An intersectional approach to equity

Jenny Garrett talks to ahead of the WM People Top Employer Awards where she will be keynote speaker.

Woman at work


Jenny Garrett OBE [pictured below right] is the keynote speaker at this year’s WM People Top Employer Awards. Jenny is  a Coach & Leadership Development Consultant and an experienced facilitator of programmes for managers, Directors and CEOs from a variety of organisations, including private and public sector. Her specialist areas include Diversity, Inclusion and Belonging, Leadership coaching and Team performance.  Her latest book is Equality vs Equity, tackling issues of race in the workplace. We put some questions to her ahead of the awards ceremony. What has the response been to your latest book?

Jenny Garrett: The response to my latest book has been fantastic, readers have enjoyed the practical tips, the combination of context, storytelling, reflection and positive challenge. I think readers particularly like the glossary of terms included within the book. As we know language matters and it is evolving.

Do you think progress on equity, particularly when it comes to race, is continuing or are there more employers in the current economic and political climate who are just paying lip service and not listening?

JG: I think some organisations are completely onboard and committed to advancing equity regarding race and know that the only way to make change is with sustained concerted effort. Others are paying lip service and hoping to move on to the next initiative. The latter is an issue because those organisations are in real danger of not attracting and retaining the best staff as well as having blind spots that come from a lack of diversity, equity and inclusion which could lead to them missing out on key markets, representing their clients and making costly mistakes.

What is the best way of dealing with backlash against DEI?

JG: There is certainly some backlash. I think we’ve all heard the DEI must DIE mantra from Elon. For me, it’s ensuring that everyone has a role in change and that no one is left behind. For example, someone in the majority group could use their position and advantage to mentor, sponsor and champion others, using their power with humility. They can drive change. I also think we need to celebrate the wins, the progress and the success we have made related to equity and inclusion to remind ourselves that change is happening, even if it’s not at the pace we’d like it to be.

Do you think the fact that diversity covers so many things means it can sometimes become almost meaningless, allowing people to avoid addressing in particular racial diversity as this makes them more uncomfortable?

JG: I think people go to the aspects of diversity that they are most comfortable discussing, where they feel safe. Race can be one of those areas where people do not feel safe; they may not have any friends or family from another ethnicity and so may not have the vocabulary or confidence to approach the topic. We need to discuss all protected characteristics and their intersection with people’s identities. This is not the oppression Olympics. However, I would always recommend educating yourself on the characteristics you feel least comfortable with (this is often Race) because that’s where a real shift can take place that impacts all aspects of inclusion. When we start speaking about what we feel is unspeakable we open up the opportunity for change.

 How do we get past this discomfort and fear of saying the wrong thing?

JG: Why do we always want to be comfortable? Growth and comfort don’t coexist. We actually need to be uncomfortable and just build our confidence through having the conversations. I would also say that you should share your positive intention for your conversations so that the other person knows your ‘why’ for the conversation and also ask them to let you know when you make a mistake and receive that feedback well when you get it because we will all make mistakes (including me) and that is OK as long as we learn from them.

Are you optimistic that employers are taking a more intersectional approach to their workforce and what role can data play in this?

JG: I think that some organisations are way off taking an intersectional approach as they don’t even have basic data as yet, others are at an advanced stage and it shows the stark reality of the compound impact that bias can have on people’s experience and career. Women of colour come up time and time again as well as the intersection between race and neurodiversity and or disability. These intersections can create significant disadvantages.

I remember talking to you a long time ago about your book on female breadwinners. Do you think things have fundamentally changed since then when it comes to women at work?

JG: I think we take two steps forward and one step back when it comes to gender equity. The number of women at the top of organisations is so few that if one opts out we revert. There is a lot of work to do to build the pipeline of talent, and to make the senior spaces more inclusive for women, but we have made progress and I continue to be hopeful for the future.

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