Team activity — Intersectionality

Intersectionality focuses on the overlap of various social identities one person may hold. This activity can help reveal areas where we may hold unconscious bias towards particular groups. 

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Time required

20 minutes.


In advance of the meeting, send each participant the Intersectionality worksheet | PDF for a virtual meeting or print one for each participant for an in-person meeting.

Suggested wording 

Intersectionality focuses on the overlap of the various social identities one person would hold. This can include skin colour, ethnicity, gender, sexuality and class. 

Different combinations may increase or decrease the likelihood that you will experience systemic oppression and discrimination. 

For example, you may consider a white male to be in the majority in your workplace, but if a white male is also gay, the intersection of his sexual orientation may increase the likelihood that he will face discrimination.

In your handout is a list of social identities. 

Focusing only on the first column, I’d like you to name your intersection in each group. For example, under gender, state the gender in which you identify with. In skin colour, put down how you would describe yourself. You will not be asked to share any of this, it’s simply to help you identify your own intersections. 

[You can ask participants to let you know when they’re finished. If you’re doing the activity face-toface you can ask the participants to put down their pens. If you’re facilitating this virtually, you can ask participants raise their hands or whatever method is available through your platform.] 

In the next column in your handout, identify which of your social identities are part of the majority at work. Consider those you interact with on a regular basis and count if the number of people who have the same intersection as you are more or less than 50%. If the majority share that particular intersection, check the box in that row. You have one minute. 

[After one minute.] 

Whenever an intersection is shared by the majority, it’s easier for implicit bias against those not in this group to go unnoticed. 

In one workshop, a participant said they would not know if anyone at work is gay because they would never ask. Since there were approximately 1000 employees in the workplace, statistically speaking there would have been around 100 people who were gay. The participant was asked if people at work ever talked about heterosexual experiences related to husbands, wives, wedding anniversaries or pregnancies. Of course, the answer was yes. 

In this workplace, it’s likely that those who are gay just remained silent and excluded from these conversations. By thinking more inclusively, we can expand our conversations to validate and acknowledge other social identities.

In this example, simply talking about a same sex wedding that you attended or a same sex couple with children can make the conversation more inclusive. It doesn’t mean that everyone within that social identity will speak out but it does mean that they are more likely to feel included in the conversation.

By now I hope you have some idea of what implicit bias and microaggressions are. 

In the next column, I want you to think about potential acts of implicit bias towards the social identities in your workplace that are not part of the majority. This requires you to first identify the minority social identities in each category and then to list a few potential microaggressions or acts of implicit bias. 

You do not have to have witnessed this, just imagine what they might experience. While there may be several other social identities in each category, you are thinking generally about those at work who are in the minority. Let me give you a few examples:

An Asian person who was third generation Canadian had people move away from them during the pandemic because they were assumed to be more contagious than others. The implicit bias was being shunned or excluded and presumed to be a foreigner. 

A Canadian of East Indian descent was detained at the airport 9 times out of 10, while the average is less than 3 times out of 10 for random selection. The implicit bias resulted in having to always spend more time at the airport because someone thought they looked like a person who might be engaged in criminal activity. 

A highly qualified person who is non-binary and dresses differently than the majority is told they are not management material because they won’t command respect. The implicit bias is being judged by their looks rather than their capabilities. You now have 3 minutes to complete this column. 

[After 3 minutes.] 

Hopefully this exercise helped you to think through some of the experiences of those in the workplace who are in the minority. If you have a relationship with any one in these groups ask them what their experience has been with implicit bias or microaggressions. You may be surprised. 

Now I want you to think about the people you hang out with when you are not working. For each of the categories, record the various social identities that are not part of your social circle. 

To be included in your social circle means you interact with them at least 6 times a year outside of work. Also ask yourself why nobody from these particular identities are included in your social circle. As with the rest of the questions, you won’t be asked to share your answers. You have 3 minutes. 

[After 3 minutes.] 

Hopefully by now you will have more awareness of the unconscious bias that is unique to you. 

Find more activities like this at Team building activities.

Contributors include.articlesDavid K. MacDonaldMardi DaleyMary Ann Baynton

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