Posted: 28 Aug. 2019 05 min. read

An Interview on Intersectionality

Interviews with Lin Surch, CEO, Beyond Gender and Gina De George, Head of Inclusion, Diversity & Wellbeing, Deloitte

Historically, organisations have taken a siloed approach to inclusion and diversity programs – focussing on individual streams of diversity. Such approaches can sometimes overlook the multiple intersections of diversity and the additional challenges this can create for individuals.

One particularly interesting intersection is that of LGBTI+ individuals of faith. Such individuals can  feel torn between intersectional identities that are sometimes not viewed as analogous.

The following interview explores this topic and intersectionality more broadly, with a specific focus on insights to assist business leaders and HR practitioners on practical things they can put in place to ensure the wellbeing of staff, in particular LGBTI+ people of faith.

Interviewees:

Lin Surch
– Founder and CEO of Beyond Gender, who is an out Queer leader and an Ordained Interfaith/Interspiritual Minister

Gina De George
– Head of Inclusion, Diversity & Wellbeing at Deloitte, who has significant experience in strategic D&I and wellbeing programs in large corporates

Interviewer:
Adrian Letilovic, Deloitte Inclusion, Diversity & Leadership Newsletter Editorial Committee member.

1. Discussing peoples’ intersectional identities can be considered emotionally charged subject matter, firstly, how can we be mindful of employees’ differences whilst maintaining an inclusive culture?

Gina
: One of the elements of an inclusive culture is respectful curiosity. Investing time in getting to know the people you work with is so important. When there is a difference, there’s a fear we will say something wrong and offend. One of the most important steps you can take is to create an environment that allows space to build trust and respect. By connecting with your colleagues, being respectfully curious and getting to know them first as a person, it makes it easier for both of you to have an open conversation to build a greater understanding of the different ways people identify. 

It can also help to start by getting to know the person first, build the trust, build the respect – you might find this helps with opening up further avenues for conversation.

2. Lin, you identify as queer and have worked broadly in diversity and inclusion advisory roles for many years and you’re also an ordained Interfaith minister. Do you think LGBTI+ people of faith can sometimes find themselves in a bit of a double bind situation and how can organisations support them?

Many LGBTI+ individuals have proactively opted themselves out of their faith of origin because they were excluded or discriminated against by their family or their church. For some, coming out as spiritual is yet another closet to navigate. What we call at Beyond Gender “The Stained Glass Closet” Oftentimes the fear of sharing lived experiences of faith relates to the fear of exclusion from the LGBTIQ community as well as the corporate community. The more organisations can do in creating a welcoming and non-judgemental environment for their LGBTIQ employees and employees of diverse faiths, the more likely people will be to share this part of themselves at work.

For organisations to approach this area of diversity effectively, through the lens of inclusion, rather than experience “a double bind” employees will feel comfortable to bring even more of themselves to work, which we know creates greater employee engagement, productivity and team harmony.

"Creating genuine opportunities for employees’ to learn more about the people they work with by incorporating intersectionalities like this in employee network programs,  the more we help to create a level playing field for all staff to shine and grow into authentic leaders."

3. Lin is there a way to help employees better understand differing perspectives around this subject matter?

Yes. By providing training and awareness raising in the distinct areas of faith sexuality and gender, individuals can better understand differing perspectives and experiences, and ultimately, learn more from each other. What I’ve learned through interfaith ministry is that regardless of the pathway, tradition, faith, or non-faith of your people, the end goal is the same. Whether we call that god, higher power, best self – whatever it is that we call it. It is about living the values, In order to be our best selves and work together effectively to bring about greater levels of innovation This can be done through facilitated conversations, storytelling, and sharing in relation to faith and spirituality, sexuality and gender identity, to help employees in this area, this work ought to make up a key component of every mature LGBTIQ employee network.

4. Many diversity and inclusion programs have developed organically over time, looking at singular diversity pillars or streams, however it can be more complex than that. Does the individual stream approach still have merit? How might organisations take a more intersectional approach?

Lin:
The argument for keeping diversity streams separate in workplaces tells us that each diversity group (be it LGBTIQ, gender, disability etc) has its own unique set of challenges and sensitives which need to be understood, and addressed, and this is true. However there is real potential in finding ways to bring it all together by understanding for many individuals we live with intersectional identities, and this too needs to be addressed any focusing on creating psychosocially safe workplaces and by incorporating intersectionality into diversity strategies is an excellent place to start.

