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Intersectionality of Issues: Not a call to Zoom Out but Zoom In

Together with AFBE Scotland UK we were delighted to hold our second major event of the year; Intersectionality of Issues co-sponsored by EY & Wood. More than 100 people joined us at Wood, Aberdeen on Tuesday 22nd August 2023 to network and discuss what intersectionality is, its impacts, and how a better understanding of the concept can support leaders with diversity and inclusion (D&I) in their organisations.

The Panel

Introductions, Conclusions and Group Representatives

  • Dr Roy Bitrus, Co-Chair AFBE Scotland, Director of Sales, TenzorGEO Ltd

  • Sarah Clark, Chair AXIS Network, Executive Business Partner to CEO, Wood

Intersectionality of issues refers to the way that multiple forms of oppression intersect and are compounded, making it necessary to consider and address the interconnected nature of different social justice issues and how the compound nature of those issues contribute towards structural inequality.

The panel gave their perspectives on the concept by sharing how taking a binary lens on gender, race etc. is does not represent who we truly are.

When thinking about how we frame D&I, consideration must be given to how people are more than one identity characteristic (gender, ethnicity) to prevent many people falling through the cracks. Ollie observed that we can see this concept at work in D&I initiatives where racism is primarily focused on men who are People of Colour (POC) and sexism is focused on white women.

Taking an intersectional approach ensures that D&I initiatives don’t treat groups as monoliths by having too wide a lens and therefore make everything general for everyone. Intersectionality is not about a menu of identities to label someone or a game of victimhood top-trumps but a complete conversation focusing on the structure that perpetuates the type of policies that cause others to face vulnerabilities.

Intersectionality is not a call to zoom out but a call to zoom in.

The panel discussed how another new term, like intersectionality, can be unhelpful and a barrier to full engagement with D&I, especially when there is still a lot of fear and uncertainty regarding diversity and inclusion initiatives.

Single strand groups (e.g. employee resource groups (ERGs) focused on sexual orientation, social mobility) were also discussed and whether they help or hinder when it comes to successful D&I interventions. Unanimously it was felt that ERGs are helpful: it’s not possible to have a group for every person and they create a valuable dialogue provided they retain an intersectional outlook.

Organisations can use the concept of intersectionality when thinking about policy development by consulting widely with internal ERGs or with external groups such as AXIS and AFBE Scotland.

Emma urged attendees to reach out to AXIS Network who can facilitate tackling challenges together as an industry, drawing on the collective power of our pledge companies together.

Consult widely when developing policies.

Another barrier to understanding and analysing intersectionality is a lack of data. Close

analysis of disaggregated data allows us to see where the problems are. This was highlighted in the disaggregated D&I survey conducted by OEUK in April 2021.

Crucial to successful data gathering is trust: employees must be able to trust that companies will listen openly and act on the data they have been given. Doris commented that building a culture that encourages people to disclose and share their stories is powerful. We have safety statistics, but until you listen to the details of incidents and their impacts on people and their families, you don’t feel the drive and passion to make change. It’s the same with D&I where constant reinforcement can create positive cultural change.

Trust is a catalyst in intersectional analysis.

The panel advised on their top tips to start making progress with intersectionality:

  • Be transparent about the wins & positive stories: Communicate, celebrate success.

  • Commit ourselves to a life of education: Understanding what it is like for LGBT+, ethnic minorities etc. Regular devotion to learning helps when we start to forge policy.

  • Reinforce cultural messages: Replace safety moments with equity moments.

  • Listen: Create listening rooms and ways to understand other people’s lived reality.

  • Be curious: Ask the question: what does it feel like to be you?

The group concluded that intersectionality is less about the label and more about the mind-set.

Allyship is not an act of charity; its in our collective interest. The UK is one of the safest energy industries and we can do the same for D&I.

With thanks to our insightful and articulate panellists and all attendees whose contribution make the evening such a successful one.



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