family, where all families have two married, monogamous parents (a man and a woman) and children. However, we know that many other models of families and relationships exist, such as families with same-gender partners, non-binary partners, and polyamorous partners. It is also important to recognize how the institution of marriage has contributed to the marginalization and coercion of different groups throughout history. Marriage can also be a significant social pressure for people because of economic needs, social standing, family expectations, immigration, and much more.
Relationship Status Bias
Relationship status bias can prevent highly qualified individuals from getting a job or excelling in their careers. While laws in places like the U.S. prohibit employers from discriminating against an individual’s gender, sex, and sexuality, only some jurisdictions have specific laws prohibiting relationship status discrimination in the workplace.
In the workplace, people’s relationship statuses can be especially relevant. Marriage is often a prerequisite for someone’s loved ones to access their benefits. Supervisors sometimes exploit power imbalances between them and the people they report to in order to manipulate them into sexual activities and silence them afterward. People can sometimes leverage their romantic or sexual relationships to receive unfair advantages in an organization’s recruitment or advancement processes.
It’s important to acknowledge that relationships are not only places of love, affection, and mutual support but can also be places of physical, sexual, verbal, financial, and psychological violence and abuse. Intimate partner violence has been on the rise during the pandemic.
Pregnancy and Parental Status
People with the ability to get pregnant and give birth face barriers in their careers that aren't present for those who cannot get pregnant. For example, they are far more likely to be asked questions about their parental plans and responsibilities during an interview. Sociologists have termed this the Motherhood Penalty.
Pregnancy, motherhood, and being a woman are deeply intertwined terms. However, for people who are transgender or whose gender is beyond the binary, these terms can be deeply unsettling. It is important to recognize that trans people and people who are beyond the gender binary can become pregnant, and they face unique challenges.
Employers can support working parents by reducing unconscious bias and providing flexible work hours, childcare benefits, parental leave, and adoption assistance. This will aid in retaining team members long-term.
According to the World Health Organization, one in four pregnancies ends in a miscarriage. More governments and workplaces are increasingly offering paid workplace leaves in the event of a miscarriage.
Military experience refers to someone’s affiliation or background related to the armed forces of a country. An active-duty military personnel is someone who works for the military full time, may live on a military base, and can be deployed by the military. On the other hand, a veteran is someone who previously served in their country’s military. Members of the military can participate in various capacities across the armed forces, such as in the army, navy, and airforce. The Department of Defense in the U.S. is the largest employer in the world.
Organizations should recognize the dignity and courage of military personnel, but never equate this appreciation to glorifying toxic forms of nationalism, imperialism, xenophobia, or violence.
Some veterans possess physical injuries related to their service that resulted in different medical conditions and disabilities. Other veterans can struggle with mental health-related challenges such as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and increased risk of self-harm. Some people with military experiences have lost close friends and comrades in service and struggle with the grief associated with these tragedies. Sexual violence is also more common in the military with nearly one in four women in the U.S. military reporting these experiences and Canada reporting a number of high profile instances of sexual misconduct.
Military veterans can offer a range of value adds to a team. For example, some military veterans have specific cross-cultural expertise due to being deployed internationally and trained in specific languages. There are a number of resources available to help employers better understand how military skills are relevant to a specific role, such as Handshake 2 Hire and CareerOneStop.
Size refers to someone’s height and weight compared to others or the general population. People are usually conditioned to know their height and weight and keep tabs on how these measurements fluctuate.
Sizeism refers to a system of prejudice or discrimination based on a person's size. It largely manifests as stigma and inequity directed toward people of higher weights and persons of short stature.
Fat refers to people with larger bodies. These people are often not catered to in design processes. For example, many seating and clothing options do not fit people with larger bodies. Some consider the word “fat” derogatory. However, many in the fat community have reclaimed the word to signal pride and power or a matter-of-fact description. Many reject the medicalized terminology of “obese” and “overweight” because medical professionals often use these terms to deny care and further fat people’s marginalization. The fat community uses many terms to represent who they are, such as “small fat” and “super fat,” to name a few. It is important to engage with individuals in the fat community to determine the most inclusive language possible to foster dignity and respect.
Societal perspectives of weight have changed over time and vary across cultures. Generally, fat team members encounter negative cultural stereotypes and biases. Fat people are often considered lazy, less competent, unprofessional, attention-seeking, and unattractive. For example, larger women frequently face criticism that their clothing is “too revealing.” This leads to barriers in hiring, compensation, and promotions. Many people accept the harmful and incorrect assumption that everyone wants to lose weight or to be thin, reinforcing these ideas through casual questions, comments, jokes, and personal sharing.
