How do we escape the replication of inequality in diversity work?

In my 15 years’ experience in equality, diversity and inclusion (ED&I), I have had the privilege of seeing some pretty amazing and transformative emancipatory processes. I also have first-hand experience of a less positive side of emancipation: new forms of exclusion, gatekeeping and bullying.

I have worked in situations in which gender and sexuality norms were turned completely upside down. The social dynamics were unconventional, but the new norms were not necessarily more inclusive or less oppressive. The axes of difference along which exclusion happened were just different.

The double-edged effect of ED&I work can be seen as part of societal ‘(re)production of inequality’ (Verloo, 2013) or ‘durable inequality’ (Tilly, 1998). In emancipation processes, social mechanisms of exclusion are replicated, often unintentionally.

An intersectional method which positions the most vulnerable at the heart of ED&I work (described in my previous blog post) can help us unravel the new oppression that emancipation processes create. How should we deal with new forms of competition, stigma and favouritism that emerge from ED&I work?

Often, ED&I researchers and practitioners are part of vulnerable communities themselves. Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick (2003) describes the ‘reparative’ aspect of research done from vulnerable positions. The precarious position of ED&I professionals does not suddenly stop the moment they’re ‘in’ (see also Cho et al., 2013).

Reparative and emancipatory processes, including the professionalisation of ED&I work, can unintentionally hurt and exclude ‘other’ others. Therefore, part of the job is dealing with invisible pain and new minority stress (see also Ahmed, 2012), whether as a victim, perpetrator and/or a witness wanting to change these mechanisms.

Money, too, plays an important role in the reproduction of inequality. Is working in emancipation, equality and diversity just a job, or isn’t it? Does care for inclusivity start and end with payment? We cannot deny that exclusions are created by (conscious and unconscious) decisions on whom we care about, and when.

We all try to move forward, personally and/or professionally, but ED&I methods to do so as inclusively as possible are very much underdeveloped. Is the intersectional understanding of people’s vulnerabilities truly acted upon? How can the reproduction of inequality be acknowledged in ED&I work? And, how do we work towards solutions?



As a researcher, I have used cartoons to give an account of the (re)production of inequality. My doctoral research is about the use of feminist and queer art within my ED&I research, practice and activism (digitally available end of this year). The title of cartoon ‘Can’t you feel a brand new day?’ is taken from this song from the musical film The Wiz (1978) [opens in Youtube].


Ahmed, S. (2012) On Being Included, Racism and Diversity in Institutional Life. Durham: Duke University Press.

Cho, S., Crenshaw, K. W. and MacCall, L. (2013) ‘Toward a Field of Intersectionality Studies: Theory, Applications, and Praxis’, Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society. (Intersectionality: Theorizing Power, Empowering Theory), 38(4), pp. 785–810.

Sedgwick, E. K. (2003) ‘Paranoid Reading and Reparative Reading, or, You’re So Paranoid, You Probably Think This Essay Is About You’, in Touching Feeling: Affect, Pedagogy, Performativity. Durham: Duke University Press, pp. 123–151.

Tilly, C. (1998) Durable Inequality. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Verloo, M. (2013) ‘Intersectional and Cross-Movement Politics and Policies: Reflections on Current Practices and Debates’, Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society. (Intersectionality: Theorizing Power, Empowering Theory), 38(4), pp. 893–915.

One thought on “How do we escape the replication of inequality in diversity work?

  1. Pingback: Tackling discrimination: the ‘unconscious bias’ made conscious – what next? – A blog on research, Higher Education, art and diversity

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