Diversity and Inclusion

What Is Intersectionality? 5 Terms to Know

Some words — like “intersectionality” and “microaggression” — come up over and over in discussions about diversity and inclusion. In order to communicate effectively, it helps to start with a shared understanding of what certain terms mean.

In the recent Forté webinar Women Lead: Why Intersectionality Matters, inclusive leadership trainer Julie Kratz and financial coach Ericka Young  explain why intersectionality is an essential part of building and maintaining a diverse, inclusive workplace. Along the way, they share a few definitions that will help you build your diversity dictionary.


Intersectionality is a term coined by Kimberlé Crenshaw, a scholar, lawyer, and civil rights advocate, that refers to the intersection of two or more markers of diversity (i.e. race + gender, disabled + gay).

Intersectionality is important because you can’t separate a person’s different identities. Ericka said, “The intersections never part. It’s always there, and there’s no way I can be solely a female or solely a person of color. This is always my identity, and it does not change, and so we can’t take one out in order to have a conversation about the other.” 

For a deeper dive into intersectionality and the places where race and gender bias intersect, watch Crenshaw’s TED talk, The Urgency of Intersectionality.

Majority Group

The majority group is the group that generally holds the most power, privilege, and wealth in society and in workplaces (i.e. white, straight, male, cisgender, able-bodied).

Julie offered the example that among Fortune 500 companies, “92% of CEOs are white men — presumable straight, cisgender, and able-bodied, but that’s not always true or that’s not always quantified.”

Underrepresented Group

An underrepresented or marginalized group falls outside of the majority group by one or more factors. People in underrepresented groups may be nonwhite, LGBTQ+, female, gender nonbinary (meaning they don’t identify as exclusively male or female), or have a disability.


Microaggressions are subtle, often unintentional, behaviors that limit the influence of underrepresented people.

Julie explained, “They’re little, subtle signals that you don’t belong, and they happen to women of color at a much higher rate than they do to majority groups.”  As an example, she said, “Women and people of color are four times more likely to get interrupted than white men.”

Unconscious Bias

An unconscious bias is a belief one holds that they are often unaware of about underrepresented groups.

Unconscious biases are sometimes revealed by microaggressions. Ericka offered the example of someone who says, “I didn’t know you like that kind of stuff,” or “I didn’t know you could do that,” because they made an assumption based on your race.

To overcome unconscious biases and avoid microaggressions, have honest conversations with intersectionality in mind. Ericka says, “To see my whole person is very important to me, and I think that’s beyond even race and gender. We also talked about able-bodied-ness and sexual preference. These are the things that define who people are, and if we pretend they’re not there, that isn’t helpful to any of the work that we’re trying to do.”

Learn more by watching Ericka and Julie’s full conversation on intersectionality. They discuss how to honor your colleagues’ individuality, ways to educate yourself about the experiences of people in underrepresented groups, and why saying “I don’t see color” does more harm than good. The webinar Women Lead: Why Intersectionality Matters was recorded and is now available on demand.

A full library of previous Forté webinars is available to Professional Access Pass members. For $100/year, Access Pass members receive exclusive invitations to Women Lead webinars. If your company is a Forté partner, you may be entitled to a free Access Pass. Check our partners to see if your organization is involved. Access Pass members also have exclusive use of the Forté Job Center; you can browse positions and post your resume to be seen by leading companies seeking top talent.

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