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Building an Intersectional Talent Management Strategy: A Guide for HR Leaders


Workforces today comprise diverse identities and experiences, shaped by factors like race, gender, sexual orientation, and socioeconomic status. However, legacy talent practices often overlook intersectionality, perpetuating disparities. This article explores an inclusive talent framework addressing recruitment, retention, and advancement through an intersectional lens.

Understanding Intersectionality

Intersectionality is a concept introduced in 1989 by professor Kimberlé Crenshaw to describe how different identity factors like race, gender, and sexuality "intersect" and overlap shape a person's experiences.

Specifically, intersectionality recognizes that people have multiple, layered identities that expose them to different forms of privilege and oppression in varying combinations. For example, a black lesbian woman experiences three overlapping systems of discrimination - racism, sexism, and homophobia. Her experience of discrimination is unique and differs from that of a white lesbian woman or black heterosexual man.

An intersectional perspective examines how these interconnected social systems and power structures impact people in multidimensional ways. It looks at how race, class, gender, sexuality, and other identity factors combine to produce experiences of marginalization as well as privilege.

The key insight is that people live in multi-layered realities shaped by their multiple identities. An intersectional approach aims to capture the complexity of human experiences by considering cross-cutting differences rather than examining race, gender, or other traits separately.

Integrating Intersectional Thinking

Most organizational diversity and inclusion (D&I) efforts have traditionally focused on improving representation numbers for individual demographics such as women or ethnic minorities.

However, work statistics on marginalized identities like race and gender have barely budged over the past decades despite widening social awareness. Clearly, existing piecemeal DEI strategies are inadequate to catalyze real culture change.

An intersectional talent framework moves beyond narrow representation metrics to recognize that diversity initiatives ultimately need to reflect multifaceted human experiences. It understands that people have overlapping, interconnected identities across race, gender, class, and other factors that expose them to compounding biases.

An intersectional approach in the workplace involves evolving mindsets, policies, and practices to address cross-cutting differences. Instead of singular diversity traits, it focuses on embracing the complex reality of human diversity across overlapping identity dimensions.

Advancing Recruitment

Many employers attempting to further diversity try partnering with colleges or installing AI-based tools to mitigate hiring bias. However, these narrow solutions often exclude non-traditional talent from disadvantaged backgrounds who may lack degrees but have the skill and drive to excel.

Additionally, economic barriers associated with acquiring credentials disproportionately affect access for marginalized groups. So, relying solely on degrees or AI tools to increase candidate diversity risks perpetuating structural inequities.

An intersectional recruitment approach would also focus on barriers to access beyond ethnicity, gender, or tools. It would proactively target outreach to disadvantaged talent pools through skills-based hiring, financial support, and multi-channel sourcing.

The goal is to increase the visibility of opportunities and empower motivated candidates regardless of pedigree or privilege barriers. Constructive steps for companies include implementing skills-based job requirements instead of traditional degree prerequisites, offering scholarships and learning support to low-income applicants, and ensuring AI does not replicate underlying societal biases.

Holistic Recruitment Practices

Implementing skills-based hiring without degree prerequisites opens opportunities for motivated and skilled talent from non-traditional backgrounds who may lack formal credentials. Rather than filtering candidates based on education level, the focus becomes Ability - assessing people's capabilities directly through work samples, tests, and interviews. This expands and diversifies pipelines by empowering candidates to demonstrate potential regardless of pedigree.

Many from disadvantaged groups face barriers to entering degree programs due to socioeconomic challenges. Providing funding support through scholarships and stipends for marginalized student groups increases their ability to participate, gain qualifications, and access opportunities. This counters the effects of privilege disparities and makes programs more equitable.

Ensuring AI circumvents bias against minorities is also crucial. Since humans code hiring algorithms, machine learning models risk perpetuating embedded societal biases. Extensive testing, audits, and oversight are vital to ensure tools evaluate candidates fairly regardless of race, gender, or other factors. One approach is augmenting AI with human reviewers empowered to override potentially discriminatory decisions. Such checks prevent automated systems from replicating inherent unchecked biases that contribute to a lack of diversity.

In summary, the key is to focus on skills over pedigree while proactively removing barriers marginalized groups face. This way, the most capable candidates can shine, leading to merit-based diversity gains.

Boosting Retention

Fostering a sense of inclusion and belonging is central to retaining diverse talent, especially for those facing “onlyness” - being the only representative of a particular identity. However, traditional monolithic ERG models often pressure multifaceted employees to align themselves with only one aspect of their identity, forcing difficult choices.

Furthermore, subtle aggressions like microaggressions can inflict harm equivalent to overt discrimination. Lack of awareness leaves them unaddressed, gradually eroding employees' mental wellbeing and engagement.

Potential solutions include encouraging collaboration across ERG chapters to spark allyship. Shared activities unite people across identities. Therapists and counselors who are well-versed in cultural contexts also provide better mental health support tailored to intersectional needs. Regular inclusion surveys gather input on programming shortfalls, guiding continual improvements.

Overall, the aim is to cultivate a community bonded by universal human qualities rather than divided along demographic lines. Holistic support empowers employees to bring their full, authentic selves to work. This drives retention and performance.

Enabling Advancement

While sponsorship and mentoring initiatives help advance careers, their generic nature brings uneven gains across groups. Similarly, insufficiently nuanced training content and evaluation metrics often ignore the compounding barriers facing minorities with overlapping marginalized identities.

Refined talent progression policies should include intersectional pay equity analyses assessing granular differences across race, gender, and other factors. This pinpoints specific disparities needing correction. Targeted advancement programs with customized mentoring also provide visibility and uplift to overlooked talent by matching them with leaders invested in their growth. Further, specialist input ensures that DEI training content acknowledges complex biases.

In essence, an inclusive advancement approach recognizes the problems and barriers facing minority groups are multi-layered. It responds with nuanced support structures tuned to their needs and journeys - enabling equal access to opportunities.

The goal throughout is to balance efficiency with equity. Systems must uplift talent fairly based on skill and merit - not proximity to privilege. While optimal solutions take work, the payoff is huge for diversity, innovation, and performance. Intersectionality provides the lens for impactful change.


As workforces grow more heterogeneous, fresh thinking is imperative to manifest equitable environments where everyone thrives equally. Discarding one-size-fits-all mindsets for tailored practices can help realize sustainable cultures of belonging through an intersectional talent management ethos. The time for change is now!