Diversity, equality and inclusion initiatives have become a priority for most companies in recent years. As they should! But impacting measurable change after centuries of systemic oppression, of course, will not be an overnight affair. Inequalities continue to persist in myriad forms for minorities and women, both in and out of the workplace. Discussing who has and who doesn’t have permissions can be a gateway to a better understanding of each role in larger systems.
Privilege creates a complex hierarchy of social identities. This is not just a “black and white” problem. It includes gender, class, age, sexual ability and orientation, as well as racial and ethnic identity. Having open and informed discussions about privilege and equality is essential for a healthy and functional workplace. In this article, you’ll find four tips for having constructive conversations about this potentially hot topic.
1. Educate, educate, educate
Education and sincere understanding are at the heart of productive privilege conversations. If you’re new to these types of discussions, you probably feel a lot of pressure to say the right things. Or maybe you’re not even sure you fully understand the privilege and how it affects your workplace. While it may be more convenient for minority employees or friends to answer some questions, this is not advisable. Those most burdened with systemic problems should also not do emotional work to educate those around them.
Bring in a qualified one instead DEI speaker to provide formal training and education for you and your staff. These thought leaders can help dispel misconceptions about what privilege is and what it is not. They can eliminate hidden prejudices that prevent true understanding and compassion for others, even if they do not have overt prejudices. When employees understand their own power and privilege dynamics, they can better understand how they affect others in the workplace.
2. Recognize your privilege
Almost everyone has some privilege. It’s just how much and compared to whom. The privilege can be very hard to notice for those who have it, while it is quite glaring for those who don’t. This is because privilege is usually seen as given to those who possess it. Think about how much more difficult your working day would be if you were in a wheelchair and had no toilet available.
Many white people who grew up in financially insecure homes faced many legitimate challenges and hardships. However, they did not encounter the same level of barriers experienced by people of color or even disabled Caucasians. All women face numerous pitfalls both in and out of the workplace because of men’s privilege. However, they do not combat the wholesale hostility experienced by trans women and trans women of color.
Alberta Civil Liberties Research Center defines white privilege as “an unquestioned and undeserved set of benefits, entitlements, benefits, and choices bestowed upon people solely because they are white.” Simply put, what obstacles have you not had to overcome simply because of your skin color? With a little thought, you can probably make an extensive list of your own perks.
3. Know and understand your team
When talking about privilege, white privilege is usually the subject. Being born white is by far the most privileged position in American society. However, it is also a privilege to be born male, able-bodied, English-speaking, heterosexual or financially secure and socially connected. Social identities can be quite nuanced and may not always be obvious when an employee is subject to certain inequalities.
Take the time to get to know your employees. Build trust and relationships with those around you with empathy and curiosity. Learn about your employees, where they come from and what unique challenges they face. With this information, you can better create an environment where everyone is equally focused on success. What’s more, you can start removing invisible obstacles that hinder the work of minority staff.
4. Learn how to improve
It is important to recognize that privilege is not racism, but exists because of long-standing prejudice and racism in society. That said, there are still prejudices and stereotypes that underrepresented people have to fight to exist in the workplace. Many of these beliefs are unconsciously held, but they hurt minorities nonetheless.
Like everyone else, underrepresented groups want to feel they belong. They may also fear the consequences of voicing their concerns about unequal or unfair treatment. Conducting extensive, anonymous surveys on DEI can enable minority employees to share their real workplace experiences. While the results of these surveys can be depressing, they provide the information needed to make real change. Take this feedback seriously and create actionable plans for improvement.
Continue the discussion
It is important to remember that the issues of racism, sexism, xenophobia, homophobia and inequality are long-standing and systemic. They are woven into the fabric of a society that has been built for the benefit of the few at the expense of the many. By discussing perks, you and your team can begin to understand how you have benefited from this system. Once you realize the virtues you have, you can start using them to lift the spirits of those around you.
But just as these issues are permanent, your conversations about perks will need to continue. Prioritize DEI’s efforts and embed core values in your culture. Continue to educate yourself and your team and develop processes and policies to better protect marginalized workers. Learn to examine your own conscious and unconscious biases and identify blind spots and areas for improvement. When everyone has an equal say at the table, the entire organization benefits.