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The role of intersectionality – Interview with Rukasana Bhaijee, Diversity & Inclusion Senior Manager, EY

Rukasana BhaijeeRukasana Bhaijee will be joining us at this year's Women of the Square Mile, where she will be teaching attendees about the importance of intersectionality.

We sat down with Rukasana ahead of May's event to talk about her role as Diversity & Inclusion Senior Manager at EY, and the value of intersectionality in today's workplace.




Who is Rukasana Bhaijee, tell us a bit about yourself?

Thank you, it is a pleasure to be involved with Women of The Square Mile. I am a diversity and inclusion practitioner and have been at EY for the last 4 years.  I am currently working to support client organisations to advance their D&I ambitions, and have spent most of my time supporting EY on our own journey to create an inclusive culture here where all our people belong, thrive and achieve their full potential. 

Prior to EY, I was in academia, encouraging more women to progress in STEMM subjects, and my background is within banking and foreign currency settlements. I currently work full time and have two boys aged 17 and 13.  In my spare time I am an active mentor and coach women from underrepresented groups.

There seems to be a real issue, not so much with attracting women into the industry, but actually retaining female talent. Is it the culture? What do you think organisations should be doing to bolster a sense of belonging?

The retention challenge is common across sectors and often it is the culture that has a part to play.  Organisations need to be mindful of the norms that are created with regards to everyday behaviours and expectations.  To create a real sense of belonging organisations’ end goal needs to be to treat all individuals as ‘individuals’. Being human, and understanding that women and other diverse groups will have needs unique to them will go a long way in creating a culture of belonging. 

When everyday behaviours and conversations are carried out with an inclusive mindset this creates an environment that fosters belonging which in turn encourages people to not only bring their whole selves but is powerful on a broader employee value proposition level.  Belonging can also be boosted by reviewing every systemic process in organisations.  Are your people allocated work fairly?  Are you listening to the voices of all your people or only a select few?  Are you creating spaces for affinity groups to meet and collaborate? 

Who is your role model?

My role model is a lady called Khadija, from Islamic history, who was the wife of the Prophet Mohammad.  She was a trailblazer in many ways; she owned her own business and managed a team of men at a time when this wasn’t the norm.  She owned property, was wealthy and well respected by other merchants.  She faced adversity with grace and courage in the greater good and had the best intentions for others.  A true role model, and in my mind an early feminist.

Intersectionality is a very important topic that will be discussed at Women of The Square Mile. Why do you think people find it awkward to have these difficult conversations surrounding other aspects of diversity such as ethnicity and disability?

In the age of political correctness, quite often people think it is better to not say anything at all, rather than say the wrong thing.  This needs to change for us to progress as UK society and make progress on race and other areas.  Our identities are complex and should be explored with others for people to benefit and leverage intersectional difference and strengths.  This may take courage to get going but with a little curiosity and confidence re your intent I would encourage all to have open honest conversations even if they feel clumsy at the start.

What do you think is holding back the advancement of diversity in the corporate world? 

Managing diversity needs to be embedded in every layer and every process of organisations.  If we get this right and move away from a HR led activity then we will make progress.  D&I cannot be managed in isolation and needs all areas of business and every decision maker in the business to understand ‘why’ D&I is important and what the impact will be if we get this right.  And of course, this needs overall commitment and prioritisation right from the top of organisations. 

Finally, what can our readers, as individuals, do to push for diversity and inclusion? 

We each have a responsibility to create spaces where everyone is included and feels that they belong.  If we are all mindful about the impact of our everyday conversations and actions on others that will make a huge difference, and if we notice an individual’s behaviour that makes us feel uncomfortable call it out.  Don’t be a bystander!