Little People are people of short stature who live with some form of Dwarfism (Achondroplasia most commonly) and are usually no taller than five feet. Little People are more likely to face infantilization (e.g. being called “cute,” being offered children’s menus, facing challenges purchasing alcohol, etc.) than other people. Moreover, the world is often designed to privilege normative sizes and pose challenges for Little People (e.g. standard podium size, airbags and gas pedal distance in cars, the height of sinks and cabinets, etc.).
Size and Gender
Sizeist biases can manifest differently by gender. Society often praises men and transmasculine people who are taller than average and is more accepting when these groups have bulkier builds. In contrast, society usually stigmatizes women and transfeminine people who are taller than average and puts immense pressure on these groups to have smaller builds. Height and weight are common factors discussed in dating, with these unique gender-related manifestations of sizeism structuring many people’s romantic insecurities and interactions. Societal standards around weight and beauty are not only unrealistic but impose expectations that increase the likelihood of disordered eating (e.g. anorexia, bulimia, binge-eating, risky diets, etc.).
Someone’s criminal background refers to the documented legal infractions that someone has been found guilty of over their life course and has faced consequences for in a given jurisdiction. Crimes can be violent and non-violent. Crimes can involve activist activities, recreational use of substances, financial crimes (e.g. embezzlement, wage theft, fraud, tax evasion), theft, abuse, assault, and other violations of relevant statutes. Crimes vary in severity to oneself, others, and the common good, from not using a designated cross-walk to intentionally taking someone else’s life. The crimes that someone commits can result in fines, community service, loss of liberties, incarceration/imprisonment, and more.
Just because someone does not have a criminal record, does not necessarily mean they have never committed a crime. This just means that law enforcement has not caught them or enforced a statute against them when they possibly could have. People commit crimes for a range of reasons, and in many cases, crime is linked to survival in poverty and untreated mental health-related challenges.
It is important to emphasize that not everything that is considered legal is good and not everything considered illegal is bad. As Martin Luther King Jr. notes in a famous quote regarding the segregation of the Black community and the withholding of civil rights in the U.S., “One has not only a legal, but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws.”
While laws in Canada provide protection from discrimination, employers are allowed to request a “background check” and refuse to hire someone if it is a reasonable and “bona fide” (genuine) reason. Despite this requirement, gaining employment after having experience in the Prison Industrial Complex (PIC) is challenging, particularly for women and Indigenous Peoples.
We must not limit a person’s identity to a specific experience with the PIC, as systemic inequities exist in police enforcement, laws, and wrongful convictions. Instead, we can use an abolitionist lens to support formerly incarcerated people reintroducing themselves into communities. We can recognize the systems of power that are at play. Organizations should always remember that the goal of the criminal justice system should be healing, accountability, rehabilitation, and reintegration, not shame, ostracizing, and punishment.
For those who don’t know, the PIC refers to the combination of public and private sectors as well as governmental interests that benefit from increased funding to police and prisons. These interests range from politicians who are “tough on crime” to organizations that use cheap prison labour. The prison population is disproportionately composed of Indigenous Peoples, Black people, people of Latine descent, as well as people of limited financial means. In this way, prisons act as a modern way of enslaving people, while also using prisons to “solve'' various socio-economic challenges. Prisons are, in many ways, an ineffective way of addressing homelessness, poverty, unemployment, and mental health issues.
There are a lot of different opinions on how, when, and if politics should be allowed in the workplace. For some, such discussions are a great way to connect with and engage in stimulating conversations unrelated to work. However, when colleagues have radically different political affiliations and perspectives, controversy can erupt, making the workplace uncomfortable at best and unbearable at worst.
Bringing politics into the workplace can lead to issues around political affiliation discrimination. And while there is no national law that prohibits employers from discriminating against a candidate or employee based on their political affiliation, a few states do.
Keeping politics out of the workplace sometimes means erasing identities and experiences. For example, sometimes people will refuse to discuss a co-worker's experience of racism because they want to be “nonpartisan.” However, many advocates have argued that racism is not a political issue and it is not a viable excuse to avoid discussing racism. Indeed, the “isms'' are political and “the personal is political.” Actual DEI work and change will not happen if we erase or ignore people’s oppressive experiences.
