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'It's not the same for everyone': Dive In on intersectionality

The Dive In festival for diversity and inclusion in insurance got underway today with a discussion on “intersectionality” – the principle that different aspects of a person’s identity can expose them to overlapping forms of discrimination.

The QBE-sponsored virtual session heard that, according to a recent survey, more than half of culturally diverse LGBTQ employees find the combination of their cultural background and LGBTQ status has a negative impact on their work experience.

Panel moderator Cathy Brown, from Diversity Council Australia, says intersectionality, a term which emerged in the US in the 1980s, is crucial to understand.

“When we are doing D&I initiatives we need to be designing them in a way that works across diversity dimensions,” she said.

Associate Director at Pride in Diversity, Mark Latchford, told the webinar the lived experience of a white gay man in the workplace is “very different” from someone who comes from a culturally diverse background.

He says culturally diverse LGBTQ employees are less likely to come out at work, and “the reality is they are unlikely to be out at home because of their community’s background”.

“A lot of the multicultural LGBTQ community have felt work is a safe place because they could bring their whole self to work whereas they can’t necessarily bring their whole self out and about in their home community,” he said.

QBE Commercial Lines Business Relationship Manager Tom McDonald-Phan, who is gay and whose family fled civil war in Laos, says the idea of not being understood at work by the “Anglo-white majority” resonates with him.

“I was just starting my career in insurance with QBE, way back,” he said. “I had a colleague who sort of sussed out that I was gay and she approached me and said ‘just tell your parents’.

“And I was like ‘what?’ And she said, ‘just tell them. They’ll accept you no matter what, and they’ll love you’.

“These are the parents who brought me over here, to have this opportunity. Where I am today, it’s testament to the work of my parents to get us here.

“When this lady asked me that question, why I didn’t come out, I would have liked to have had the guts to say, ‘I’d like to understand what your challenges were growing up’.

“Did you suffer discrimination, racism? What were your challenges that you can so easily tell me ‘just tell your parents’?

“Today, mum’s no longer with us, but my whole family supports it.

“It’s been a hell of a journey to get here but the sensitivities that need to be understood and learnt in society [are] that things are not as straightforward as they are on the outside.”

Ms Brown says stories like Mr McDonald-Phan’s are vital in helping the broader community understand these issues.

“People … don’t necessarily understand the complexities of other families or how things are understood in different cultural contexts,” she said.

“We need to stop assuming that it’s the same for everyone.”

Click here to register for other Dive In events this week.