It’s Time to Redefine Influence Through the Lens of Intersectionality
A nuanced examination of influence.
By Khera Alexander and Maricel Joy Dicion
Influence is a powerful tool. It can change minds, sway opinions, inspire action, and even shape the course of history. For too long, influence has been defined and celebrated through a narrow lens: one that favours certain identities while marginalizing others. This has led to a skewed representation of power dynamics in society, where certain groups hold more influence than others because of their race, gender, sexuality, or additional identity markers.
To truly redefine influence, we must embrace intersectionality.
Influence, like intersectionality, is complex and multidimensional. Influence is not simply a measure of how many followers one has on social media or how many books one has sold. Rather, influence is deeply tied to power dynamics and social hierarchies. Those who hold power in society are more likely to be seen as influential, while those who are marginalized are often overlooked or dismissed.
Intersectionality is a term coined in 1989 by Kimberlé Crenshaw, a civil rights advocate and legal scholar. It refers to the interconnected nature of different identities like race, gender identity, class, sexuality, and ability, and how they each intersect to create unique experiences of oppression and privilege. For example, a racialized woman may experience discrimination not only because of her race, but also because of her gender. The intersection of these two identities creates a distinct form of marginalization that cannot be fully understood by examining race or gender alone; her marginalizations are inextricably linked, and the causation of discrimination can’t be siloed — it all takes place at once.
“For Women of Influence+, intersectionality is an inclusive way of looking at how women move through their careers and the world of work,” said Dr. Rumeet Billan, CEO, Women of Influence+, an organization committed to advancing gender equity in the workplace.
Women of Influence+ recently added a “+” in its name to emphasize and underscore its commitment to transforming workplace cultures through the lens of intersectionality, gender equity, inclusion, and diversity — all of which, when intentionally executed, can create the strongest, most agile and dynamic teams.
“In our goal to foster equity in the workplace and beyond, it is important that we consider how our various identifying factors impact our experiences, and this is why it is critical for us to represent this in our name,” said Dr. Billan.“Our decision to make the change to Women of Influence+ underscores our commitment to redefining and celebrating influence that takes into consideration how women’s experiences can be shaped by multiple aspects of their identity.”
Acknowledging intersectionality is crucial to redefining influence. By recognizing the unique experiences of people from diverse backgrounds, we can begin to create space and opportunity to help raise the voices of those who have been historically marginalized, those whom society may not have traditionally considered to be a person or voice of influence. This involves moving beyond surface-level measures such as wealth or social status, and instead, it requires a deeper examination of what influence truly means and a commitment to engaging with those who are making a positive impact in their communities.
Intentionally elevate new and unique voices
Consciously seeking out and amplifying the voices of people from diverse backgrounds is an exercise in a willingness to hear different perspectives, to learn, and to intentionally make informed and inclusive choices. This means actively seeking out writers, artists, activists, and other leaders who represent a wide range of identities and experiences. It also means recognizing that not all forms of influence are visible or easily quantifiable. Someone who may not have a large social media following or a best-selling book may still have a powerful influence in their community or in their field.
By acknowledging intersectionality, we can redefine the meaning of influence and create a more inclusive and just society that embraces and honours diversity. Through a deeper understanding of how different identities intersect, we can challenge and overcome the traditional barriers and systems that have historically excluded individuals from marginalized groups, making it difficult or nearly impossible for them to make a meaningful impact in their industries or communities.
The importance of representation and challenging conventional ideas of success
One area where celebrating intersectionality can have a powerful impact is in the world of media and entertainment. For too long, these industries have perpetuated harmful stereotypes and marginalized certain groups of people. However, by intentionally seeking out and elevating the voices of people from diverse backgrounds, we can begin to create more inclusive and representative media that reflects the full range of human experiences.
“Having an intersectional, well-rounded collection of stories, expert advice, and perspectives has been integral to Women Of Influence+’s growth and ability to connect with women and gender diverse individuals,” said Dr. Billan. “Whether one of our community members is an entrepreneur, is rising up the ranks in a corporate environment, or is someone that does both, authentic representation that incorporates intersectionality has always been vital in our community.”
Each year, the organization announces its Top 25 Women of Influence Awards, recognizing exceptional women who have made significant contributions to their fields and communities. The recipients represent a wide range of industries and experiences. By redefining influence and the idea of success to include a broad spectrum of perspectives and achievements, Women of Influence+ is helping create a more inclusive and diverse vision of leadership that inspires and empowers women across all walks of life.
While intersectional representation in an organization is the objective, it’s a continuous, deliberate act. It means a consistent engagement in questioning any bias, pushing back against stereotypes, identifying potentially oppressive, harmful actions and language, frameworks for reprimand, and commitment to creating opportunities and environments that not only celebrate differences, but makes those with marginalized identities feel comfortable to share their needs and perspectives. It can’t be oversimplified, and to be genuine, those who are knowledgeable and of an underrepresented community should be included in these discussions. This is what influence — and the transference of it — is all about.
Ultimately, redefining influence by acknowledging intersectionality is about recognizing that power and privilege are not static or fixed, and that the imparting of what may be considered influence to someone else is not a direct threat or infringement upon anyone. By noticing the ways in which different identities intersect, there’s a deeper understanding of systems of power. With this understanding, we can move forward with elevating the stories, voices, and potential of those that have been traditionally marginalized, underserved, and purposefully neglected.