Teenage actor Rowan Blanchard has been speaking out about intersectionality on Twitter, Tumblr and Instagram. I learned about Rowan in Interview magazine’s April, 2016 issue, which noted, “At only 14, the native Angeleno Blanchard speaks, tweets, and writes with ease, confidence, and urgency — on everything from intersectionality and the politics of feminism to the elitist girl gangs of social media.” One word in there caught my attention. What the heck is intersectionality? The article discussed it as if I should know what it is.
I looked it up on Wikipedia, where I learned that intersectionality theory came to fruition in the 1960s and ’70s as an outgrowth of the feminist movement. Black women were experiencing bias differently than white women and they started speaking out about it. They felt an intersection of their being female and black, the “interconnectedness of seemingly disparate forms of inequality.” (Stand, 2016)
Intersectionality is something I probably should have learned about in college as a Social Ecology major, but I don’t recall anyone talking about it at UC Irvine at the time.
The word came up again in a San Francisco Business Times article about executive leadership for the LGBT sector, part of the newspaper’s annual Business of Pride issue in June. I was happy to see intersectionality being discussed, but I was dismayed to learn about Stanford University’s new LGBT executive leadership program. In my view, programs like that are telling LGBT people they need to change, rather than blaming the discriminatory attitudes that have kept LGBT people from climbing the corporate ladder. However, I was inspired to learn about how UCLA, which revamped its LGBT executive leadership program after a dozen years to reflect the importance of intersectionality. The new program is a multi-dimensional leadership institute. Alissa Brill, managing director at UCLA’s Anderson Executive Education, said participants hear “about more filters being stripped away in the workplace and that makes a huge difference in company culture.”
Rowan Blanchard provides living proof of the value of thinking about intersectionality, as well as of the way the world has changed for the better in my lifetime. Rowan recently publicly identified as queer, which I thought was a bold move for a young, female star of the Disney television series Girl Meets World. I grew up near Disneyland and remember how rigid and exclusionary it was. My sister worked there in high school and I was appalled at the dress code that required women to wear nylons, as well as skirts or dresses of a certain length. I also recall that in the ’80s Disneyland did not allow gays to dance together. The company gradually changed its tune over the years and I understand today The Walt Disney Company is one of the best employers for the gay and lesbian community. I was happy to learn the 60-year-old American institution from conservative Orange County, where I grew up, is now inclusive.
That sort of intersectionality, on both the personal and corporate levels, continues to make an impact, expanding our horizons of how we view the world. With that more comprehensive view, we can be more inclusive, make better decisions, and achieve greater success.
Are you a CEO or nominating governance committee chair looking to establish or expand your corporate board with individuals of diverse race, culture, gender, background, age/generation and thought? Let’s work together to make intersectionality work for good.
Kim Clancy is founder and CEO of search firm Hampton O’Bannon Partners, LLC (HOP, LLC). She helps public and private companies attract and hire women and minorities to their boards.