Intersectionality in research

In our latest blog, Chloe Stephenson (Senior Research Executive at Mustard), opens up the conversation on an important yet often overlooked issue in research and beyond.

We recently attended the MRSpride x Colour of Research (CORe): In+ersectional Platform event, an exploration of the experiences of those at the intersection of LGBTQ+ and ethnic minority communities. The event shone a light on intersectionality within research and opened up the conversation for researchers to look introspectively at our own practices to better understand how we can amplify minority voices and stories.

What is intersectionality?

“Intersectionality is a prism to see the effects of various forms of discrimination and disempowerment.”

– Kimberlé Crenshaw

Intersectionality recognises that people are often disadvantaged by multiple sources of oppression (i.e., racism, sexism, heteronormativity) at once due to (and not exclusive to) their race, gender, class, sexuality, religion, disability, and economic status – to name a few. Coined by professor Kimberlé Crenshaw in 1989, the concept of intersectionality remains at the core of understanding the experiences of minority and marginalised communities today, and is paramount to improving diversity, inclusion, and equality. You can read more about the history and application of intersectionality in a recent blog post from the MRS here.

“There is no such thing as a single-issue struggle because we do not live single-issue lives.”

– Audre Lorde

The recently published MRSpride x CORe intersectional research challenges businesses and researchers to put intersectionality into practice. It calls for overt inclusivity in the workplace and the research industry as a whole, with a particular focus on the intersections of LGBTQ+ identities and ethnic minority people.

Our recent consultation project with Manchester Pride on the Pride in Our Future campaign also highlighted the importance of acknowledging intersectionality within the wider and local LGBTQ+ community. The research uncovered a lack of understanding within the community itself on how marginalised LGBTQ+ groups (e.g., trans and QTBIPOC people) are disproportionately impacted by issues such as hate crime, mental health issues, and homelessness. Improving education on historical and current LGBTQ+ issues (e.g., Stonewall, trans rights today) and providing a platform for marginalised groups to amplify their voices, experiences, and concerns were just some of the core changes needed to make Pride more intersectional.

The same principles can be applied across research in general.

How can we make research intersectional?

From our own learnings and other recommendations outlined in the In+ersectional Platform event, there are several small changes to research design that can make a big impact in terms of inclusivity and representation:

  • Avoiding ‘othering’: An easy suggestion involves using positive identity-affirming language such as “alternative” rather than “other” for demographic questions in survey design. Considering the relevance of asking certain demographic questions (e.g., sex, gender identity, sexual orientation) to the research objectives is also key to measuring minority communities in a sensitive and effective manner.


  • Intersectional analysis: Being mindful of the loudest voices and digging deeper to uplift those who are marginalised ensures we are including the unique experiences and challenges of those at the intersections of overlapping systems of discrimination. For example, to acknowledge the wider issues faced by the diverse LGBTQ+ community in Manchester, we had to be mindful of any potential bias in responses that were skewed towards cis white gay men, who are often the most engaged and most represented within the LGBTQ+ community. This is not to disregard the views of the majority, but rather to disaggregate the data and tease out the hidden gems of insight from underrepresented voices, and collate that with the majority for a more holistic and representative view of the wider community’s wants and needs.


  • Co-design and co-creation: The consultation with Manchester Pride highlighted the need for more co-design and co-creation in decision-making to recentre the experiences of minority and marginalised LGBTQ+ groups, who are often unheard and forgotten about in research. Consultations that involve co-design and co-creation recentre the voices of those most affected by issues and empower those to serve as spokespeople for their own communities and causes – leading to real-world change based on what the community wants.


  • “Harder-to-reach” audiences: Increasing engagement among minority and marginalised groups at the various intersections is paramount to producing research that is representative and inclusive of the wider population. Digging deeper into understanding why minority groups may be harder to engage in research and not placing the blame on those communities is important. As referenced in the MRSpride x CORe research, achieving overt inclusivity in business and research “ensures the onus to lead change is on the majority and not the minorities”. It’s our duty as researchers to actively recruit and engage with underrepresented groups through various outreach programmes – e.g., using industry connections, partnering with local networks, grass-roots organisations, and community leaders / groups / initiatives for recruitment.


  • Recognising privilege: Acknowledgement of privilege and intersectionality is the first step (and the bare minimum!). Recognising ‘goodness of fit’ in research where you may or may not be best suited to conduct the research is a good starting point – e.g., if you’re a white cis male on a team with other white cis males conducting a piece of research on trans women of colour, this project may not be right for you. It should go without saying that as researchers, remaining impartial and unbiased throughout the process is also central to this. Recentring marginalised voices and stepping back to actively listen to the unique experiences and challenges of those who are different to you, is crucial for everyone to be more understanding of the intersections of discrimination that different people face.

This is obviously not an exhaustive list, nor is it a ‘how-to’ guide on intersectionality. That said, we hope it inspires you to reflect on your own internal practices and make the necessary changes, inside and outside of research. Thank you again to MRSpride and Colour of Research (CORe) for opening up this important conversation and for continuously striving for overt inclusion within the industry.

In the words of Kimberlé Crenshaw, “if we aren’t intersectional, some of us, the most vulnerable, are going to fall through the cracks”. It’s our job as researchers to ensure we smooth over those cracks and pave the way for underrepresented groups to be heard and better represented in research.

Check out the links below for more: