Intersectionality in Tech 101
Intersectionality is a critical and necessary concept to develop effective programs to broaden the participation of women and girls in computing. This resource provides a background and overview of the concept, in addition to key readings and resources related to women and girls of color in STEM and computing.
What is Intersectionality?
Intersectionality is a WAY OF THINKING that takes into consideration the perspectives and experiences of individuals from underrepresented groups and marginalized populations.
An intersectional approach recognizes that one’s social location ― oftentimes shaped by race, class, gender and other dimensions of who we are ― creates multiple, INTERCONNECTED IDENTITIES AND DISTINCT EXPERIENCES.
Employing an Intersectional Framework acknowledges that there are social systems in place that create BARRIERS AND CHALLENGES FOR SOME individuals, while simultaneously providing PRIVILEGE AND POWER FOR OTHERS.
While the idea originated from the scholarship of black women, an intersectional lens is an important tool in ADVANCING SOCIAL JUSTICE for all groups in today’s society.
A Brief Timeline of Intersectionality
During the first wave of feminism, the discourse and writings of black scholars including Sojourner Truth, Anna Julia Cooper, and Maria Stewart call attention to the experiences of black women that were shaped by race, class, and gender and were often different from middle-class white women’s experiences.
The scholarship and activism of black women and other women of color (bell hooks, Combahee River Collective, Gloria Anzaldua, and Patricia Hill Collins, for example) start to proliferate academic and community spaces. Their work engages important discussions around privilege, oppression, and identity politics both within and beyond their communities.
Legal scholar Kimberle Crenshaw introduces the term intersectionality, advocating for a multidimensional approach to understand black women’s experiences over a “single-axis analysis.”1
An intersectional approach is an important component of the landscape of diversity, equity, and inclusion. Age, color, sexual identity, religion, ethnicity, and other layers of identity are also examined in addition to race, class, and gender identities.
Essential Terms of Intersectionality
Standpoint Epistemology: The idea that what you know and believe (epistemology) is guided by who you are and your life experiences (standpoint).
Matrix of Domination: A concept developed by sociologist Patricia Hill Collins that underscores the idea that one’s position in society is made up of multiple contiguous standpoints rather than just one singular standpoint or perspective.
Women and Girls of Color: Refers to self-identifying women and girls from underrepresented racial and ethnic minority groups, including, but not limited to: Black/African-Americans, Hispanic/Latinx,² Asian/Pacific Islanders, and Native Americans.
Why an Intersectional Lens Matters in Tech
Girls and women of color are regular and avid users of technology, but they lag behind in representation and participation at all levels.
ASIAN WOMEN represented just 5% of the computing workforce;
- BLACK WOMEN represented a mere 3% of the computing profession;
- HISPANIC WOMEN accounted for just 1% of the computing workforce.
Achieving equity in the tech industry must be intersectional: race, class, gender, sexuality, and other key factors of identity shape experiences differently; and, understanding those differences is critical to promoting diversity, inclusion, and change for women, girls, and other underrepresented groups in IT.
A Bibliography of Key Readings
For a deeper exploration into the core ideas and components of intersectionality, and to learn more about the experiences of women and girls of color in STEM and computing, we recommend the following readings and resources:
- Addressing the Intersectionality-Identity Phenomenon through School Counseling. (Essay). Christina Torres (2019). Education Week Teacher.
- Black Women in Computing: A Research Agenda. (Conference report) Jamika D. Burge, Ryoko Yamaguchi, and Jakita O. Thomas (2017). Follow-Up Workshop: Computing and Intersectionality: The Social and Behavioral Structures at Play for Black Women in the Computing Sciences. Final Workshop Report. Washington D.C.: Howard University.
- Broadening Participation in Computing: Examining Experiences of Girls of Color. (Conference paper) Allison Scott, Alexis Martin, Frieda McAlear, and Sonia Kashy (2017). 252-256. 10.1145/3059009.3059054.
- Counterspaces for women of color in STEM higher education: Marginal and central spaces for persistence and success. (Academic paper) Maria Ong, Janet M. Smith, and Lily T. Ko (2018). Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 55: 206–245.
- If Not Now, When? The Promise of STEM Intersectionality in the Twenty-First Century (Essay) Kelly Mack, Orlando Taylor, Nancy Cantor and Patrice McDermott (2014). Peer Review, 16, 2.
- Intersectionality 101: Why We’re Focusing on Women Doesn’t Work for Diversity and Inclusion. (Blogpost) by Jennifer Kim (2018).
- Intersectionality and STEM: The Role of Race and Gender in the Academic Pursuits of African American Women in STEM. (Academic paper) LaVar J. Charleston, Ryan P. Adserias, Nicole M. Lang, and Jerlando F. L. Jackson. (2014). Journal of Progressive Policy and Practice 2, 3, 17-37.
- Navigating STEM Worlds: Applying a Lens of Intersectionality to the Career Identity Development of Underrepresented Female Students of Color (Academic paper) David M. Sparks, (2017). Journal for Multicultural Education, Vol. 11 Issue: 3, pp.162-175.
- Navigating Underrepresented STEM Spaces: Experiences of Black Women in U.S. Computing Science Higher Education Programs Who Actualize Success. (Academic paper) Lavar J. Charleston, Phillis L. George, Jerlando F. Jackson, Jonathan Berhanu, and Mauriell H. Amechi. (2014). Journal of Diversity in Higher Education, 7(3), 166-176.
- Sasha Savvy Loves to Code. (Children’s fiction) Sasha Ariel Alston (2017).
- The Leaky Tech Pipeline: A Comprehensive Framework for Understanding and Addressing the Lack of Diversity Across the Tech Ecosystem (Report). Allison Scott, Freada Kapor Klein, Frieda McAlear, Alexis Martin and Sonia Kashy (2018). The Kapor Center for Social Impact.
- The Urgency of Intersectionality (Ted Talk by Kimberle Crenshaw).
- Unapologetically Dope: Lessons for Black Women and Girls on Surviving and Thriving in the Tech Field. (Autobiography) A. Nicki Washington (2018).
- (Un)Hidden Figures: A Synthesis of Research Examining the Intersectional Experiences of Black Women and Girls in STEM Education (Academic paper) Danyelle Ireland, Kimberley Edelin-Freeman, Kendra D. DeLaine, Stacey McDonald Lowe, and Kamilah Woodson (2018).Review of Research in Education, 42, pp.226-254.
- Why Intersectionality Can’t Wait (Essay). Kimberle Crenshaw (2015). Washington Post, September 24, 2015.
- Women and STEM: It’s not Just a Numbers Problem (Essay).
¹ Crenshaw, Kimberle (1989). "Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex: A Black Feminist Critique of Antidiscrimination Doctrine, Feminist Theory and Antiracist Politics," University of Chicago Legal Forum: Vol. 1989: Iss. 1, Article 8.
² Latinx is a gender-neutral term used to refer to a group of people or to a single person of Latin-American descent. For more information on this term, see Refinery29’s Gender Nation Glossary (ncwit.org/GenderGlossary).