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Improving work-life policy and practice with an intersectionality lens

Ann Marie Ryan (Department of Psychology, Michigan State University, East Lansing, Michigan, USA)
Caitlin Q. Briggs (Department of Psychology, Michigan State University, East Lansing, Michigan, USA)

Equality, Diversity and Inclusion

ISSN: 2040-7149

Article publication date: 5 August 2019

Issue publication date: 5 August 2019




Work-life research has been critiqued for focusing on the experiences of middle and upper class, younger, White, western and heterosexual women. The purpose of this paper is to provide a critical lens to conceptualizations that take an intersectionality approach, or at least consider multiple identities, in examining work-life conflict and balance.


A brief review of the current status of intersectionality research within the work-life realm is provided before discussing the implications of primarily using a single-identity approach to work-life issues. The advantages and challenges of adopting a multiple identity approach are discussed.


This paper highlights the problems of a lack of an intersectional focus in terms of unidentified needs, ignored values, unresolved conflicts and unhelpful advice. Tensions inherent in trying to adopt an intersectional perspective when dealing with practice and policy issues, particularly with regard to visibility and authenticity, are noted. The paper concludes with a discussion of how considerations of identity and power in work-family research connect to the broader concept of inclusion in the workplace, noting the possible challenges of stereotyping and ambiguity in doing so.


Applying an intersectionality lens to efforts to promote work-life balance in organizations can increase inclusivity, but there are tensions and pitfalls associated with this that are particularly of note for practitioners and policy. A research agenda is outlined as a starting point for addressing these issues.



An earlier version of this work was presented at an NSF Workshop on Work Life Inclusion in Business Schools and Understudied Contexts: An Organizational Science Lens held at Purdue University in October of 2018.


Ryan, A.M. and Briggs, C.Q. (2019), "Improving work-life policy and practice with an intersectionality lens", Equality, Diversity and Inclusion, Vol. 39 No. 5, pp. 533-547.



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