All that being said, it can be extremely difficult to eliminate all traces of politics from the workplace. A lot can and is assumed about an individual’s political affiliation based on their resume and personal interests. But is eliminating all politics really the answer? Just like every other element of diversity on this list, political diversity is also important for providing unique ideas, morals, and beliefs and fostering a truly diverse and inclusive workplace. Creating a psychologically safer workplace can help foster spaces for discussion of political beliefs that do not lead to harm, discrimination, punishment, or retribution.
Religious, Faith, and Spiritual Beliefs
Religion is usually defined as a social-cultural system of designated behaviours and practices, morals, beliefs, worldviews, texts, sanctified places, prophecies, ethics, or organizations, that generally relates humanity to supernatural, transcendental, and spiritual elements. Most people’s religious affiliations (or lack thereof) usually come from their family upbringing and cultural background. However, people can convert to different religions over their life course and often do so in cases of marriage. People may also identify with multiple religions or none at all.
There is a range of orientations toward the Divine and official religions, such as Agnostic, Atheist, Baha’i, Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Jainist, Jehovah’s Witness, Jewish, Muslim, North American Indigenous spirituality, Pagan, Rastafarian, Sikh, Spiritual, Unitarian, and more.
Some people observe commonalities and parallels between official world religions and what is called “secular religions,” which may include sports affiliations, intense nationalism, consumerism/materialism, hedonism/pleasure-seeking, science, astrology, and more. These also come with a specific belief system, rituals, symbols, and places of significance.
Religions can be organized through specific institutions and places of worship such as churches, temples, mosques, synagogues, derasars, sanctuaries, shrines, and more. For others, religion is a more personal experience and relationship with the Divine, which does not require any specific forms of organization or designated religious texts.
Religious Observances, Celebrations, and Practices
Most religions come with a set of observances, celebrations, and practices for their adherents. These could come in the form of specific Holy days such as: Losar (Tibetan Buddhism), First day of Riḍván (Baháʼí), Christmas (Christianity), Chanukah (Judaism), Eid Al Fitr (Islam), Diwali (Hinduism, Jainism, Sikhism, some forms of Buddhism), Yule (Paganism), and more. Many religions have specific directives around fasting during different times, such as Ramadan (Islam), Lent (Catholicism), Yom Kippur (Judaism), Nineteen Day Fast (Baháʼí), the first Sunday of the month (Mormonism), and more.
Religious backgrounds are also connected to people’s dietary needs. Members of the Hindu community are usually lacto-vegetarian (avoiding meat and eggs), Jewish people might abide by a kosher diet, Muslim people might go by a halal diet, Catholic people generally do not eat meat on Fridays during Lent, many Sikh people do not consume alcohol, and some are vegetarian. There are many other diets across different religions.
Prayer is common among most religions. Prayer is an invocation or act that seeks to activate a rapport with an object of worship through deliberate communication. Prayer can be an act of supplication or intercession directed towards a deity or deities. People can also pray as a form of praise or thanks. Different religions will have specific guidance around how, when, and where to pray, such as going to Chuch on Sundays (Catholicism), the salat (Islam), and Yoga (Hindu).
Theism, Agnosticism, and Atheism
Theism refers to the belief in God(s) or Higher Being(s). Agnosticism refers to a belief that one can never know with any certainty if the Divine truly exists, or someone who is still discerning or does not have an absolute view related to the Divine. Atheism refers to the lack of belief in God(s) or Higher Being(s). People can identify as theists, agnosticists, or atheists and these labels can change over the course of someone’s life.
Spirituality refers to subjective experiences of “the sacred” and the importance of the human soul and spirit above physical realities. Someone’s spirituality can be related to Higher Being(s), nature, the universe, human relationships, the personal quest for meaning in life, experiences of profound joy and contentment, one’s innermost truths, and more.
Faith can refer to someone’s belief in God(s) and specific religious doctrines and teachings. More generally, faith relates to the belief in something that cannot be proved through empirical evidence or observed realities.
Religion and Work
Whether or not people discuss their religious affiliations at work, it’s important to create a workplace that is understanding and accepting of everyone’s beliefs - even if they are different from one another and so long as they do not harm or marginalize other teammates (e.g. misgendering a transgender teammate, invalidating a same-gender couple, bias toward women, etc.).
