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Recognizing and embracing the intersectionality of the people around us

Posted by
Denelle Waynick Johnson, Executive Vice President and General Counsel

Recently, I was invited to reflect on intersectionality and how the different aspects of my own identity are interconnected and linked to my personal and professional path.

Intersectionality means that there are different diversity dimensions that make us unique. Some of these are visible but in fact, many of them are invisible. When thinking about what I call my intersections, the various aspects of my identity and my life, there are a few non-visible ones that jump out.

One that is important for me is that I am a woman of faith. This means that I have been able to overcome challenges by drawing on an inner source of strength that others can’t see.

Another aspect I want to highlight is that I am the child of divorced parents, and I was raised, primarily, by my mother. The divorce resulted in us living in a single-income household, which meant being raised in a less privileged socio-economic environment. What has been the consequence of this? First, it fueled my education and career ambitions simply because I didn’t want to perpetuate this cycle for my son, who would come several years later. Second, it actually continues to inform my approach to spending which tends to still be conservative.

This leads to the third intersection I want to share: I raised my son as a single mother. As such, all of my decisions were taken through the lens of a parent. It helped me frame what was important and acceptable for me — personally and professionally. Motherhood colored decisions about which jobs I took, such as ensuring the corporate culture was aligned with my values or the proximity of the company to good schools and back-up day care.

I believe that being able to identify not just as an African American woman, but also taking these other aspects into account, leads to a natural empathy. This awareness allows me to relate to others, even if their intersections are different from mine, and allows me to be an ally for them.

For example, I recognize the challenges of young parents –specifically, the need for work flexibility. I, personally, benefitted from such flexibility. And over the years have demonstrated that parents or caregivers or others can manage their personal situations, while remaining professional and effective and able to move up the corporate ladder.

But meaningful allyship goes beyond empathy. It includes supporting those who have less privilege than yourself.

Recognizing and embracing not just the diversity but the intersectionality of the people we meet – how the different aspects of their identity are connected and how this influences their life and position in society – opens our perspectives, our minds and our talent pool. It increases the ability for us to embrace diverse thinking and backgrounds. All this, in addition to being fair, benefits organizations, their people and their business. And, for us at UCB, it benefits the people we serve. How can we serve them if we are not mindful of their different backgrounds?

I want to applaud and encourage the conversations that are happening around intersectionality, at UCB and outside. It is a deeper, additional component to Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, and it is fundamental for us to explore it to become more inclusive — both on a corporate and human level.

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