As companies focus on the resilience of their workforce in the return to the workplace, employers have prioritized diversity, equity and inclusion so that employees can bring their best selves to work. One approach in ensuring a focus on inclusion and diversity is intersectionality — the framework that highlights how aspects of a person’s social and political identities combine to create different types of discrimination and privilege.
We talked to Andrea O’Leary, Global Senior Director of Culture and Change at Aon and head of Aon’s North America Black Professional Network (BPN) leadership team, who was recently named to Crain’s 2021 Notable Executives in Diversity, Equity and Inclusion.
As companies focus on the resilience of their employees in the return to the workplace, employers have prioritized diversity, equity and inclusion. One way to ensure this inclusion and diversity is to see through a lens of intersectionality.
We sat down with Andrea O’Leary, Global Senior Director of Culture and
Change at Aon and head of Aon’s North America Black Professional Network (BPN) leadership team, to learn more about intersectionality and bringing our best selves to work.
ANDREA O’LEARY: When I think about intersectionality, I really think about all factors that apply to an individual’s social or political identities and how those different factors tend to create different experiences or discrimination or privilege.
A lot of times we think about those factors in isolation, but the idea of intersectionality is really that there’s an intersect, they interact with one another and they have opportunities that create what can feel like very different, maybe privilege or discrimination areas because of those social political aspects.
So for me, I am biracial, and I’m also a woman. And so the three of those things create very different intersection points for me and what I’ve experienced. And the reality is, is that someone else who may be a biracial woman will have different points of intersectionality as well because of maybe their political affiliation or where they grew up, or whether they’re of the LGBTQ+ community or heterosexual, et cetera – all of those factors play into that idea of intersectionality.
What has 2020 taught us about the importance of intersectionality and its role in work culture?
ANDREA O’LEARY: I think what we’re realizing is that there’s an opportunity that all organizations have to just create this connection more with people that maybe we’d gotten away from, and the importance of rallying around individuals or rallying around this idea of, we can be an organization or bring a culture that can feel inclusive, that should be inclusive, that invites people in, that welcomes them and lets them be who they are, it’s a really, really positive place I think, to come from and to be at. And it’s been really amazing to see just the great things organizations have done with that.
As organizations nurture their inclusive cultures, they can support their employees even more by dispelling common misconceptions about inclusion and diversity.
ANDREA O’LEARY: I think the biggest one is this idea that there’s only so much of the pie, if you will, to go around. And so by giving things to others or by giving more privilege to others, it leaves less for everyone else or for me. And that belief in its very nature puts people at odds with one another and creates this sort of inherent or false sense of competition that perpetuates inequity.
If I think about this idea of, if we were more inclusive, if we were more equitable, we would have more opportunity to innovate, to challenge each other, to learn, to grow.
What happens is the pie actually gets bigger because we’ve thought of a different way to make the pie. So instead of using the same old ingredients we’ve always had, we’ve made a different pie that’s bigger, that’s given people now just more of things that we thought was going to be less before.
Inclusive and intersectional work cultures could benefit from employee groups.
ANDREA O’LEARY: Business resource groups, they’re so integral in organizations. They give people this place and this sense of connection and community. Oftentimes in organizations, especially as ones as large as Aon, community is hard to come by in a way that can be meaningful for people. And I think specifically at Aon, we’re really trying to build this culture of individuality, of identity, of vulnerability, of connection. And I think BRGs sort of epitomize all of those things. I think about how they’re set up to celebrate identity and individuality while also providing people the space to be vulnerable and connect. And so in many ways I feel like they’re really that bottom-up or organic type of grown aspects of our culture.
Prioritizing intersectionality, and greater diversity, equity and inclusion, may mean a host of new employee benefits to offer and consider for better wellbeing.
ANDREA O’LEARY: What we’re starting to see is benefits are actually becoming a bit more a-la-carte or customized, giving people the freedom to start to select what is actually needed for them in their life experiences, where they’re at, at those different points of intersectionality.
And what happens then is those inherently feel more inclusive, because then if I’m a mother who adopted instead of having children, but I wasn’t given the same amount of maternity leave as someone who had a child, that feels very unfair. That feels very non-inclusive when I’m still experiencing sort of the same aspect of a child, but it was in a different way than someone who maybe gave birth naturally.
Giving people more freedom to choose what makes sense for them and meets them where they’re at in their life experiences, has really been a positive trend we’ve seen across organizations that have been able to do that and be accommodating for people.
Thanks to Aon’s Andrea O’Leary for sharing her insights and perspectives. Additional resources from Aon can be found on aon.com.