We cannot accurately talk about inequality without also talking about how people experience it differently based on their gender and other characteristics, such as their race, class, ability, sexual orientation, and many other facets of their identities. Consider how immigrant racialized women with low incomes face different social and economic barriers when compared to wealthy white women. This is where intersectionality comes in: it is a framework for understanding how people experience marginalization (or privilege) based on their unique social location.

Below, we’ve curated a primer of our best research and insights on this subject

The term “intersectionality” was originated by legal scholar Kimberlé Crenshawe in 1989 as a way of understanding how Black women are differently marginalized than white women or Black men. Crenshawe discussed legal cases where Black women faced specific marginalization based on the overlap of their race and gender. Now, the term is also used to understand and analyze how many different identities, such as class, age, citizenship, disability, Indigeneity and sexual orientation, can lead to complex experiences of inequality.

Without an intersectional lens, it may be easy to assume that one group of people all share the same challenges, needs, and experiences, but this is not the case. If organizations, governments, and scholars do not take intersectionality into account in policies, research, and funding, there is a risk of homogenizing or ignoring people and the problems they face. For example, evidence shows that many organizational initiatives promoting diversity and inclusion tend to benefit white women and not other under-represented groups, such as Black or Indigenous men and women.

There are many misconceptions around what intersectionality actually is. For example, some may think it is a framework where people add up all their social identities to see who is most marginalized, and that those only those people’s issues matter. But this is incorrect: intersectionality is meant to be a lens to understand how people with different social identities can have vastly different experiences in our society.

Intersectionality and the implications for workplace gender equity

We can see unequal workplace outcomes on the basis of intersectionality in the gendered and racialized wage gap in Canada. Visible minority women, especially first-generation immigrants, earn on average $5,000 less than non-visible minority women, and $7,000 less than visible minority men. Compared to any other group, immigrant women—and those from racialized backgrounds—along with transgender and nonbinary people are more likely to be unemployed or underemployed in jobs that do not reflect their education or experience. And spending long periods of time in precarious work can have lasting negative effects on their employment outcomes.

Visible minority women are more frequently employed in precarious jobs characterized by insecurity, low wages, low protection, and limited benefits. Poverty rates for visible minority families are three times higher than for non-visible minority families, and families who identify as Arab, West Asian, and Korean have poverty rates above 30%.

Research has documented other types of intersectional inequalities in the workplace. For example, white men often experience a “glass escalator” when working in female-dominated occupations such as nursing and teaching, that enables their promotion through the ranks more quickly. However, the same benefits do not extend to visible minority men; Black male nurses are perceived as less skilled than female nurses.