Intersectionality and Multiple Identities: Revisiting the Concepts for 2024 through an ESG / SDG Lens

Through our networks and campaigns, we at Community Business have been exploring the concepts of intersectionality and multiple identities for several years with our members and clients. Our DIAN India network explored Intersectionality & Multiple Identities to great success back in 2017. The session, which tackled the concepts in detail as well as giving some examples of practical application, was summerised in an earlier edition of IMPACTxAsia which can be accessed through our website.

As we look ahead to 2024 and the changing landscape of diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) conversations, we note that intersectionality and multiple identities are still important concepts, however the understanding of how to apply and do justice to them has evolved somewhat. The conversation today increasingly includes the need for and the theory behind, ESG – or Environmental, Social and Governance frameworks. An ESG framework is a set of criteria that a business uses to assess the non-financial aspects of its performance and its impact through for example:

  • Environmental – carbon emissions, waste, energy efficiency as well as sustainable practices
  • Social - employee, stakeholder and wider community wellbeing as well as DE&I, labour practices and human rights
  • Governance - leadership and ethics as well as company structure, ethical business practices and board makeup interventions

At the supranational level, ESG frameworks are front of mind for many businesses because they are so deeply linked to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The SDGs are a set of 17 goals with the aim of improving lives across the globe and protecting the environment. Each SDG is supported by a set of key indicators with specific goals and measurements that can be translated through most ESG framework metrics. Organisations can monitor their progress and remain accountable by reporting through internationally recognised reporting tools such as the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) and the Sustainability Accounting Standards Board (SASB).

In today’s climate, where investors, consumers and employees are looking to interact with likeminded businesses, ESG frameworks provide a robust tool to promote responsible and inclusive business practices. They can bolster the organisations credentials as an employer of choice, as well as demonstrating to the market that responsible and sustainable values lie at the heart of the organisation. Increasingly, stakeholders are speaking with their feet and, if a business does not live up to its perceived values, they will jump ship. ESG frameworks are a credible way for businesses to internally gauge their progress as well as externally communicate their commitment.

That said, it is important to take a nuanced, bottom-up approach to ESG work, particularly for organisations operating in Asia. The tendency to roll out global strategies in a uniform manner can ultimately lead to failed practices in local markets. Broadly, ESG frameworks can complement the work done to advance DE&I in organisations, however, it is vital to apply an intersectional lens to proceedings to address the unique challenges and circumstances that individuals with multiple identities can face. Noting for example, that an intervention focused on advancing women needs to account for different socio-economic circumstances as well as specific experiences including race, religion or caregiving responsibilities to name a few. Approaching the application of an ESG framework intersectionally allows an organisation to work authentically to systematically break down the barriers to inclusion, rather than undertaking a superficial box ticking exercise.

Empowering teams at the local level to take global frameworks and interpret them in a way that works for their specific market is essential. When the Black Lives Matter movement gained momentum in 2020 following the murder of George Floyd, organisations based in the West were keen to revisit and address issues relating to race and culture within their structures. For many, there was a call from the top to put race and culture front and centre on the DE&I agenda. However, as this call filtered down into regional offices, the relevance for companies and employees in Asia seemed difficult to relate to. This, coupled with a certain resistance to tackle such confrontational and controversial topics head-on in many Asia markets, left organisations in a tricky situation: how do you apply a global directive in a nuanced and valid way for your local audience? It was this repeated conundrum for many at the time that led Community Business to embark on an ambitious 18-month study, the product of which was our multi-asset research project, Race & Culture: the Conversation in Asia which can be explored on the Community Business website. The Race & Culture research project embodied a need to understand the intersectionality and multiple identities at play within and among different markets in the Asia region. It struck at the core of organisation focused on strengthening the S (social) of their ESG interventions in a thoughtful and relevant way for Asia.

The key to a successful ESG framework - in fact to any DE&I or wellbeing intervention - is rigorous and honest monitoring and evaluation. Only through reporting and assessment of progress can organisations gauge what is working, what can be improved and importantly (but often overlooked) what should be let go. It is especially important to amplify stakeholder voices and opinions in this process. Understanding the lived experience for employees with intersectional experiences and multiple identities can help to refine policies and give global directors a localised and personal perspective on how DE&I measures are impacting on and supporting their employees.

As organisations in Asia navigate this delicate space, Community Business is here to help. We offer both off-the-shelf and bespoke Consulting & Training services to help organisations interpret and apply ESG frameworks and build DE&I strategies with an intentionally Asia-led lens. In addition, our membership network DIAN offers a space for DE&I practitioners to network, learn and share best practice and ultimately drive positive change in their organisations and the wider communities they operate in. Explore our website or get in touch with the team to find out more.


Author: Emily Moss, Head of Social Impact, Community Business