Employers can do this by offering floating holidays so that employees can take time off for religious holidays and celebrations when they need. It’s also important to respect individuals who wear religious clothing at work and ensure their cohorts treat them fairly. Depending on your office and building layout, consider creating a space for private religious and spiritual practice. Consider moving away from certain professionalism standards of dress that are specifically rooted in biased and exclusionary ideals.
Union affiliation is a form of both organizational and functional diversity in the workplace and can be a hot topic. Employees of an organization may either choose to or may be required to join a local union based on the rules of a collective bargaining agreement between the employer and the union. This is dependent on the law of a given jurisdiction. Some countries have no legal minimum wages, but extremely robust union memberships, such as Sweden, Iceland, Norway, and Denmark.
Labour union membership is intended as a way to protect employees from rights violations in their workplace, such as discrimination, overtime without pay, retaliation, privacy, and whistleblower rights. However, some employees may be opposed to joining a labour union for various reasons. Regardless of union status, all employees are still responsible for fulfilling their job requirements.
Organizations should not work to impede the formation of unions or engage in any illegal activities to the detriment of unions.
There’s no doubt that every single workplace is different. Every company has their own unique mission, core values, policies, culture and benefits, which vary by region, industry, size, and employer. Each time someone moves into a new role, industry or company, they bring their previous work experiences and skills with them.
For employers, it’s often beneficial to attract talent with diverse work experiences, even hiring out-of-market candidates. Such experiences can help your team better understand different aspects of the industry or connect with new customer markets. So, don’t count candidates out just because they have different workplace experiences.
Workplaces change over time. However, many employees will remain with a company for several years and gain seniority as their role develops. Different levels of seniority at a company may lead to varying opinions or values about how the company operates and may also be influenced by factors like age and personal beliefs. Some newer employees may feel inferior to a senior employee or may be asked to report to senior employees. However, all employees are guaranteed the same rights and are expected to complete the duties within their job description.
Similar to seniority, a management status is a form of organizational diversity present in nearly every workplace. The vast majority of employees at every organization have somebody to report to, have a say in how their day-to-day time is spent, and a set of expectations to adhere to. Organizational hierarchy is put in place to ensure that an organization can function appropriately and scale over time. There may be varying management styles, but all employees are guaranteed the same rights while performing their duties.
Groups in leadership usually hold the most power, privilege, social capital, and workplace status in a given setting. It is important to recognize that if you occupy a leadership position you likely have greater influence, authority, and discretion regarding self–expression, decision-making, resource allocation, workflows, and advancement. An organization’s senior leadership team is often one of the least diverse levels of a company and organizations should take intentional actions to promote diversity in the highest echelons of their workplace.
Senior leaders can sometimes abuse their seniority and engage in various forms of harassment (e.g. sexual, verbal, psychological, etc.) of their supervisees. Organizations should establish safeguards for procedural justice if a report is made about a leader’s inappropriate or discriminatory conduct.
Workplace leaders are key determinants of the tone of a workplace’s culture and whether DEI programs will succeed. Organizations should ensure that all team members, from managers and above, have gone through foundational education around DEI and inclusive leadership.
Regardless of management status or seniority, job function, and departmental placement are forms of organizational diversity that affect how people perform. Different job placements impose different expectations on people, meaning that experiences between employees of the same workplace and the backgrounds that have brought them into the same workplace will vary greatly.
Some job functions are generally compensated better than others. Some departments are more likely to struggle with specific representation issues. For example, Sales and Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) typically overrepresent men. Human Resources (HR) and administrative roles typically overrepresent women and transfeminine people.
The Secret Sauce To A Healthy, Happy Workplace
- Psychological Safety is the shared belief that a team can take interpersonal risks without facing adverse actions or negative consequences. Within the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion context, psychological safety directly leads to employees sharing their honest opinions about the organization. Extensive research has found that psychological safety is an important factor that helps improve learning, growth, innovation, and employee well-being. In today’s organizations, teams are often built with people at different levels of hierarchy with various cultural backgrounds to engage fully in work decisions. Reaping the benefits of diversity within such teams requires organizations to build psychologically safer workplaces where junior employees are unafraid when speaking up, pointing out mistakes, and sharing opinions.
Participation and Collaboration
- Ensure that people align with the organization’s future DEI goals and what it will take to achieve them. Clear communication about the uncertainty and complexity involved in the DEI process is essential to set the stage.
- Leaders should ask people questions directly, such as “What are you experiencing? What ideas do you have? What help can I offer?”
- Respond productively as a leader by acting on the ideas, opinions, and contributions.
Be Curious, Be Brave, Learn From Mistakes
- Encourage leaders to not be afraid to say the wrong things (within moral boundaries) and learn from mistakes instead of being silent/ignorant.
- Engage in critical dialogue about inequity and injustice by starting from a place of curiosity and empathy. Ask questions to deepen understanding of underlying privileges and systemic issues. Get uncomfortable.
- Combat cancel/call-out culture by “calling in” people we might disagree with. This is when we take people aside, often privately, to have open and judgement-free discussions on what might have been harmful.
- Replace blame with curiosity. Adopt a learning mindset, acknowledging that one doesn't have all the facts.
- Encourage genuine conversations and try to understand team members' backgrounds and what has shaped them. Invite unique perspectives during meetings, and seek contributions from everyone.
- Use internal communication channels to spread awareness and champion individuals who contributed with a new idea, established a new process, or constructively questioned something.
Design Inclusive Workplace Perks and Benefits
Offer meaningful workplace benefits and perks that appeal to candidates from different backgrounds, identities and lived experiences, such as:
- Domestic partnership benefits that signal inclusion to LGBTQIA2+ couples and other couples reluctant to participate in the institution of marriage.
- Robust paid parental leave, childcare subsidies, or flexible schedules that are appealing to primary caregivers (people who take care of ageing parents, children, loved ones, and pets), especially women and transfeminine people who are disproportionately responsible for care labour.
- Adoption or fertility-related benefits for team members who want to build their families, especially LGBTQIA2+ people who are more likely to use assistive reproductive technologies and adoption services.
- Flexible schedules for all, but especially for people of advanced age, chronic health conditions, and people with disabilities.
- Private spaces to make your workplace more inclusive of people who breast or chest feed, pray, or need a sensory retreat.
- Access to full-time or nearly full-time remote work for all, but especially for people with disabilities, working parents, and many others.
- Paid leave for miscarriages and menstruation as well as an intentional strategy for menopause inclusion. This will be especially beneficial for cisgender women, transgender men, non-binary people, and other genders who experience miscarriage, menstruate, and go through menopause.
- Tuition reimbursement for those with student debt as well as help employees strategically develop skill sets to advance.
- Floating holidays to show potential team members from different cultural and religious backgrounds that you are willing to make space for them.
- Explicitly communicating that Paid-Time Off should be used for self-care and promoting mental wellness for candidates who have mental health struggles.
- Including mental wellness in wellness programs in addition to physical wellness, going beyond simply gym memberships.
- Including chosen families in workplace leaves.
- Covering different gender transition needs or gender-affirming processes in healthcare packages.
- Ensuring dress codes are more inclusive of the racialized team members, women, the LGBTQIA2+ community, employees with larger builds, employees of different socioeconomic statuses, team members of different religions, team members of different cultures, and people with disabilities.
- Including a diverse array of organizations for paid company-sponsored volunteering. This is most appealing to young adults but is also appealing to anyone who can observe your company’s commitment to inclusion for different causes.
These benefits will also help you retain talented people from communities experiencing marginalization and underrepresentation. Advertise these benefits in job postings and during the interview process.
Support Multiple ERGs and Invest In Them
- ERGs will often be intersectional. There may be an ERG group for disabled Black team members or an ERG group for queer immigrant team members. Having many ERGs will also allow team members to be involved with multiple groups should they hold multiple identities.
- Ensure these groups are tied to the broader strategy of the organization. Invest in these groups through meaningful programming budgets, additional compensation for ERG leaders, and explicit time allocations for different employees to support and generate awareness around ERGs.
- Ensure that the opinions of ERGs are engaged by actively and routinely soliciting their feedback on company policies, processes, and potential changes as well as listening to the experiences of underrepresented and marginalized groups at the organization that they share.
- Designate executive sponsors for each ERG to ensure that their perspectives are considered at senior leadership meetings and that senior leadership co-owns DEI work.
- Energize ERGs by starting mentorship programs, encouraging allies to participate, getting ERGs to collaborate with each other, and integrating ERGs throughout company strategies such as marketing and recruitment.
- To understand the complexity and fullness of diversity within your organization, robust and comprehensive data collection and analysis are essential. This can be done through internal systems or through outside consultants.
- Create more robust Voluntary Self-Identification questionnaires for your applications, Human Resources Information Systems (HRIS), and surveys that allow you to get tangible metrics and feedback from a diversity of lived experiences beyond just binary gender, race, citizenship, and disability.