Gina: I agree there is merit for both the pillars and a more connected and collaborative approach. The pillars exist to address specific challenges which we all hope will one day become unnecessary. However, if we only operate our approach within a pillared or siloed structure we miss out on broadening our thinking, our experience and our impact within our organisation and more broadly with our clients and our communities.

Our approach at Deloitte over the last 12 months has been to incorporate wellbeing into the Inclusion and Diversity portfolio. Why? We believe that wellbeing is the foundation for creating a safe, inclusive, ethical and productive workforce and contributes to creating a culture that supports psychological safety. This is incredibly important because when we are feeling well and able to be ourselves, we have the best opportunity to lead, work and interact positively and effectively with others.

While organisations provide great programs and improve systems and processes to support wellbeing, what might work for each person is unique, so there also needs to be a desire for an individual to invest in their own self-care.


Lin:
I agree Gina and I love what you’re saying there. There’s definitely self-care, I do however think that some of us live with the privilege of being able to help ourselves, because we perhaps aren’t living with the impacts of various layers of past or present discrimination. So I do think having robust pride and interfaith networks still do have merit because they give people a space where they can belong, share important messages and bring their whole selves to work.

5Gina, often employees are exposed to negative messaging or situations outside the workplace, however the impacts are very much felt within the workplace – what things should employers be on the lookout for, and how can they best support their people through this discussion?

Being across what is happening in the external landscape and the media is essential and getting on the front foot with the big topics – like so many companies did with marriage equality - to ensure their LGBTI employees felt supported.

On the day to day, building a solid connection with your team members is a good foundation as we discussed earlier. Adding on to that is ensuring our leaders and coaches are equipped with the skills and knowledge to support their team effectively - being able to ask questions, without probing, so you can open up the dialogue. You want to nurture really strong relationships between coaches and coachees so that during difficult times, they can rely on each other and know where to go for further support if that is needed.

6TO BOTH: Organisations are increasingly moving beyond traditional boundaries of countries and acting regionally or globally. This poses a unique set of challenges for organisations wanting to build inclusive cultures across countries where there can be sometimes extremely vast cultural and social norms. How can organisations better manage this?

LIN
: In both the LGBTI+ space, and the interfaith space at work cultural context is really important. Helping everyone get on the same page in understanding the cultural sensitivities across different parts of the world, while still sharing key messages of genuine inclusion regardless of where you are in the world at work is key. Ultimately, it comes down to two things – the maturity of your diversity strategy and what the values of your organisation are – across the globe – are these values being lived or shadowed? And remember, this work takes time, we have come a long way, even the fact we are talking about the intersectionality of faith, culture, and sexuality and gender now at work is reflective of just how far we have come. We still have a long way to go, and that excites me, because there is still plenty of work to do!


GINA: I agree, I think from an organisational point of view, when you’re working in a regional hub it is important to be aware of and understand the varying levels of maturity, the social and cultural norms and the legislation in each country within that region.

"There’s no one size fits all approach to inclusion and diversity programs across different cultures and countries but I do believe there needs to be a unifying element for all."

Inclusive leadership and gender equality is still one of those unifying elements for us within the APAC region. Individual countries should focus on what is most important for their needs and address key issues but also not miss the opportunity to leverage the collective efforts and broaden perspectives around the unique challenges each culture faces.

__

To learn more about this interview, please contact Adrian Letilovic

Interviewee details: 

Lin Surch – Founder and CEO of Beyond Gender, who is an out Queer leader and an Ordained Interfaith/Interspiritual Minister

Gina De George – Head of Inclusion, Diversity & Wellbeing at Deloitte, who has significant experience in strategic D&I and wellbeing programs in large corporates

Meet our author

Adrian Letilovic

Adrian Letilovic

Manager, Consulting

Adrian is a Manager at Deloitte Digital in Australia. He is passionate about strategic communication, employee engagement and the role D&I plays in this space. Outside of work he is an avid writer and pop-culture connoisseur. You can usually catch him watching reruns of the Simpsons or Gossip Girl.