- Disaggregate this data to get important insights into which identities are struggling more at your organization, then make the necessary adjustments.
- Use this data to inform your organization's policies and processes, from hiring, discipline, marketing materials to product development. For example, if the majority of caregivers feel they are missing out on promotional opportunities, review policies and processes on career advancement. Restructure with caregivers' needs in mind. If the majority of your organization is one identity over another, or there is a high concentration of a few identities, review your policies and processes on hiring and retention.
Intersectional DEI Training All Year
- Ensure the DEI training materials, whether internal or external, take an intersectional perspective. This might mean creating new materials from scratch or reviewing all of your DEI education and training materials to ensure that they engage with the range of identities, backgrounds, and lived experiences included in this resource.
- Include a variety of DEI workshops, training, and learning opportunities throughout the year. Share memos or posters around the office and at company-wide events.
- Coordinate DEI programming, panels, and speakers with a more expansive conception of diversity to enable every team member to feel recognized and that their specific identities matter.
- The best way to encourage a diverse workforce is to ensure that leadership is diverse.
- Institute a modified “Rooney Rule” for all new open leadership positions, requiring that the search process is not completed until at least four members from underrepresented or marginalized groups advance to the final stages of the selection process.
- Integrate DEI as a core consideration in succession planning, actively cultivating and developing relationships with folks currently underrepresented on leadership teams.
- Have current leadership members develop a personal plan to foster and promote DEI and develop collective goals and objectives relating to DEI.
- Debunk the “pipeline problem” justification for lack of progress which circumvents accountability, opportunities, or change. Reframe it as a call to action to invest more resources, time, and energy to ensure the leadership represents a diversity of identities, backgrounds, and lived experiences. Acknowledge that bias and inequity are likely the main issues inhibiting transformation, which are unintentionally embedded in current processes.
- Establish a reverse mentorship program in which Employee Resource Group (ERG) leaders have opportunities to educate the leadership team.
- Institute mentorship programs between leadership and marginalized team members.
Everyone Should Champion DEI
- A related misconception concerning DEI that we’ve encountered is that a select set of marginalized groups should only champion it. There are countless issues with this approach. First, it places the entire burden of education and change on these communities and ignores the role of solidarity and allyship. Second, it assumes that just because someone has one or two specific marginalized identities, they don’t have other growth opportunities and knowledge gaps regarding other lived experiences. Third, it conflates having a certain lived experience with also having the specific skill sets to foster inclusion for that lived experience in the workplace. Identity is not the same as expertise.
- So, it’s important to align the entire team on the fact that they all have a stake in DEI efforts no matter who they are. Every person holds multiple identities. Every person has identities that bring them unique privileges and advantages. Every person has identities that have the potential to become a source of bias, discrimination, harassment, or marginalization.
Celebrate EVERYONE’S Special Days
Many workplaces in North America only recognize a few holidays, such as Christmas and Easter. Given our diverse workplaces, this doesn’t make sense and is unjust. We created a resource that shares a nearly exhaustive list of holidays, observations, and celebrations across different cultures. We also gave some insights into each one so people can appropriately engage with these special days.
We Amplified Our Message In The Media
- Why understanding intersectionality is a crucial step in creating inclusive workplaces | The Globe and Mail | April 18, 2022
Capacity-Building Session: Beyond Women-First or Gender-Centric Approaches
If you found this resource interesting, you may also be interested in our capacity-building session, “Beyond Women-First or Gender-Centric Approaches: The Case For Intersectionality.” Check out the description below and connect with us at email@example.com to learn more and get it in the books!
This capacity-building session addresses the problem with a “women-first” or “gender-centric” approach to advancing women in the workforce. This session demonstrates how initiatives to help women often devote less attention and resources to women experiencing multiple forms of marginalization. Participants will learn the importance of applying an intersectional approach when designing policies, processes, and programs, along with other practical skills to embed an intersectional lens in daily efforts.
This resource is not meant to be a static guide, but rather a compilation and reflection of our learnings to date. Everything changes - from technologies and innovations to social norms, cultures, languages, and more. We’ll continue to update this resource with your feedback; email us at firstname.lastname@example.org with suggestions.
About the Author
This resource was written collaboratively by members of the Feminuity team.
Give Credit Where Credit’s Due
If you wish to reference this work, please use the following citation: Feminuity. "40+ Dimensions of Diversity and the Many Intersections"